Buying a dog? Here's how to avoid puppy scammers

Dog owners could be leaving themselves exposed to being scammed or inadvertently buying smuggled puppies, warns a charity.

Dogs Trust is warning people how to avoid being 'dogfished'. (Photo: Beth Walsh)

Investing in a pricey purchase without a cursory glance through product reviews has become unthinkable for some.

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Yet, despite the likelihood of a dog being part of a home for longer than many white goods, the research that goes into buying a puppy has been found to be wanting.

According to recently released data from a Dogs Trust study, more than a third (34 per cent) of those questioned who had bought a puppy in the past seven years did not do any research before purchasing their dog.

It’s hard to marry the charity’s findings with a culture in which scanning reviews seems to have become a requisite part of the shopping experience.

Yet the research also found that a quarter of respondents said they only saw their puppy on the day they took them home, not beforehand – rising to 34 per cent among those who found their pooch through a pet selling or classified advertising website.

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This is in contrast to the guidance from Dogs Trust, which advises people to think twice and ask lots of questions before buying a puppy and recommends visiting a dog in their home more than once or, if that’s not possible due to lockdown restrictions, via video chat more than once before making a decision.

The charity’s Choosing My Dog study surveyed 2,908 people who bought their puppy in the past seven years to investigate the thought processes and approaches dog owners go through when selecting their canine friend.

Dogs Trust always recommends seeing a puppy interacting with their mum so potential owners can make sure they know they haven’t been taken from them too young.

But the survey revealed that more than a fifth (21 per cent) of those questioned didn’t think it was important to be able to see the puppy with one of its parents – rising to 34 per cent among those who found their puppy through a pet selling or classified advertising website.

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The findings have sparked concern that owners could be leaving themselves vulnerable to being scammed or to inadvertently buying puppies smuggled from abroad in atrocious conditions.

“Sadly, we continue to see more and more heart-breaking examples of puppies being illegally imported into the country,” said Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust’s veterinary director.

“Puppy smugglers are making vast profits by exploiting innocent puppies, breeding and transporting them in appalling conditions to sell onto unsuspecting dog lovers.

“Unfortunately, it is all too easy to be hoodwinked by these deceitful traders. That is why it is so important to do your research before buying a dog so you can do everything you can to buy your puppy responsibly.”

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Dogs Trust, which has re-homing centres across the UK, is warning people how to avoid being exploited by deceitful dealers or ‘dogfished’ - being scammed into buying a dog which may not be what it seems - at a time when demand for dogs in the UK has never been higher and more puppies continue to be illegally imported to the country to meet that demand.

Through its Puppy Pilot scheme, the charity regularly rescues puppies that have been illegally imported into the UK.

Between the start of lockdown (March 23) and the end of September, it rescued 140 puppies that were illegally imported into the country from Central and Eastern Europe.

Dogs Trust says these pups were destined to be advertised online as UK-bred dogs for extortionate prices, sold to unsuspecting buyers.

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And if sold, they could have fetched an estimated £266,000 for their puppy smugglers.

The charity, which has been campaigning to raise awareness of puppy smuggling since 2014, also saved 14 heavily pregnant mums during lockdown, who have given birth to 56 puppies worth around an additional £115,000 to smugglers.

For more information and advice about how to avoid being misled when buying a puppy advertised online, visit

What to do to avoid being dogfished

Always see puppy and mum together at their home and make sure to visit more than once, even if it is via video call due to coronavirus restrictions.

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Never pay a deposit up front without seeing the puppy in person.

Ask lots of questions and make sure you see all vital paperwork, such as a puppy contract – which gives lots of information about their parents, breed, health, diet, the puppy’s experiences and more.

If you have any doubts or feel pressured to buy, as hard as it may be, walk away and report the seller.

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