Best Friends Blog

Pet store puppies damaged by puppy mill practices

Back in 2008, Best Friends launched our puppy mill initiatives after identifying puppy mills as one of the primary sources of animals entering our nation’s shelters.

A revealing Best Friends–led study, just published in the current issue of the “Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,” adds more weight to that analysis. Led by Dr. Frank McMillan, director of well-being studies at Best Friends, in collaboration with a highly regarded research team, the study compared the behavior profiles of pet store puppies with those acquired from hobbyist, noncommercial breeders. It is estimated that 99 percent of pet store puppies are sourced from high-volume commercial breeders, which is to say they come from puppy mills.

Dogs acquired as puppies from small, noncommercial breeders were selected for comparison for the following reasons:

1. They enter their new homes at approximately the same age as pet store pups do.
2. Their history prior to purchase is known.
3. They are, for the most part, purebred dogs.

In fact, the only difference then between the sampled groups was the nature of their breeding, whelping, weaning and prolonged, stressful transport. One is set in a commercial breeding environment with hundreds or even thousands of other dogs, while the other is set in a hobby breeder’s home environment with only a mother dog or a small group of household pets.

The difference in findings between the two groups was profound, but not surprising.

Problem behaviors exhibited by pet store dogs read like answers to a shelter surrender questionnaire, with the strongest effects observed in relation to aggressive behavior. For example, sexually intact pet store dogs were three times as likely to have owner-directed aggression as were sexually intact dogs acquired from small breeders. Pet store dogs were nearly twice as likely to have aggression toward unfamiliar dogs.

Additionally, pet store dogs were also 30 to 60 percent more likely to have stranger-directed aggression, aggression to other household dogs, as well as fear of dogs and nonsocial stimuli, separation anxiety, and touch sensitivity. Other undesirable behaviors included escaping from the home, sexual mounting of people and objects, and most forms of house soiling.

This Best Friends’ research effort is a follow-up to a 2011 study conducted by Dr. Frank and the same research team that compared adult puppy mill survivors to a sampling of dogs without any puppy mill history. The results of that study were equally dramatic, but likewise not at all surprising.

The adult breeding dogs from puppy mills showed significantly elevated levels of fears/phobias, compulsive/repetitive behaviors, and heightened sensitivity to being touched. “The most prominent difference was in the level of fear,” says Dr. Frank. “Compared to normal pet dogs, the chance of recovered puppy mill dogs scoring in the highest ranges for fear was six to eight times higher.”

The physical abuses associated with puppy mills are well documented. Puppy mills are just another version of factory farming, where the profit margin for the mostly rural mill operators is small. Production cost savings are paid for on the backs of the dogs held captive for breeding and their pet store–bound puppies.

For example, small cages mean that more animals can be crammed into limited space. Understaffed workers provide only subsistence level care for the dogs and pups. Low-cost, low-quality food results in dietary deficiencies and chronic disease. Puppies are force-weaned at an earlier-than-appropriate age so that they can arrive at the pet store at eight weeks of age. Veterinary care is nominal and is limited to the replacement cost of the animal. A puppy miller typically sells a pup to a middle man for as little as a couple of hundred dollars so the incentive to invest in medical care is essentially zero. Every corner that is cut represents a corresponding slice cut from the quality of life of the puppy mill dog.

This newly published research fills in the picture of the invisible psychological damage that puppy mills inflict on innocent, young dogs.

The entire pet trade industry — from breeder to pet store — is a disgrace and needs a major overhaul. Needless to say, there is often a considerable desire to “save” pet store puppies by buying them, but that sentiment is misguided because it merely makes room for another victim. The best way to fight puppy mills is to never buy from a pet store or an online retailer.

Many thanks to Dr. Frank and his research colleagues, James A. Serpell, PhD and Deborah L. Duffy, PhD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, along with Elmabrok Masaoud, PhD and Ian R. Dohoo, DVM, PhD from the Department of Health Management, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Your work has given us another compelling argument in our campaign against the shame of puppy mills.


Gregory Castle
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • zippysmon

    Why can’t we get some kind of law that would take the puppy mill owners home and land or a very large fine like 1/2 milliom. I think that would slow down people from opening a mill. I took in 2 rescue dogs so if every one would take in one homeless animal that would help reduce the problem. Every person that buy a animal must sign a paper to have that animal fixed at 3 mo. and then have a signed paper by a Vet. and they must show that paper to get dog tags. The breader must buy a Lic. at a lg price so every one can’t afford one.

