It's hard to turn down the promise of an adorable puppy, but there are some places you should never get a dog. Learn where to find a happy, healthy dog from a reputable breeder or legitimate rescue organization instead.


Now that you’ve decided to add a four-legged friend to your family, it’s time to start your search for a dog. Finding the right dog for your family’s needs is no small feat: Between hundreds of breeds, sizes, temperaments, and all those distinctive characteristics that make each dog special, it can be hard to narrow down which pup will be the best fit for your lifestyle. But once you’ve figured out what kind of dog is right for you, the most important thing is researching where to find the dog, as well as which places you should never get a dog.

Puppy Mills

What is a puppy mill? A puppy mill is a large-scale breeding operation that deprives puppies of adequate food and water, housing, socialization, exercise, and veterinary care. “Keeping puppies in a cage [for too long] without enough socialization can cause issues with aggression and fear,” says Angela Gamber, DVM from Viking Community Animal Hospital. “Puppy mills often take puppies away from their mothers too early, causing abandonment issues,” she adds.

These operations are more focused on the number of animals they produce, rather than the quality of the animals’ health and welfare. Being in the business of producing puppies to sell for profit means many puppies will end up with serious health issues due to the poor conditions and lack of care for the mothers—who are forced to breed at an unhealthy frequency.

Pet Stores

If you’re old enough to remember going to the mall in the ’80s or ’90s and seeing all those adorable puppies at the pet store, this might come as a shock. Most animal lovers couldn’t help but stop in to take a look, or even request to pet and hold one. But the sad truth about pet stores is that many of the dogs were sourced from puppy mills. Buying dogs from stores that source from puppy mills financially supports the people who run them and encourages them to continue treating dogs the way they do.

Backyard Breeders

Unlike puppy mills, backyard breeders are small-scale operations done at someone’s home—hence the “backyard” part of the name. You may find them through an online ad or in the newspaper classifieds. And while some might be very well-intentioned dog owners, it’s important to practice caution. Dog breeding takes a lot of time, care, and knowledge. Those who fall into the backyard breeder category can be misinformed or unaware of the proper physical and emotional needs to ensure safe breeding practices for the dogs and their litters.


Puppy mills have started rampantly popping up online, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. However, you run a great risk of getting scammed when buying a puppy online. You might send your payment and then never receive the puppy, or the puppy you do receive comes from a puppy mill with miserable living conditions and potential health issues. Never buy a puppy from someone who offers to ship the puppy, prices seem too good to be true, the seller won't talk on the phone or only communications through emails, and won't provide health screening information from the puppy's parents.

How to Safely Add a Puppy to Your Family

An animal shelter or rescue can be a safer place to add a new pet to your family without financially supporting a breeder who may have questionable breeding practices. Even if you’re looking for a certain breed of dog, there are plenty of breed-specific rescues you can adopt from. 

Sites like Petfinder or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offer the ability to search for dogs that fit a number of criteria. You can search your area for dogs of different ages, genders, training abilities, and other special needs of pups who are available for adoption. You can even find out other characteristics, like whether the dog is good with children, knows basic commands, or gets along with other pets. These organizations can guide you to safe and trustworthy shelters and rescues you can feel good about supporting.

two black puppies in pen
Credit: Elizabeth W. Kearley / Getty

If you’re set on adding a certain type of breed to your family and find a breeder in your area who looks like a match, it’s important for potential pet parents to do their research before buying. “Go to the place in person to see their setup,” Gamber says. If the breeders have nothing to hide, they won’t mind you visiting to see how the puppies are treated. “If there are lots of whelping boxes [or nesting boxes], that’s a sign that it might be a puppy mill or backyard breeder. If there are too many puppies, they can’t get adequate care. Even good breeders have a hard time keeping up with [the physical and emotional care of] just two litters at a time,” she adds.

Keep in mind, there are many responsible breeders who are doing their part to ensure their animals are raised with compassion and care. Gamber adds that good breeders should be a source of education and help throughout the dog’s entire life—someone who you can keep in touch with after your pup becomes part of the family.

If you’re suspicious of potential puppy mills or backyard breeders, you can report your findings on the website for the Humane Society of the United States. They are one of many organizations trying to shut down these operations and fighting against the mistreatment of dogs and other animals.

You can also help by adopting a dog from your local Humane Society, pet shelter, or pet rescues. There are about 3.3 million dogs who enter these facilities every year, and only about half get adopted. Remember, there are hundreds of different dog breeds. There could be one you’ve never heard of, already waiting to be adopted. And he or she could be your family’s perfect fit!

Free to a Good Home

Although taking a dog being billed online as free does not financially support puppy mills or backyard breeders, a free dog will still need veterinary care, food, consistent training, and preventative medical care—all of which can add up quickly.  Ask yourself the following before taking home any dog: 

  • Can I afford to take care of this dog? 
  • Will I be able to pay for any necessary veterinary care it may need? 
  • Am I well-equipped to handle any training or behavioral issues? 

Without knowing the pup’s history, it’s possible you’ll end up footing the bill for unknown medical issues, or dealing with behavior problems that you may not be prepared for. Ask the current owner why they’re re-homing the dog. Is the dog good with kids? Does he have health issues? Find out whether this pup is right for you and your family’s needs before you commit to being their owner.