#50 – 3 Unexpected Life Lessons from Dog Breeding

by | Jul 28, 2022 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management, Facilities Management, People Management

Before we get started, I wanted to thank you, thank you for being with me for 50 episodes! When I started this journey about 25% of me thought that I would be that one weirdo dog breeder in the corner that everyone rolled their eyes at. Thankfully, I found out I’m not the only one, in fact, I’ve been so lucky to meet the most incredible dog breeders in the past year, people who really care to make a difference in the world through breeding. I look forward to talking with you every day. Seriously though, you taking time out of your precious schedule to hang out with me on this podcast, it means so much to me. I’m grateful for you and I’ve enjoyed every moment of our time together.

I wanted to take this 50th episode to reflect on dog breeding and how it has taught me some invaluable—albeit—unexpected life lessons.

Have the right tool for the job.

I don’t just mean the best litter scoop or the fancy attachment on your water hose…but those do really help, but also it extends to the facility design and, potentially more importantly, the dogs you choose to breed. It’s pretty hard to build a great breeding program using dogs that aren’t a good match for your goals, but you already know that.

The right tool for the job really pops in my head when thinking about facilities. Sure it helps to have a nice exterior facility, but that wasn’t in the cards for me in the beginning. I remember how much better my life got, how my stress reduced, and how I slept better when I bought some outdoor modular kennels. While I couldn’t afford a concrete slab at the time, I used patio square pavers, the simple, cheap, 12” x 12” ones, and made two adjacent pens that were 10’x10’ with a 5’x10’ one at the end.

I was able to keep the dogs separated for breeding more easily, I didn’t have to juggle crates, and I knew they were safe in there when I left. The fence around my yard is really only good enough to keep in a cow…you might think that that would mean it is a better fence, but really, it’s old, crappy livestock fencing, so cows think it works, but they don’t test it like the dogs do. So I could never guarantee the dogs would be secure there when unattended. The pen gave me freedom, it was a definite upgrade from my previous juggling and worrying.

Along the lines of having the right tool—or pen—for the job, I learned that when you do something frequently, the easier you make it, the better it’ll be, but also the more likely you will be to get it done.

Take for example cleaning my newer concrete kennels, I used to just go in there and pressure wash them, but—and it only took me a year to figure this out 🤦‍♀️—well, turns out soggy dog poop is pretty nasty, makes a nice…shall we call it paste? Well that pasty sludge would dribble over the edge of the concrete, a wonderful breeding ground for flies and a great place to step if you want to have a reason to buy new shoes. I found out you can use a Steel Floor Scrapper, like they use in concrete jobs. It’s a flexible steel blade that gets all the poop separated from the kennel…you know those dogs that always want to step in it and mush it.

Anyways, I learned that if I first scrapped out the poop, dry, then went along the front of the lanes with a rake, raking it into a dry pile for easy removal, it made it so much faster to clean and really kept the sludgy mess down.

I remember Jordan Peterson talking about one of the best ways to change your life and make it better was to take 25 things in your DAILY life that weren’t going well and make those better. Start simple. He says you can’t really quantify how much of your life you get back when you get the day-to-day things done right.

That reminds me…I am constantly using a squirt of dawn dish soap in my laundry loads and I am always walking from the kitchen sink to the washer machine and then back…I should just buy a second bottle of dawn to keep in the laundry room…take one more thing off my list of 25 things…

Talking about taking small steps, that leads me to my next life lesson:

Plan to Pivot

You have to start somewhere. Instead of designing this perfect kennel in your head, trying to plan out every single detail, getting anxiety that you forgot or don’t know something that you should, just get out there and try it. Set a deadline, buy your breeding dogs, and do it. Go into it knowing that you’ll probably want to change something and that doesn’t mean you failed, it means you learned a better way—or at the very least, you learned what didn’t work.

In fairness, it’s why I created the Dog Breeding 101 course, I wanted to take the tension out of your shoulders and give you the confidence to try, knowing you have a solid base of knowledge to start your breeding program.

Planning to pivot is also an acknowledgement that it’s okay to be imperfect, to make mistakes, especially in the beginning. Planning to pivot is planning to learn, forgiving yourself for mistakes, and giving yourself the ability to change your mind and pivot your course.

This is why I had two kids, the first was practice, the second one…I’ll get it right. Okay, just kidding, but as a first child I can say that I also feel like my brothers had a slightly different upbringing 😆. But I digress.

I used to be worried to mess up. I hated to fail. I want to be good at what I do. Naturally, I want the same for my breeding program. The complexity of dog breeding is what helped me learn this lesson. It was impossible to know everything that I was going to run into in a breeding program, I’m still surprised sometimes. Breeding has helped me realize that life isn’t about pass or fail, it’s about trying new things, being challenged to figure something out, and getting better as you go, making forward motion. Planning to pivot puts you in the headspace to try. It allows you to aim at something, but then adjust that target later on after you learn more. Being great at something rarely comes without a preceding failure.

Just the same it means you don’t have to do it all right away, you can start small, start slow, and work up to the program you want. As you know, breeding programs aren’t so easy, there are a lot of moving parts and moving parts get complicated. Breeding programs are like tiny empires in the making. And, like I’ve said before, they are like Rome, they aren’t built in a day.

