What you don’t know about backyard breeding

One of the biggest issues facing our city shelters (and every shelter) is that too many dogs are coming in from irresponsible breeders. We refer to these as “Backyard Breeders” and before you jump to conclusions thinking you haven’t come across one before, let’s break down what they are and why they are jeopardizing our pets.

Most people are aware of puppy mills and the terror associated with them. Thinking they’re being responsible, most peopled seek out a breeder to purchase their dog (or cat) from. In fact, 34% of people who own a dog get theirs from breeders. It’s by far the most popular way of getting a pet (23% of animals come from rescues).

Backyard breeders are generally defined as irresponsible breeders. They are breeding dogs for a multitude of reasons, but primarily they breed dogs for money. These types of breeders don’t care about the dogs or the health of the breed, rather, it’s a quick way for them to make a couple of bucks. Their lack of knowledge not only produces dogs with health and behavior issues, they are placing these animals in homes recklessly, leading to overpopulation of our pets.

Backyard breeding is, in my opinion, the biggest contributor to the unwanted pet population and the reason our shelters are overcrowded. Whereas responsible breeders will only have as many litters as there is demand, backyard breeders have litters without lining up solid homes beforehand. Likewise, a responsible breeder will always take the dog back for any reason at any time. It’s generally part of the agreement when purchasing a dog from a reputable breeder. If you purchase your dog from an irresponsible breeder, the dog is your problem to handle and generally, these dogs are surrendered to shelters.

Unfortunately, most people think the breeder they use is a responsible breeder. Of course, I’m here to ruin your day and tell you no, that is simply not the case. The majority, and I’d estimate more than 95% of breeders, are doing so irresponsibly.

Not only are they breeding these dogs too often and not providing proper care, these breeders will also release unwanted dogs on the streets to become strays. So often I find myself at Chicago Animal Care & Control walking a dog who has come in as a stray and is full of milk without any puppies in sight. When breeders no longer have a use for mothers, they’ll discard them, leaving them to fend for themselves. The lucky ones find their way into our shelters.

So what can we do? Obviously, stop purchasing dogs from these types of breeders. I will always advocate for adoption because if we have no demand (aka money) for these dogs, the breeders will stop producing them. Here are just a few ways to tell your breeder is a backyard breeder:

  • No prescreening of mother/father, instead they’ll state the parents have been checked out by vets
  • Don’t show at least two generations of clearance for certain health issues associated with breeds
  • Has puppies available year-round, when you want one vs a waiting list
  • Does not screen the adopters, simply allowed to choose which puppy you want
  • Doesn’t let you see where the puppies/parents are kept and instead meets you somewhere off-site or ships the dog to you

If someone has an “accidental” litter, please do not buy these puppies. Instead, tell the breeder to take them to our city shelter and give them information on a low cost spay/neuter clinic in your area. 

I’m hopeful that the City of Chicago will pass an ordinance to  fine those who are breeding dogs irresponsibly. I know there are a few people working on it and I’ll be looking to get involved with this more. However, even with an ordinance, enforcing these fines will be somewhat of an issue. With Chicago police and animal control officers already overworked, animal breeding falls far down on the priority list. 

Another idea would be to have free mobile spay/neuter clinics in the areas that we often see most of the breeding activity. There are a few programs already doing so, like Pets for Life as well as PAWS Chicago, but they’d need a lot more funding to make the kind of impact we need.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer to this issue, but I’m hoping that by educating others on the importance of responsible breeding and advocating adoption, we can put an end to backyard breeding. All of our pets would benefit.


Thank you K9 4 Keeps for meeting us for this shoot. 

Homan – This beautiful, majestic looking pup was found wandering the streets of Chicago, looking and smelling like a mess. After a quick stay at CACC, he joined the K9 4 Keeps family. He’s doing really well in his foster home, loves other dogs, and people! For more information on Homan, click here.

Estelle – The best underbite I ever did see, this goofy girl is so much fun. She loves treats, butt scratches, and belly rubs. With proper, slow introductions, she doesn’t mind other dogs. She snores, she snorts, and she’s the cutest potato. For more details on Estelle, click here


This shirt was a limited time purchase from K9 4 Keeps. Unfortunately it’s no longer available but here are some other awesome graphic tees you may need in your life.

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