A New Matching Market for Dog Buyers

(Photo: Fiona MacGinty-O’Neill)

Al Roth, the Nobel Prize winner and market design guru who’s worked on everything from organ exchanges to school matching, posts a reader email about Wagaroo, a new matching market for dog buyers and responsible breeders. Christine Exley, an Economics grad student at Stanford, writes:

It is estimated that 23.5 million people plan to acquire a pet every year.  Of this, 1.5 million intend to buy their pet from a breeder, 5 million are committed to adopting their pet, and 17 million are undecided about the source for their new pet. At the same time, 3 million dogs and cats are killed every year in shelters because they cannot find a home. When you account for people acquiring dogs from shelters, rescue groups, the street (i.e., strays), friends, family members and purebred breeders, there are still over 6 million people acquiring dogs and cats from “other” sources. These other sources (as well as some of the listed sources) are likely puppy mills – places that mass-produce dogs for profit in horrid conditions.

Why do people get dogs from puppy mills and hence increase the demand for this inhumane practice in the face of so many adoptable dogs being killed in shelters? There are two leading answers.  First, separately identifying puppy mills from responsible breeders is challenging. Both puppy mills and responsible breeders sell purebreds for upwards of $1,000, and puppy mills are quick to imitate responsible breeders by falsely advertising that their dogs are bred and cared for in good conditions.   Second, the search costs of acquiring dogs from responsible sources are incredibly high since no unified market exists.   While you may need to search dozens of responsible organizations before you find an available Black Labrador puppy, a quick Google search is guaranteed to show an available Black Labrador puppy from a puppy mill.  Wagaroo will change this through an online listing of dogs from all responsible sources – shelters, rescue groups, responsible breeders and owners needing to re-home their dogs.

Exley writes that they’re currently seeking “ideas on how to perfectly separate puppy mills from responsible breeders.”  Readers, any thoughts?

Michael Yuen

how about a rating/feedback system?


Many shelters aggregate their listings through petfinder.com


Certainly no rating/feedback system. This immediately guarantees that a naive customer who didn't do his/her homework when they bought their puppy will give good feedback for a puppy mill. So often people adore their addition to their family so much that their blinders prevent them from thinking or believing that they could have bought from a puppy mill. Reputable breeders have to be regularly inspected by CKC or AKA - these inspections should be done more often and for a fee. No clue what to suggest as far as backyard breeders/mills... maybe an actual law requiring all pets be spayed/neutered and hefty fines if you are a non-registered breeder by AKA/CKC or other similar organizations...


"Reputable breeders have to be regularly inspected by CKC or AKA..."

That assumes that those two organizations are themselves reputable and concerned with the welfare of dogs. Unfortunately, that's not the case. They promote the dog show system, which in the name of competitiveness enforces things like absurd breed standards and breeding within closed gene pools. These in turn cause the accumulation of unhealthy genetic problems - everything from hip dysplasia to genetic monstrosities like the modern bulldog.

If you want to improve your chances of getting a healthy well-adjusted dog, adopt an adult mutt rather than shelling out big bucks to a breeder, "reputable" or not, for a puppy.


Puppy mills get more nefarious every year. Here are some key clues. Any breeder who will ship a puppy, without you first coming to visit and select a puppy? Probably not great. Any breeder who breeds more than one breed? Probably not good either (there are exceptions to this rule). Any breeder who states that their puppies are ACA? Puppy mill. AKC and CKC don't always mean they're good either. Will they not let you see the pups' parents or let you in the kennel/where the pups are raised and kept? Do they ALWAYS have litters available? Are they rehoming pups prior to 8 weeks of age? Do they just hand off puppies to anyone? All big red flags.
Taking in a new furry friend should be similar to adopting a child. If they just hand you a pup without grilling you/giving recommendations etc., something's up. Good breeders really want to know where these pups are going.

Most, if not all breeders, are also associated with breed specific rescues and will ask that if you can no longer keep the pet you purchased that you notify them before you attempt to rehome the animal. All things to keep in mind when purchasing a pedigreed pet.