  • lokiswife

    As the “mommy” of two dogs rescued from abusive situations and one rescued puppy mill dog, I can tell you that it takes a lot of love and patience to overcome the bad starts these dogs get. Too many people don’t understand this, or don’t have the time and patience to work through the problems before they give up and the pet goes to a shelter or another home. It is heartbreaking….but I feel happy about the two I saved.
    One problem that hasn’t been mentioned is the dog shows like Westminster. Every year people see the winner prancing around, well behaved and cute, and they want a dog like that. Puppy mills and pet stores are glad to oblige and soon the clones of the top Westminster dog are being sent to pounds and other facilities when people realize that the dog they saw on TV was not the same as the puppy they bought. You want a dog of the winning variety at Westminster? Wait six months and go to the pound or dog shelter. There will be some “copies” of the top Westminster dog there.

  • Peggy

    YAY! another plus for proving how bad puppy mills are. God Bless all of you who work tirelessly to end this disgusting practice. My husband and I are members of Best Friends and leave in about 3 weeks for another week at the sanctuary to volunteer in any way we can. This will be our 4th year in a row going and if I could, I would buy a house and move to Kanab to be as close to Angel Canyon, home of Best Friends, and be there every day to help. That canyon has magic at work in it….one of the most healing places I have ever been. I will continue to go back every year as long as I can
    and get more and more involved w/all their causes. ♥ to all the animals and their beautiful caregivers.

  • Many blessings to all who work to make animals’ lives better. We are their only voice. ♥ So I am using my voice to post this repeatedly, until it somehow falls into the hands of someone who has the authority and the courage to help us put an end to puppy and kittens mills, once and for all…. PUPPY MILLS ARE GLUTTING THE SYSTEM
    We will euthanize 10,000 pets today at our animal shelters and city Animal Care & Control facilities. We will euthanize 10,000 pets tomorrow too, and most every day. Unless our lawmakers enact regulations on the production of puppy and kitten mills, this pet overpopulation crisis is doomed to increase. This is costing our government millions of dollars, which are OUR TAX DOLLARS! And they are being spent to KILL PETS that the PUPPY MILLS ARE PRODUCING. What is wrong with this picture? The USDA has NEGLECTED to regulate this mill production, to the point that our country is about to explode with dead and suffering animals. Surely, our government must know that this has to stop! I will never understand how the USDA has any business having pets under the same regulations, (or the lack thereof), as poultry, slaughter hogs and beef cattle producers…WE DO NOT EAT DOGS AND CATS IN THIS COUNTRY, they are pets! Our government must stop allowing them to be mass produced like they were food animals! And the conditions that we accept as “USDA approved” for these animals to live in, consist of a lifetime of horrific neglect and deprivation! These pets don’t even go to slaughter when they are old enough and fattened up. They live their entire lives in a cage, often left out in all kinds of weather, with little or no veterinary care. The female’s’ life is spent carrying, nursing, or grieving her lost babies, until she is bred yet again. Then about twice a year, the male shares her cage until mating is complete. Then he is returned to languish in his own flthy cage until it is time to breed again. This only ends for them when they die, or become “no longer good for breeding” and there is no regulation on how they are “disposed of” then. But the numbers of dead and decaying animal carcasses that are strewn throughout or piled up on the property of far too many of these mills, speaks volumes. Unfortunately, the financial influence of the Agriculture business has managed to supercede the horrific conditions of the animals, the pet overpopulation crisis, even the glutting of our own systems!
    WE THE PEOPLE, MUST RISE UP AND DEMAND THAT OUR GOVERNMENT ENACT LAWS TO END THIS INSANITY! I guarantee you, if the beef producers were churning out millions of pounds of beef in a year, and we only ate half of it, and the other half had to be “disposed of” at great expense to the government, you can bet the USDA would be slapping some major restrictions on beef production. So why don’t they see that we are euthanizing over four million pets a year, and the puppy and kitten mills are “producing” a majority of them? IS OUR GOVERNMENT REALLY SO “OWNED” BY THE PUPPY MILL/Ag INDUSTRY, THAT THEY BETRAY THEIR CONSTITUENTS, WASTE OUR TAX DOLLARS AND GLUT THEIR OWN SYSTEM? We need to find a way to rid our world of this horrific business of abuse and neglect! OUR GOVERNMENT MUST TAKE ACTION TODAY!

    “Cruelty to animals is as if man did not love God… there is something so dreadful, so satanic, in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power.” Cardinal John Henry Newman.

  • puppygirl

    while i know better now, 12 years ago i had no clue and i bought a beautiful cocker spaniel from a pet store in NYC. she is now 12 1/2 and is the most wonderful dog. she was a typical puppy but didn’t even chew that much and she has been an amazing, well behaved dog her whole life. she never really needed a leash as she always listens and stays close. while i’ll never buy another dog, i wouldn’t change a thing from my past as she is my baby and i wouldn’t change a hair on her head.