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Backyard Breeding – Definition, Laws & Puppy Mills

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Published on
Sunday 4 November 2018
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
backyard dog breeding
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Backyard breeding is the practice of mating dogs with very little planning, preparation, and care for the future progenies. Backyard breeders are often considered unethical dog breeders with profit-obsessed motivations.

This article defines backyard breeders in more detail and exposes the differences between puppy farming and backyard breeding.

What is a backyard breeder?

Backyard breeding is an unethical and amateur form of dog breeding generally performed at home with limited skill or training. A backyard breeder is a breeder in which profits gained from breeding are the main objective. Often done at the expense of the dog’s health, hygiene, and care. Backyard breeding facilities are bare with little care given to viral prevention and sanitization.

With most forms of backyard breeding, paperwork and other health screenings are rarely, if at all, performed by the backyard breeders. Other common reasons that are associated with backyard breeding include mere curiosity, exhibiting to children the “miracle of birth”, or even to extend the pet family by the creation of new puppies.

Millions of dogs in the US, two-thirds come from backyard breeding practices. They are largely responsible for the over-population crisis currently in dogs. Therefore, a backyard breeder is not just someone who deliberately breeds for monetary value, but also one who just lets their dogs continue breeding. They can have many dogs or just a few, or even have more than one type of dog breeds. Backyard dog breeders can be either:

  • active — planning for the litters generally to sustain their own needs or to sell dogs through various channels
  • passive — welcoming litters without necessarily provoking them (i.e. somewhat of hobby breeders)


Not everyone views these types as unethical dog breeders. In fact, a backyard breeder is defined in various ways depending on who is defining it as everyone tends to have their own definition. Some people refer to a backyard breeder as one who happens to breed dogs occasionally, even with a lot of passion and care. Others may see it as one who breeds dogs often and cuts corners, while other people view backyard breeding as an official puppy mill and dubbing the breeders as puppy farmers.

Backyard breeder vs Puppy mill

The heated debate opposing backyard breeders vs puppy mills is often brought up in canine circles, often due to a misconceived notion. While backyard breeding may often be viewed as irresponsible dog breeding, it is actually not the same thing as puppy farming. While backyard breeders are not as organized and professional in their approach to breeding, they do not operate the way the average puppy mill does. They have experimental approaches to breeding dogs for profit while puppy mills are very structured factory-like facilities profiting from dogs generally at all costs. Although they have similarities and differences, a fine line exists between backyard breeding and puppy mills.

Backyard breeders have various reasons in which they breed, but a puppy mill only has one purpose, and it is to produce as many puppies as possible in order to ship to prospective clients and various pet stores. In a puppy mill, you will find cages and crates filled with puppies ready for business, whereas, in a backyard breeders’ home, situations and living arrangements tend to be more natural and improvised.

The fact is, breeding dogs is often a business, yet distinctions need to be made between unethical dog breeding practices and responsible breeding. The fact is, once breeding standards have reached a point in which the monetary gain is more important than the health and living conditions of the dogs just to increase margins and cut expenses, then technically, the breeder is actually running a puppy mill.

Great video on YouTube addressing the topic…

How to spot a backyard breeder?

Spotting a backyard breeder is relatively easy if you are looking for a high-quality puppy rather than the best and cheapest bargain you can find. Price should never be the tipping point when buying a puppy. If so, you are bound to turn a blind eye for a lower price tag, often completely unconsciously. This is what backyard breeders rely on to thrive: people accepting the unacceptable like the below red flags.

No kennel visit

Naturally, when one is conducting business within the dog breeding community, any buyer would be wise to check out the living arrangements of the puppies’ parents. How a puppy is raised and brought up can determine a lot about his behavior and temperament in the future. This is one way in which buyers can distinguish between a backyard breeder vs a reputable breeder. It’s a definite red flag to buyers who are going to visit the place in which they plan to purchase their dog and the dog breeder refuses to show the buyer around the kennel. There’s a reason for this. Often times, the seller is hiding the living conditions from the buyer because they are aware that they are less than standard and may be off-putting which may prevent a potential sale. In addition, backyard breeders will even be unwilling to show the rest of the litter or the mother.

Exchange to happen at a “meeting point”

Similar to the first sign above, another point to keep in mind is that unethical dog breeders often want to meet up with their buyers at a meeting point. This place is most often a place of their personal choices and maybe far enough away from the kennel that buyers will have no idea where the actual breeding place is. Breeders will initiate a meeting point in order to propose a more convenient route for the buyer whilst masking their real reasons. These meeting points are in fact offered in order to hide the “less than standard” residences in which they hold their puppies. This is a huge red flag to watch for.