Personally? I won't breed or buy while shelter pets die. Besides most mutts I've had have been way more durable than any of my friends' purebreds



Ah yes, a little reading between the lines. I made no statement saying that I think the AKA or CKC are reputable or are filled with good intention. I don't believe that and I also do not agree with selective breeding or show dogs. If we could completely eliminate the show business I would like that and I'm sure many others would too - but it is not likely that it will happen. My point is to attack the weaknesses of these organizations and put new restrictions in place. Maybe some state laws requiring all family pets to be spayed/ neutered and breeders to only sell fixed pets would also help. Promote adoptions and make life harder for those who exploit animals to put money in their pockets. I see other commenters here have some great ideas...

All three of my dogs are shelter rescues and I too would never support breeders when there are wonderful dogs in shelters waiting for homes.


Backyard breeders can be eliminated (well, reduced) by requiring that all breeders be licensed in their state (for a large fee), and that all pets being sold to anyone other than a licensed breeder be altered. Meaning: all cats and dogs being sold or adopted must first be spayed/neutered, unless specifically being sold to a licensed breeder. It wouldn't fix everything, and it wouldn't help ferret out puppy mills, but it would be a start to reducing the number of shelter-pets. It should only increase the cost of adoption by the amount of the surgery - which any responsible buyer would have had to pay anyway.


So you breeders are pushing to create a monopoly. It is sad what happens when this kind of greed is involved. Your kind is ruining the pleasure of pet ownership.

Eventually we will be able to go to a pet bank and order up an exact copy of this year's Westminster winner. There will be no need to guess whether you will get a championship dog or a squirrel and there will be no breeder telling you that purchasing a dog from them will allow unlimited snap inspections to your house for the lifetime of said dog.

We used to be able to purchase a dog at someone's house. You know, they were backyard breeders. We purchased many a fine and healthy dog this way. I would much prefer to purchase from someone who occasionally breeds dogs because they love them. That person would be eliminated from doing so by the greed of the semi-pro breeder.

Is there a correlation between the greed and insanity of breeders and the rise of puppy mills? Now that would be an interesting study. This kind of insanity is also making it to through the ranks of shelters. I feel sorry for the dogs and I would like to (just figuratively) smack these people upside the head.




"responsible breeders"? Isn't that an oxymoron?


I have 3 adopted dogs from shelters (who are purebreds rescued from a so-called preferred breeder listed by the AKC) and would certainly never buy any puppies. I just think there needs to be severe penalties for backyard breeders/mills and tightened restrictions for any CKC/AKA breeder. It scares me to think that even I could have trusted a "reputable breeder" if I had not first done my own homework. There is always going to be some degree of corruption because of human error but the bulk of the horrible practices can be reduced significantly. Tightened restrictions, selling fixed puppies as suggested by previous commenter Des among other ideas would be a great start...

Phillip Raclyn, DVM CVA

You'd need an army of volunteers to check the breeders out. Fortunately, from my experience, there IS an army of volunteers just waiting for someone to organize them to a good end, like this is. I think it would easy enough to get vets on board, and I think most vets would offer something for free for pets adopted from a shelter. It just takes organization and some (but not a lot of) money.

Jeff Fitzmyers

Yes, all listers put up a performance bond, and indicate they have the ability to prove, via facts, not opinions, that their conditions meet minimum standards. Any lister can challenge an alleged puppy mill. If it turns out the puppy mill is a puppy mill, the puppy mill loses their performance bond to alleger. Otherwise the alleger loses their performance bond to the accused. Determination is done by listers (local experts) looking at facts.
This is a subset of the "Castpoints" conflict resolution system. Details http://wp.me/p1ePZy-1ri


The economics problem to work on here is not just one of information dispersal to make a market more efficient, which seems to be what Wagaroo is doing.

The problem is also geographic -- the lion's share of the "available" shelter dogs (particularly puppies) are in the Deep South, where it's puppy season year round and speuter laws are virtually non-existent, and the shelters have astronomical kill rates (often exceeding 80%, including purebreds which account for about 25% of most shelter populations). The key is figuring out efficient ways of getting what is an over-supply in the Deep South to the Northeast (where speuter laws are very effective, few puppies are available in shelters, and demand is high).

