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?

Kathy A.

No thoughts on how to separate puppy mills, but part of the problem seems to be that a number of people think dogs from shelters are problem dogs.

Both my dogs are shelter dogs. They are healthy, wonderful dogs, and the folks at the shelter did an awesome job matching us with dogs that fit our lifestyle. Each dog had a couple of insecurity issues at first, but love and training has solved that. When people we meet ask where we got them, they are almost always amazed that you can get such great dogs at the shelter.

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Any reputable breeder will have their dogs certified against any hereditary problems and give documentation, guarantee their puppies and will take them back if the home does not work out. AKC has tried to help by offering limited registration so breeders can control puppies being certified for breeding and reputable breeders will use this tool. A reputable breeder will not inbreed nor crossbreed, has a history of their dogs and usually has a waiting list for their puppies before they breed. They do not need to advertise because what they produce will be advertisement enough and the word will get out. Educating people on what to look for so they can make up there minds is what we need rather than more restrictions.


All of which is nothing more than the AKC and its breeder clique trying to establish a monopoly. Surely economists should understand that?

If so-called responsible breeders in the AKC system really do what they claim, why do we have e.g. the modern bulldog with its innumerable health problems caused by breeding to show standards? Or the German Shepherd, with its hip problems caused by breeding to show standards? Or the many other show standard-related health problems that can easily be found with a quick search?


The underlying problem is not one that can be fixed with an easy solution. The FDA costs how many millions a year? Are we willing to take other people's money to police dog producers? The only real solution is to promote people looking into the places they buy their dogs and buying a good dog, not a pure bread dog.

I would love to get a dog, I can afford a monthly fee (food, etc), but a one time cost of $1000 is absurd, any sort of restrictions or policing action will result in the increase of this cost... limiting the owners of dogs to that of "rich" owners or owners that are willing to buy from these puppy farms. Like most idea's we must be aware of actual consiquenses, not just what we wish to happen.

Yes, I know I have offered no solutions, just careful observation.


You know, I have had many good dogs over the years (and most of them were mutts), but I've never bought one. Sometimes they were strays (presumably dumped by urbanites seeing a drive to the country as an easy way to get rid of inconvenient Fido), sometimes cases of "Can you keep him just for a week or so, otherwise he'll have to go to the (sob) pound" - and a decade or so later I find myself digging another grave. If you want a dog, there's no reason in the world to buy one.


The human world has the same problem but they don't sell their children, they use them to get more money from the govt...yes, the welfare system. So how do we solve these problems? Puppy Mill wise...Why can't local law enforcement and SPCA have the authority to check out complaints with puppy-mills? Why doesn't each state require some form of "breeding license" that would not only fund home inspections, but would help to get rid of these mills much like the FFA licensing for Mom and Pop gun shops did? Why arent landlor held at least partially accountable for what goes ocurrs on their property? I would certainly volunteer my time and undergo any required training by the state to help with inspections. I think increasing fines for failing to license your pet with the township/bureau would help.


The only definitive way to distinguish a puppy mill from a responsible breeder is to be a responsible buyer-visit the home where the puppy (and its parents, presumably) are being raised to check conditions and whether they're being socialized properly. Check with other buyers who've owned a puppy from the breeder. Ask which genetic tests are done on the parents to screen out genetically transmitted diseases common to that breed.

The problem is that dog buying should be a rational process, not an emotional one. When someone sees a puppy and falls in love with it, all of the questions that should be asked just fly out the window. Since it's human nature to behave this way, I believe the solution is to outlaw puppy mills and place limits on the number of litters that can be produced each year.

Take away the big profit, you'll take away a lot of the corruption.

FWIW, I own one dog from a breeder, one rescue dog, and a pound cat.


Jen Goslee

In my dog acquisition process last year I discovered that most of the dogs available in shelters in my area (NJ/PA) are pit bulls or chihuahuas. As neither of these breeds was acceptable to me, and none of the pet rescues (which tend to swoop in to get the more desirable dogs) in my area was willing to adopt to someone that lived in a condo, I was forced to use a breeder. Not a puppy mill (although I did visit one "breeder" that was a puppy mill when we got there, with 20+ puppies and the adults were unavailable to see).

So the assumption that the 3 million put down would be equally acceptable pets to people that chose to get their breed of choice is erroneous. Take ten minutes to look at your local shelters on petfinder.com and tell me if 50%+ of the dogs described as "lab mix", "shepherd mix", and "terrier mix" aren't all pit bulls, which even if not human aggressive (an argument you may choose to make despite the majority of dog fatalities in the US involving those dogs, many people choose to make that argument) are almost certainly dog aggressive and can easily involve you in a situation where your pet mauls someone elses.



i'm not sure what the solution is.
1. puppies are cute and shelter dogs are usually adults. breeder operations are usually mom and pop places and are hard to find. it is much easier and cheaper to order a dog on a site like puppyfind.com and have it shipped to you
1b. dogs don't live long as it is. to those who have seen their old pals die, it is too emotionally difficult to deal with adopting an older, sick dog. granted, some get a lot of satisfaction taking care of these dogs, it is not for everyone.
2. shelters have a lot of mixed breeds and a lot of breeds that are more popular in lo-income areas (in los angeles, this means lots of chiuhauahuas, pitbulls, rotweilers, etc.). many people want pure bred dogs. there is nothing wrong with that. hundreds of years of selective breeding to get highly desirable traits like low shedding or certain temperments
3. granted puppy mills that treat dogs terribly should be shut down. there is currently no way to regulate this and no way to know for certain who is running a puppymill. as such, the puppies that are advertised are already born and nothing can be done about that. might as well pay less and have the convenience of shipping if the breeder gets the benefit of the doubt.


