What is a puppy farm and how do I spot one?

July 4, 2021

According to The Kennel Club one in four puppies bought during the Covid-19 lockdown could have come from a puppy farm. But what is a puppy farm and how can you tell where a puppy has been bred? Read on to find out. 

What is a puppy farm? 

Puppy farms – also known as puppy mills – are dog breeding establishments where puppies are bred in high volumes for commercial purposes.

Is puppy farming illegal?

It may come as a surprise to learn that puppy farming isn’t illegal. That is breeding puppies in high volumes for commercial purposes is not illegal, as long as the breeder is licensed. An unlicensed breeding establishment would be an illegal puppy farm. 

You can find out if a dog breeding establishment is licensed by checking with the local authority that covers the area where the breeding establishment is based. Many local authorities publish this information on their websites. Read more about licensed and unlicensed dog breeders.

Didn’t Lucy’s Law ban puppy farming? 

It’s a common misconception that Lucy’s Law signalled the end of puppy farming. In fact, Lucy’s Law banned the third party sale of puppies. This means that puppies can now only be sold directly by the breeder, rather than via a third party such as a pet shop or puppy trader. Read more about Lucy’s Law

What’s the problem with puppy farms? 

Unfortunately, unlicensed puppy farmers continue to operate. With no checks regarding the health, welfare and care of their puppies they breed, dogs are often kept in appalling conditions.

Licensed commercial dog breeding establishments have to meet certain conditions regarding the welfare and care of the dogs and puppies and are inspected by the local authority. However, just because the breeding establishment is licensed doesn’t mean that the dogs are well cared for or the puppies have been bred well. A BBC investigation exposed examples of dogs kept in appalling conditions at licensed breeding establishments in Wales.

  • Read this story written by puppy farming campaigner, Janetta Harvey who shares her experience of life with her dogs who were rescued from the cruel puppy trade: ‘The truth about puppy farming.’

How to spot a puppy farm? 

The good news is that since the introduction of Lucy’s Law, it’s much easier to spot a puppy farm. The change in law means that you can only buy a puppy directly from a breeder. This means you should be able to see where a puppy has been bred. 

It’s best to do your homework before you visit a breeder. Phone first and ask some questions about how the puppies have been bred and raised. Read more about the questions to ask a breeder

When you visit a breeder, always see a puppy with its mother in the place where it was born and raised. Make sure this is a family home rather than a barn or outbuilding. Read more about how to choose a puppy from a litter

Is puppy farming the same as puppy trafficking? 

Puppy trafficking is when puppies are imported from overseas to be sold in the UK. There have been many cases of puppies from overseas becoming very sick or dying soon after they have been bought by their unsuspecting owners. 

Under Lucy’s Law, puppies can no longer be sold by third party traders. In theory, the new law should have clamped down on the importation of puppies from overseas. However, a recent loophole in the law was discovered which is allowing this to continue. Read more about how to buy a puppy safely

What are the dog breeding laws in the UK? 

The dog breeding laws in the UK requires anyone who breeds and sells puppies as a business to be licensed. The law is slightly different between England, Wales and Scotland. Read more about the dog breeding laws in the UK

However, some people breed and sell puppies but fall below the threshold for licensing. This can make it hard to know if you are dealing with a good dog breeder or an unscrupulous puppy trader. The safest way to buy a puppy is by using the Puppy Contract. This is a legally binding contract between the buyer and seller. If used properly it can help you to find a puppy that has been well-bred and raised by a responsible, caring breeder. 

How do I find good dog breeders in the UK? 

It’s always best to get a puppy from a small-scale breeder, whose puppies are bred in a family home. This is because puppies that have been bred on a puppy farm are much more likely to develop behavioural problems than puppies that have been bred and raised in a family home. Puppies that have not experienced life in a family home are likely to be fearful of household noises, different experiences and other people.

  • Looking to get your first puppy? Sign up for our free Getting a Puppy e-learning course to find out how to buy a puppy safely, what to do to prepare for your new arrival, and what you can expect in your puppy’s first year.

If you’re looking for pedigree puppies for sale you could start with the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeders Scheme. Breeders who are accredited by the Kennel Club Assured Breeders scheme meet dog breeding standards set by the Kennel Club. In Scotland, you can also use the Scottish SPCA’s Assured Breeders Scheme to find a puppy. Read more about buying a puppy from a breeder

If you are interested in getting a crossbreed such as a Cocakpoo or Labradoodle, look for an association that represents the type of dog you would like to get. Bear in mind that not all cross breeds are represented by associations. Here’s some that are: 

And don’t forget about rescue dogs. Rescue organisations often have puppies as well as adult dogs looking for new homes. 

How do I report illegal dog breeders and traders? 

If you believe someone is breeding or selling dogs illegally, please report your concerns to the relevant local authority. If you have welfare concerns, please report these to: 

Puppy's First Year email seriesSign up to Our Puppy's First Year email series and get regular tips and advice to help you care for your growing pup.
By signing up you agree to our privacy policy.