What is a Puppy Mill?

7 Things You Should Know About "Puppy Mills"

  1. There is no such thing as a "puppy mill". "Puppy mill" is not a legally defined term. It is derogatory slang used by the animal rights community to denigrate any and all breeders -- small or large, standard or substandard.  It's the "N-word" of breeders.

    The animal rights movement wants to end all animal use and ownership. These fanatics have promoted the phrase "puppy mill" in the media and they apply it indiscriminately to anyone who breeds dogs.

  2. There are three types of breeders:

    • Commercial
    • Pet
    • Hobby/Show/Performance

    Substandard care can be found with all types of breeders. The issue is the standard of care, NOT numbers.

  3. Many commercial breeders have state of the art kennels that meet USDA standards and the standards of their state laws. They are inspected at least annually and must meet or exceed benchmarks far higher than those expected of the average hobby breeder.

  4. Sick puppies do not sell. It is counterproductive for any industry to produce a defective product and expect to stay in business.

  5. Passing laws to outlaw puppy mills will not address or solve any problem. Substandard breeders are already in violation of existing laws. New, stricter laws will only affect those who are already working to follow the laws. The only way to have a positive effect is to enforce the laws already on the books.

  6. All the hobby and USDA breeders in this country cannot produce enough puppies to meet the demands of the American market.

  7. Breeders are not responsible for the presence of dogs in shelters. That responsibility rests with careless owners.
See our section on Dog Legislation for more information.

Beautiful and curious GSD puppy

Welcome! We hope this is an important step in your journey to pick out the right puppy for you and your family. It's important to understand the breed you're interested in. We have some resources here that will help you decide if the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is the right breed for you and, regardless of the breed you choose, give you some tips to help you get your puppy from a reputable breeder.

We also hope you will join the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) and participate in the many training and showing opportunities that exist as your puppy grows up.

Click here for additional links through the American Kennel Club website on choosing and raising puppies.

One of the best resources in finding a quality German Shepherd puppy is to contact the GSDCA Regional Club in your area.

Having decided to purchase a German Shepherd puppy, you should try to find the best representative available to you. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America hopes the following information and suggestions will result in a relationship that will be fulfilling to both you and the dog you choose. A Mother with her Puppies

The links in this section will help you interview prospective breeders, recognize unethical breeders, and find the puppy best suited to your home.

You will find information on where - and how - to begin. This site is chock-full of valuable information on the breed. Please bookmark it for future reference.

Many sources offer purebred German Shepherd puppies, but finding the best source takes time and study. Buying a puppy is a commitment that cannot be taken lightly. Hopefully by choosing the right puppy, you will be taking on a responsibility that will result in a healthy, well adjusted dog that will give you joy and happiness for many years.

Pet stores occasionally offer purebred German Shepherd puppies

Puppies in pet stores are mostly from puppy mills or the occasional backyard breeder who's main objective is producing puppies for profit. Please be careful here as health problems may be common as the "for-profit" breeder does not select the best possible bloodlines that will be compatible for good health, longevity and good temperament.

Unethical Breeders

When you talk to breeders about their puppies, there are a few warning signs that you may be dealing with a disreputable, unethical, or irresponsible breeder:

The "breeder" lacks knowledge about the breed and the Breed Standard

The "breeder" shows ignorance or denial of genetic defects in the breed.

The "breeder" has no involvement in dog sports

The "breeder" doesn't let you observe the puppies or adults. (Since homeowners insurance and local laws vary greatly, a refusal to let you visit the kennels may not, in and of itself, be a bad sign. You should ask for and receive a satisfactory explanation.)

The "breeder" doesn't ask any questions about you, your family, lifestyle or accommodations for a dog.

The "breeder" has no documentation of health testing and cannot provide a pedigree.

The puppies are not social or look sickly.

How to read those ads. A few more things to look out for.

