#11 – Are Titles Necessary for a Successful Breeding Program?

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management, People Management

I wish I had a dollar for every time a new breeder jumped into a Facebook Group and asked what they needed to do to start breeding. Invariably you’ll see multiple comments that say, “you need to health test, wait until two years to breed, and title your dog before breeding.” It’s like this trifecta is the perfect—and only—way to have a successful breeding program.

But is it really? Do you really need titles to have a successful breeding program?

In my last episode, Episode #10, we talked about defining success as a breeder, and, at the very least, success has to be producing puppies that go to homes where they have a high quality of life, which of course is a little different for each dog.

Do Titles Determine Quality of Life?

They don’t. You could argue that a dog that is earning titles is more structurally sound or has better drive, depending on the event they are performing in. However, I would argue that while titles may help you evaluate that, I wouldn’t use the LACK of titles to disqualify a dog, especially if the dog was never entered into an event.

I like to bring new blood to my kennel through stud dogs. I retain females and bring in studs. Because studs are used on multiple females, I have to be super picky, and it takes me a long time to find one. In fact, most times I’m on the hunt for a new stud for about a year before I select a kennel, then the wait begins for a puppy to be born that works for me.

My dad lives in another state. While visiting him there, I found a kennel a little over an hour from him that seemed to have it all going on. The guy had been breeding a long time, and he had some pretty prestigious hunting titles. I called him and asked to come out, and he agreed.

He was really nice, cared a lot about his dogs. He took his dual-national champion stud dog out and showed me how well he hunted using some birds he raised on the property. I mean this guy had a killer set up. I learned a lot.

He talked about his stud dog and the national championships. He was 7 years old, and he was proud to tell me how he had sired 30 litters. He showed me two bitches who were in his whelping area, ready to drop pups within the week, one sired by this stud. He knew I was interested in finding a stud, so he told me that the pups out of this stud were $2500 and the ones out of the other stud were $1800. It was clear that his kennel reputation was built around this particular dog.

As we were watching the stud move, I saw that his elbows swung out awkwardly as he pivoted, it looked unnatural and potentially painful. I looked around at some of his younger shorthairs, the stud’s offspring. Same thing. Their elbows swung out when they pivoted. I asked the breeder if his elbows were okay. To his credit, he told me the truth, that this stud had had three elbow surgeries.

I get goosebumps thinking about it: a 7-year-old dog with three elbow surgeries. You’d be lucky to have that done for less than $10,000, and that’s not counting the post-op care.

Shorthairs average 8-12 pups a litter by breed standard. So, even if all the litters he sired were only six pups, that would still be 180 puppies out there. Can you imagine sending home all those puppies and having elbow problems? Even if only 10% of the pups were affected, that’s near 20 families who will have to pay at least $10,000 in elbow surgeries! Yet, looking at the dogs he had there, I would say it was over 50% that inherited these elbows.

And it’s not just the financial burden it places on the families. It’s the quality of life for those dogs. How many of those 180 dogs will be in pain? How many won’t be able to hunt because the families won’t be able to afford the surgery? How many will be euthanized early because the pain is too much and the surgery is too costly?

To clarify, as I know some of you are wondering why the elbows weren’t tested, this was only made a health testing requirement in 2014, for Shorthairs. This dog had been cleared of all the required health testing at the time. But it would be fair to say that dogs like him are the reason that it is now a health testing requirement.

Why would a breeder keep breeding this dog? Because the dog had titles, it looked better to have a titled dog siring his litters. The titles made his pups worth more money and, if you’re going to raise eight pups, wouldn’t you rather sell them for $2500 instead of $1800? Especially when that stud is what prospective buyers think they want. They think they want a puppy out of titled lines.

This brings me to an important point about titles. Titles do matter IF they matter to your ideal dog buyer. If your ideal dog buyers think they want titles, then they may pass up your kennel, and your dogs, if you aren’t titling your dogs, or they may only want a puppy out of your titled dogs.

If your ideal customer is looking for a show puppy, well then it would be VERY beneficial to your program to have show titles on your breeding stock. This is a great way to prove that your dogs can win at show. In a situation like this, these events directly evaluate what your ideal owners are looking for in dog, so the titles will be very necessary to success in your breeding program.

The same will be true if you are selling dogs to ideal owners who plan to compete in any event, which could be agility, herding events, hunting events, or even dock diving.

If you aren’t sure what an ideal dog buyer is, or how to develop one, please check out Episode #3.

You have to be careful though. If your ideal customer is set on getting a dog out of titled parents, merely having the titles isn’t enough. The two dogs you pair together have to be a complement to each other, not just physically, but through drive and temperament as well. If they don’t complement each other, the pups will come out worse for wear and you won’t be building a bloodline that you love. And your buyers will be frustrated.

This is where I see a lot of breeders make an oops. They want the titles, so they breed a non complementary pair and, while it sells the dogs, they turn out to be a disappointment. You don’t want your kennel name on that.

I’m also concerned about using titles as a way to evaluate and select breeding stock. Say you have a bitch who gets second place in show because of her ears. They are just a little too long and, while they don’t disqualify her, it makes her lose the event. If you gauge your success through titles, then it would benefit you to select a stud who has better ears and who will improve the puppies’ ears and give them a better opportunity at winning.

Well, what if you have another stud to pick from and he has a better temperament than the stud with the pretty ears. His temperament will be easier to train and therefore his offspring would have a much better opportunity for a high quality of life.