No customer testimonials

As any buyer in any trade would know, testimonials are a great way to determine whether a purchase is worth pursuing. Customer testimonials allow for the communication between buyers in order that future clients are aware of how the kennel works on the inside. Testimonials can provide valuable information as well as gives interested parties a means to communicate personally with those who have dealt intimately with the breeder.

In this case, if a breeder doesn’t provide any customer testimonials, this may mean they are attempting to hide the contact details from the buyer in case the client wants more information. A lack of customer testimonials can also mean nobody has anything good to say about this person or business transaction as well.

No, or minimal, paperwork

Any puppy sale agreement should always involve paperwork as a trail of work activities. Contracts should always be made between buyer and seller and they should be signed by both. These types of measures are used for security purposes and generally, when one can provide the paperwork, they can usually be trusted as they have sorted out the legalities and have at least visited the institutions necessary for business.

If the breeder has no paperwork to show or has very minimal paperwork, it could mean said breeder has not registered his dogs anywhere or has done the very minimal strict requirements for the AKC/KC. This is a sufficient reason to be suspicious of a potential breeder.


Any legitimate dog breeding practice and business will have things under control and systematically organized. The number of breeding per year is of average size and will not exceed it. This is the hallmark of responsible breeding.

Too many puppies cause a threat to the overall kennel standard and it poses too many risks as in most cases, people don’t have a place to put them. If you see a breeder with too many litters, more than average, within each year, this could be a sign of a backyard breeder and not one who conducts his business affairs on ethical grounds. Furthermore, excessive breeding from one female, regardless of her state of health, can be traced to the acts of backyard breeding.

Other Signs

Other common signs to watch out for when purchasing a dog from a breeder in order to distinguish if the person is a backyard breeder vs a reputable breeder is the breeder’s lack of concern for the future of their puppies. A good breeder will care where their puppies will live and how they will be raised. Backyard breeders will breed puppies without any concern about where the “extras” will go. These breeders will also provide very minimal, if any at all, veterinary and healthcare maintenance and will be ignorant of the goals and techniques of selective breeding.

Backyard Breeding Laws

Unfortunately, at this time, laws against backyard breeding are not in effect. The law only punishes actions resulting in direct animal cruelty and abuse, albeit backyard breeding in most cases is not considered abuse. Unless the dogs are truly in grave danger and are being abused, the law will not do anything regarding the continuation of this type of breeding. There are some countries that are currently acting against the incessant practice of backyard breeding by campaigning with the hopes of limiting the practice. Groups such as the ASPCA are also inputting their efforts for the reduction as well as raising awareness on the importance of responsibility that is associated with owning an animal. For adopters who are against backyard breeding, there are other alternatives available such as The Shelter Pet Project, animal rescue groups, and other online organizations as in Petfinder.

how to report bad dog breeders
Infographic: how to report animal abuse and bad dog breeders.

The best thing one can do when in doubt regarding a specific breeder is to report said breeder to whatever organization is caring for animal welfare locally whether it be the town hall or the local police department. Do not contact the AKC if you are reporting a case on abuse. If it’s certain that the breeder does not perform health checks on their dogs, then contact the local shelters or a local kennel club.

3 comments on “Backyard Breeding – Definition, Laws & Puppy Mills”

  1. Tonya

    Regional and national breed specific clubs do NOT accept complaints from non members.

  2. Saya

    Breed Clubs often have set up emergency rescues to protect their breed. This is separate from the CKC. This is rescue not for other owners to rehome what they can not sell or find homes for themselves.

  3. Ethan Lamoureux

    “Backyard breeder” and “puppy mill” are terms originating with the animal rights movement which is opposed to all animal breeding, period. Reality is that breeders are good and bad in various ways and cannot be easily lumped into one category or another. But to the AR movement, all breeders are abusing animals and ought to be reported to the authorities. They also believe that laws need to prohibit breeding altogether, incrementally if necessary. Dog breeders need to stand up for their rights, and the rights of their fellow breeders, even if we might not agree with all the practices of every breeder. If a breeder uses bad practices, talk to them about it. If you can’t get anywhere, tell others about them so people will not be fooled. Let the market take care of them.

    I do not understand what is meant by “overbreeding”. Bitches come in heat once or twice a year, and they expect to breed each time. Many experts now are stating that it is better for a bitch to breed every time she comes in heat rather than to skip a season. I have personally noticed that being in heat and false pregnancy is hard on a bitch if she isn’t bred. On the other hand, I have not heard of any substantive research proving that bitches need to “take a break” between breedings.

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