"Champion lines" - look instead for Champion sired or Champion parents. "Champion Lines" means there is one dog somewhere in that puppy's family that was a champion - it says nothing about the quality of the parents at all. Anyone can buy a puppy from a champion, but it does not mean that they have any other interest in the breed but to bank on the name and make money. The puppy may have been sold as a pet and an unethical person did not have the dog spayed/neutered and is still breeding puppies. Having a Champion in a pedigree is  like having a billionaire relative. It doesn't mean that you are rich unless each generation from that relative has passed down the money.

"AKC Registration" or "AKC Papers" - So what? AKC registration does not guarantee quality. AKC papers are much like the title of a car; papers are issued to the junked Chevy on blocks in your yard just as easily as they are on a brand new, shiny Jaguar. AKC does not control breeding, approve litters, or guarantee temperaments. Unfortunately, in the hands of some unethical breeders, it doesn't even guarantee that the dog is purebred. AKC Registration is automatic if you buy from a reputable breeder - they will provide all necessary paperwork when you buy a puppy. It is not a selling point, and shouldn't be treated as one.

Be wary of other "registrations," as well. There are several groups that are registering dogs, even mixed breeds, for a fee.This registration means nothing, and is of no value to you.

"Extra-Big", "Extra-Small" - breeders trying for extremes are rarely raising healthy dogs, and any ad that has to stress the size and weight of the dog to sell the puppies is suspect. Usually, these dogs are outside of the breed's norm and are subject to their own medical problems due to excessive size or lack of it.

"Rare" - Why? Are there too many defects for the animal to be bred? What kind of problems does this "rare" color or size entail? Medical? Behavioral?  Shop with care.

"See Both Parents" - This is not usually a good thing. Rarely will a good breeder have the luck to own both dogs for the perfect litter. If you can see both parents, it may mean that the person had two dogs in the backyard and didn't supervise them carefully enough, resulting in puppies, or that they bred to a dog of convenience they already owned.

There are some good and very reasonable reasons to have both parents on site. However, you need to ask the right questions and understand why this is true. If the breeder doesn't have an answer, or the answer is something like, "Well, they were just such cute dogs . . ." or "We bought another dog so we could have puppies," you need to evaluate whether this breeder is doing the right thing. They might be, they might not. It's up to you to ask.

"Must go now!" - Why? Are they too big to be cute anymore? Need more money? Is there a problem? Usually because there are more on the way.  Be very wary of this one.

Types of Breeders

In your search for a puppy, you will run across different types of breeders. It's important to be aware of the pros and cons of each. We encourage you to buy a puppy from a 'reputable hobby breeder' or 'experienced breeder' rather than a puppy mill, commercial breeder or backyard breeder. Here's why:


Puppy Mill

Commercial Breeder


Reputable Hobby

Reputable Experienced

Motive for Breeding

To supply pet stores and make a profit.

To supply pet stores and make a profit.

To produce puppies for profit, or so their kids can experience "the miracle of birth," or to have another just like one of the parents.

To better the breed and continue a well thought-out plan.

To perfect a specific type to leave a legacy.

Breed Club Member

Hardly ever.

Has a network of business contacts instead.

May masquerade as a member.

Yes and extremely


Yes and extremely dedicated.


Not interested in breed improvement.

Does not specialize in specific breed.

Works independently, lacks guidance.

Invites knowledge.

Is a mentor, writes books or articles,

conducts seminars.

Breeds to the Standard

Uses any available stock.

Focuses on general appearance.

May not even be aware of the breed standard. Breeds to any convenient dog.

Strives towards the ideal.

Often helps to
define it.

Activity in dog related activities (shows/trials, rescue)

Does not need to promote establishment; sells to brokers, pet shops, etc.

Does not need

to promote establishment; sells to brokers, pet shops, etc.

Often rescues only to attain more stock. Rarely attends shows or trials.

Shows and trials to objectively test breeding stock.

Often judges, provides seminars,

writes articles, and willingly mentors serious Hobby Breeders.


of the Breed

Often pretends to know some.

Claims that it's not important.

May share false or incomplete information.

Studies continuously.