Our local shelter has done many "puppy transports" to rescue partners in points north, and usually nearly every puppy has an adopter waiting before the transport leaves Louisiana -- and every one of the pups would have died, had they stayed here. That's very expensive to accomplish, though (about $85-$150 per dog transported).

That problem of geographic displacement in the animal rescue market is a problem I would love to see a brilliant economist help solve.



Your question assumes that there is a clear distinction between puppy mills and responsible breeders. I see no such distinction. Breeders care for their dogs in many different ways and to different degrees. Some breeders are better in some ways, others better in others.

The question of how to encourage breeders to be humane is very different from the one you asked: how to distinguish between responsible breeders and group you have named as puppy mills but have not defined.


Just a random thought, but do you suppose we could apply similar standards to the backyard breeders of human infants?

Erin LP Carter

I'm in the unique position of reading this post as both an academic-in-training (read: marketing PhD student) and someone who has bred and exhibited animals for a number of years (don't tell my profs, but I'm showing my dog tomorrow). I think this is a great project, that should be welcomed and supported from all sides.

Petfinder.com does a good job of compiling and sorting shelter animals, but there's always more that could be done.

A couple of specific ideas re:identifying good breeders:

The responsible, ethical breeders out there have health tests done on breeding stock long before a breeding occurs. In many cases, these results are public. Breeders who want to be included in the registry should be able to link directly to results of health tests that have been performed on dogs they own and/or have bred.

As a general rule, breeders who are in this for the right reasons (producing healthy pets that improve the breed) exhibit in one venue or another. Whether that's confirmation dog shows, performance events (hunting,tracking, agility, obedience), or something else, it shouldn't be hard to confirm that they exhibit.

Again, a general rule that varies from breed to breed, but membership in a breed's parent club is a good indication of quality and priorities. Most if not all breed clubs have codes of conduct that members agree to abide by. Also, again depending on the breed, if an individual is not breeding responsibly there's a good chance that the parent club knows about it. Some indication of membership in a breed club or endorsement by a breed club would be tremendously informative.

This suggestion might be more controversial, but I'm of the opinion that breeders should offer both a health guarantee of some kind AND a stipulation in the purchase contract that should a dog that they've bred ever need to be relinquished for any reason the breeder has both first right of refusal and is required to take the dog back if that is what the purchaser prefers.


Philo Pharynx

Part of the issue is that the easy and cheap ways to implement this are easier to game. We all know that user ratings can be easily manipulated. Erin LP Carter mentioned posting animal health inspection data. I can think of a couple ways to deal with this just of the top of my head - 1) Post it for a few healthy animals and then breed additional puppies whitewashed using those healthy records. 2) Give kickbacks to a crooked vet for clean health tests. In order for this to work, there would need to be audits and inspections. One idea is to pay for this with penalties from violators, but it runs into a problem. If violations drop, then they can't afford so many inspections, which causes violations to rise.

dog lover

What percentage of dogs purchased for upwards of $1,000.00 wind up in the shelter? If an owner is willing to shell out that kind of money for a pet I think it's safe to say they are a committed owner. What percentage of dogs adopted from the shelter end up back in the shelter? Lower cost of entry, most likely a less responsible pet owner. Who is really responsible for the majority of dogs that end up in the shelter? It's not breeders, it's owners. Your argument suggests that by cracking down on breeders you’re going to save millions of pets; I think your barking up the wrong tree. According to your numbers demand already exceeds supply, yet still millions of dogs are euthanized each year.


First, there's no need to filter dogs from shelters or rescue groups.

You will probably have a dog for 8-15 years and requires daily care and exercise. If you can't be bothered to educated yourself about how to distinguish between a puppy mill and a responsible breeder, you probably should get a dog at all. Looking to "minimize search costs" indicates a "dogs are a commodity" attitude and that is what leads to puppy mills.

M. Bachmann

They tried that, it's called Communism.