Now you’re in a tough spot. Are you going to select the stud that will give you better temperament, but who won’t help you win? Or are you going to select the stud that has the pretty ears and will help you get a title?

If you are taught that show wins means your breeding program is successful, you’re bound to sacrifice the temperament in an effort to win. And this is where it sucks, because the families who get those puppies, even if they win, will have missed out on a better temperament dog, who would’ve had a much better opportunity for a high quality of life.

It comes down to quality of life in my eyes. The ear length, really doesn’t affect the quality of life for a dog, long, short, floppy, or erect, it doesn’t really matter, and they won’t suffer. But a poor temperament, well that can cost a lot in quality of life.

Want to Get the “Impact Assessment of Titling Your Dogs” Quick Questionnaire?

Going for Titles Can Capsize Your Finances

Events aren’t cheap. It’s not the entering of the event that is costly, but all that goes with it: the cost of travel, eating out, time off work, and potentially the cost of having someone take care of your other dogs if you can’t take them with you.

When evaluating if titles will help—or hurt—your breeding program, it is important to consider the cost of the events against what it will do for your breeding program. If in order to break even on your program you need to raise the price of each puppy by $1,000 to cover the costs of titling, then it may not be worth it. You might not get an extra $1,000 for your dogs when you add titles to your breeders, so it’s worth it to run the numbers.

Don’t forget the extra work it will be finding homes for your dogs at higher prices, especially if it bumps you out of the average price point for your breed in your region.

Some diehards will say that the titles are important and making money breeding isn’t. I disagree.

I believe that if your breeding program costs you money, then it places an undue stress on your household and your dogs. Even if you’re single, and not putting out your spouse and kids, it will make it harder to support your dogs with the extra things they need because that money went towards engaging in events.

It’s simply not enough to look at the raw numbers. You also have to look at the “opportunity cost” of that money.

If you aren’t familiar, “opportunity cost” is the cost of losing another opportunity because of the decision you made. So, in our example, if you spent $1,000 to go to a show to try and title your dog, what other things were you unable to do because you spent that $1,000 on the trip and not something else? Could you have bought better quality dog food instead? What about buying more pens? How about paying a trainer to help you, or hiring someone to help you manage your kennel?

“Opportunity cost” doesn’t just apply to money, it also applies to time. If your time was spent at an event, what other things could you have done instead?

Sometimes the cost is dire, like leaving town when you have puppies on the ground and losing one because the person you hired to watch them didn’t notice something wrong with the puppies like you would’ve. This doubly hurts because you lost a puppy, you hurt a family who was hoping for a puppy, you lost the money from that puppy, and you lost the money going on the trip.

Does Not Engaging in Events Make You a Bad Breeder?

Some breeders condemn other breeders for not entering in events. They say that you’re only in it for the money if you don’t engage in earning titles. As we’ve already discussed, titles don’t necessarily help you with your breeding program. They are only necessary for a successful breeding program if your ideal puppy buyer cares about them.

I don’t think that engaging in events is what determines if you are an honest breeder either. I don’t see the connection there. I love my dogs, my breed, all their quirks, and I love making the best puppy I can and placing him in the best home I can find, then supporting that dog and family his whole life.

I don’t show. In fact, the only show I ever went to was a goat show. I entered one goat, lost, had some fun, and realized I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t see it as helpful to my goat program at all. This was before I was breeding dogs.

I no longer have goats, although I hope to get some soon, but just a few. I breed dogs full-time. It is how I pay my bills, and I have a successful breeding program without titled dogs.

My ideal dog buyer does not care about titles, although my dogs hunt and my breeding program is recommended by four bird dog trainers in our state. I actually haven’t been asked if my dogs have titles in over three years. It simply is not my ideal dog buyer. My marketing is niched down to attracting the people who do really well with my dogs, and their criteria is more about the temperament, health, and drive of a dog, which is demonstrated by the success other buyers have had with my dogs, not through their resume.

Just because I don’t show or field-trial my dogs, doesn’t mean they aren’t quality. In fact I have a few hundred pups out there that suggests I’m breeding dogs who are very high quality and enjoy a very high quality of life. I gauge my success by the success of my dogs in their families. The families and what they want in a dog, and the dog thriving in that home, are my criteria for success, and I think that should be every breeder’s goal for success in their program.

What If You Love Showing or Doing Events?

I know many breeders who are never as happy as when they are at an event. If you love these events, talking with the other people showing their dogs, networking in that market, or you enjoy the bonding it gives you with your dog, then by all means go for titles. If you love to do something, you should do it. Just understand the potential risks and costs that can grow out of your titling activities, and the impact it can have on your dogs and their quality of life, and make sure to manage those risks in a way that maintains quality of life for your dogs and the puppies they produce.

All I am saying is that it is not necessary for a successful breeding program to have titled dogs unless your ideal dog buyer cares. And, if titles are important to your ideal dog buyer, then you need to be careful not to fall into the trap of breeding titles over the right, complementary pair.

If you don’t like events, don’t see a point in them, and you’re worried that your breeding program will suffer, well breathe easy. It isn’t necessary. You just need to make sure that the ideal dog buyer you are breeding for is on the same page as you. That’s more important for your success.

To recap, you should title your dogs if the titles matter to your ideal dog buyers, and/or if you really enjoy it.

If titles don’t matter to your ideal dog buyer, nor to you, then don’t worry about it. Focus on breeding that perfect, healthy, well-tempramented and driven dog for the ideal dog buyers that click with you and your dogs.

Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!