Impacts the breed for many decades

with knowledge of

dogs over many generations.

Sells pets with spay/neuter contract and tries to stay in touch with new owners

Often issues papers via generic "registries" with less stringent requirements.

All pups sold have full breeding rights.

May charge more for "breeding" papers.

Yes, and diligently

follows up on progeny.

Always differentiates breed/pet quality and insists on frequent updates.

Keeps up with health and  temperament issues affecting the breeding
and provides
in-depth guarantees

No need to; mostly supplies brokers and pet shops.

Meets minimum standards as required by state law.

May refuse to acknowledge most problems. Considers shows and trials as too "political."

Goes above and beyond standard requirement.

Maintains a solid support system - accepts full responsibility for every puppy


Performs health testing for all breeding stock  for  genetic diseases affecting the particular breed.

No interest, may offer papers as proof of quality. Papers alone are not proof of quality.

No interest. May provide undocumented paperwork for appearances sake.

Is unfamiliar with health testing usually statements of good health are stated to impress consumers.

Intensive testing always a priority.

Often initiates club sponsored seminars and clinics. Intensive testing always a priority.

Maintains  records on all dogs in gene pool including progeny.

Often supplies brokers and pet shops, records unavailable.

Dogs and puppies are often auctioned off in lots, records unavailable.

Focuses mostly on current dogs, no records or knowledge of genes.

Attempts to continuously

track every puppy produced.

Bases entire breeding program on extensive gene pool data.

Clean environment always maintained

Minimum  standards vary greatly in cleanliness.

Minimum standards maintained for state inspections.

Conditions may vary greatly depending on available income,

usually makeshift accommodations.

Usually "home raised with love" and well cared for. Clean, healthy and mentally stimulating environment.

Clean, healthy and mentally stimulating environment.

Expected longevity with any particular breed

Will continue as long as the sales are coming.

Depends on popularity of specific breeds.

Unrealistic expectations - easily disillusioned.

On a mission-plans to stay for the long haul.

Involved with the breed / breeding for decades - makes a lifetime commitment.

Health guarantee provided

No, it cuts into profits.

7-day guarantee mandated by state.

No health guarantee beyond proof of first set of vaccines, if that. Not

qualified to give advice if a problem arises.

Offers written guarantee and is available to answer questions to new owners. Good knowledge of history in dogs.

Extensive knowledge of health

history, offers replacements to

owners of genetically affected dogs.

Ability to meet the parents of the litter

If available, may be in poor physical condition.

If available, dogs are not used to contact with people.

May or may not be well loved and cared for companions, often

unwilling to show entire litter or parents to buyer.

Shows friendly mother and entire litter in clean environment; stud dog too, if in residence. Helps

buyer choose appropriate puppy.

Can explain how breeding was

planned to emphasize specific qualities and can speak at length about how puppies compare.

What you can expect after purchase

Nothing, may not be able to contact at all.

No concern for dog after sale is final.

Tells you if you can't keep it to take it to the pound or shelter.

Available for questions, and wants to keep in touch. Will take back dog or puppy at any time.

After purchase will help with training and grooming, available for all questions and knows the answers.


Lowest end of range.

Priced according to market, but is marked up from original source for profit.

Mid-range to move puppies quickly.

High end of mid-range.

Price will not reflect all that is invested.

Will a Breeder Ask Me Questions?

Conscientious breeders want the best available home for their puppies. Expect them to ask you questions about fenced yards, and the type of work that you and/or your spouse do for a living. This determines the amount of time you will have available for your new addition. There are very important items that should be supplied by the breeder.

Breeders will typically give you the following items:

  1. A signed pedigree

  2. A current Health Record; including de-wormings and vaccinations.

  3. American Kennel Club registration papers or application

  4. Sales contract. The type of contract varies and must be mutually agreeable to the breeder and buyer. Much depends on what you expect from the puppy (show, pet, or performance).

  5. Feeding schedule including the type and amount of food.

  6. Copy of OFA certification of sire and dam, if available.