Sarah Wilson (@MySmartPuppy)

It'll be an on-going challenge. It is complicated, to say the least, sorting out responsible sources from all the rest. Concrete measures? Health testing (for breeders) and they take the pups/dogs back - always and every time (all sources). Although that last one is manipulated constantly. Know one huge and well-funded shelter that makes returning a dog to them onerous, to say the least, and know breeders who say, sure, we'll take your puppy back but then guilt the people.

It's a mess. As for the "wheat from the chaff" process, this link may be helpful. Good luck!



At issue is that it can be very difficult to adopt a rescue dog. One organization we worked with wouldn't adopt to us because we did not have a fence, though we lived on 300 acres. Many shelters/rescue groups won't allow families with children to adopt. Some insist upon a certain size yard.

It is easier to buy a dog than to deal with the demands of the rescue groups. I have personally known several families who wanted shelter dogs who gave up because of the hurdles thrown in their way.


Our daughter has been wanting a dog for a long time. After initial resistance and hesitation we decided to get a dog for her.

So I set out to find a perfect dog for us. I hear outcry about pet-overpopulation and dogs being euthanize in shelter. I wanted to do the RIGHT things. I will not get a puppy from puppy-mill. We are flexible about dog breeds. I will open doors to a needy older mutt.

Fast-forward couple of month and now we have a pure-breed re-homed puppy. How hypocritical is that? Why couldn't I provide a home to a needy dog? Why wan't my initial objective achieved?

You need to be in my shoes for a bit. Imagine all the following circumstances with your 8-yr old nagging every waking moment in background. As first steps, I started searching on craigslist. I came across advertisements from "rescue" groups with pictures of cute dogs wanting foster homes. All these advertisements had call to action .. Act now or else the puppy will be euthanize next day. So, I replied... to many such advertisements. Very few rescue group actually replied back. Out of which who replied .. kept me waiting and promising with one excuse or other. The dog will be here any day - oh no may be next day. It gave me a feeling that the rescue group really didn't had the advertised dog. Other rescue groups tried bait-and-switch technique. The conversation wen something like this 'The advertised dog (often purebreed dog) found a family.. but now this dog with very questionable history?'

So, what was the deal? You need to understand the dog-adoption eco-system. As with every object, brand name sells. Just as car's worth more if it is Mercedise vs Honda, dogs is worth more for right breed. Pure breed young dogs can be sold upwards of 600$s. When there is $$ involve there is incentive for crooks. There are legitimate rescue organizations, which truly rescue dogs from shelter and give them second chance. But these are left-over dogs that shelters labeled as not suitable for adoption. If you are looking for first-time dog ownership, rescue organizations aren't the best door to knock.

I looked at dog shelters for adoption. I realized that dogs that are recognized as family pet gets adopted quickly. Remaining inventory of dogs are pit-bull-mix. Obviously, the breed is not suitable for families with small kids.

After being burned by so called rescue organizations, I was extra careful. Now the option available to us was go with reputed breeder or a private adoption. We ended up with private adoption. We are happy to include Rocky in our family.

I wanted to mention the Nor-Cal-Beagle http://www.norcalbeagles.com organizations that is exception to the story. My interaction with them was what I would expect from volunteer run organization. This rescue organization hasn't advertise on craigslist - I found them through word-of-mouth.

So, what is the rescue organization scam? Keep reading the previous post..



I see many of these comments posted are coming from people who know "squat" about dog breeding. For some breeds of dogs, the breeding process is very similar to thoroughbred horses or prized livestock. What does this mean to the laymen? Well the breeder has at minimum "titled" the sire & the dam in some kind of internationaly recognized dog sport. Let me clarify I am not talking only about the AKC/CKC show titles that you see on TV, but ALL of the other dog sport organizations and titles that typicaly are required to sell governement agencies and dog sport professionals.

For example hunting dogs have many types of field trials and hunting trials that when combined with a well known sire & dam, can produce puppies that sell for a "pretty penny"; working dogs also can earn schutzhund and mondio ring titles, further increasing thier breeding value. Well, what does all this mean? Its a way for buyers to have a means of evaluating thier purchase. For those saying health certificates are meaningless, feel free to look up OFA testing, pennHIP certification, Hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy. When you are done reading come back here and try to tell how these "health certificates" are worthless then. You won't be able to because, while no foolproof, they do provide a more than reasonable base standard to go by.

Now back to the whole puppy mill issue and the calls posted here for more regulation. Well ,should any of these "initiatives" become reality by adding more "rules" to breed dogs, the simple out come will be that many well known, good breeders will be put out of business outright. Why is that, you ask? Because breeding dogs is not a way to become rich and the government is pretty keen on auditing legitimate dog breeders as "hobbyists" and not businesses. Nobody gets rich breeding dogs, even puppy millers.

Now my final point the Wagaroo website doesn't even work properly. I registered and I can't search anything, all I can do is add a breeder to be rated. Maybe the site is still in the work, but if that is so why is Freakonimcs blog giving it publicity? I don't see anything new or worthy of attention on the Wagaroo website



Sounds like an opportunity for someone wanting to open a non-profit organization. They would inspect and report puppy mills not complying with the law. I suspect that legitimate breeders and shelters would endorse such an organization, since it would help their cause. Also, it should be made well-known to the public and run like a charity to accept donations.