Empires are built by taking small steps that build on the previous steps; empires aren’t won in one fell swoop. Never did an army win by placing every soldier in their force on one battlefield, using all their munitions in the same battle. They may have won that battle, but they’ll surely lose the war. Big, impressive moves are rarely sustainable. Just the same, you didn’t win your significant other by taking them on one long-weekend vacation, I don’t care how romantic or luxurious it was. The relationship was built over time, piece by piece, a little vulnerability and then having that vulnerability embraced, not abused, building trust. It’s the same with breeding programs, the most successful breeding programs are built by small calculated steps, like adding more pieces to the puzzle until you make the picture you want—the breeding program you desire.

It doesn’t mean you have to be slow, you can get a great program up and running in about two years, but it’s the big picture that we are working towards. You probably won’t have your puppy rearing dialed in perfect on the first litter, but I guarantee you’ll learn so many things you couldn’t just read. Nor can you put a price on the experience of talking with buyers, learning their needs, their hopes for their puppies, and all the little techniques for setting them up for success. It all takes time. We make mistakes. We learn. And we plan to pivot.

Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

Expectations are what make or break everything.

You ever have a vehicle with a slow leak in one of the tires? You get up a little earlier in the morning and you expect you’ll need to fill that tire to get through the day, or at least until you can get to the tire shop. It isn’t a big deal, you EXPECT it to take a little longer in the morning, you expect it to be a little more work, so it doesn’t get you upset, it doesn’t throw off your schedule, it’s just something you’ve got to do.

BUT, do you remember the first morning you were going out to your car and the tire was low? It’s a lot more irritating because you didn’t expect it. A single unexpected event can start a downward spiral of things: you have to fill up the tire so you have to stop at the gas station and get air, that takes a few extra minutes. That extra wait time means you hit more traffic on your way in. You don’t have time to grab your normal coffee so you’re not quite feeling like your eyes are awake yet, and you feel flustered walking into work 10 minutes late as your co-worker looks at you, raising an eyebrow.

It sucks, notice how the difference was merely whether or not the low tire was expected?

Dog breeding has given me a whole new understanding of expectations and how they make or break everything. If you expect six puppies and get four, it’s a bummer, if you expect four puppies and get six it’s a bonus. If you expect that your dogs will cycle at a certain time and they do, it’s wonderful, if they don’t cycle when you expect, it’s frustrating.

Not to mention that live animals are not exactly wrought with very predictable behavior. Yes, you get a feel for your dogs and their personalities, the crazy things they like to get into, but each day I swear there’s something new to see with the dogs. They’ll eat an indestructible toy, you’ll see they’ve managed to scale to the top of the fence, you see them find a way to open a latch or they found the garbage bag you thought you put high enough. I have come to expect that things in my life will never be fully predictable.

I mean, silly me for thinking any of life is predictable.

Eleanor Roosevelt had a great quote, she said, “If life were predictable it would cease to be life, it would have no flavor.”

I have to agree with her, we don’t want everything in life to be predictable. I think the most unhappy people in the world are those who try to predict and control everything. The likelihood that you’ll be able to attain everything EXACTLY how you want it, the perfect house, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect car, the perfect job, it’s all very unlikely, therefore they are destined to have life fail to live up to their expectations. They are destined to be disappointed.

Let me clarify though, it’s HOW you set the expectations that matters. If you expect your litter to have 6 puppies, 3 males, 3 females, 2 in this color, 2 with this pattern, and 2 with a blaze, well have you calculated the statistical probability of that specifically? It’s not super likely. However, if you expect to have healthy puppies and expect to be surprised with the results, not really worried about colors and patterns, well then you’ll get what you expect, you’ll be surprised when they are born and it is fun and exciting no matter what is born.

On a side note, if you are happy and excited with what you get, that tends to pass on to your buyers, just the same as a disappointment you have for a puppy will also pass on to your buyers.

The dogs remind me daily that life is not predictable, so I need to set my expectations accordingly. I need to shift the criteria for my expectations. I don’t want you to confuse thinking I mean lower the bar, but let’s look at what success is. Success is healthy puppies with great temperaments and drives, aligned with families that will thrive with them, done in a way that is more a benefit rather than a burden to our families.

Anything that meets that criteria is on track with our longer term goal, whatever that looks like. I find that I no longer have emotions about small litters, litters with predominately one sex born, or litters with lots of “unfavorable” colors. I breed with color in mind, sure, but I no longer have emotions when statistics on paper don’t play out in the real world. For example, solid dogs in my breed are less desired than ticked dogs. The first litter I ever had with my solid stud I had 10 puppies born! Statistically 5 of them should’ve been solid, but 9 of them were, and to make it funnier, 7 were males and they were all solid. Seriously, what are the odds. I was bummed out when it first happened, but now if that happened, I would just find it funny. I don’t expect the statistics to ever play out just perfect, although it does happen sometimes.

And while it helps to have expectations that are easier to meet, preventing disappointment, and appreciating the good things we have, expectations are also so important with buyers.

When I reflect on problems with buyers, it almost always comes back to a failure on my part to set proper expectations. Whether that was failing to let them know what to expect from me in the selection process, failing to let them know the main struggles buyers often have with their new puppies, or failing to make them feel like I was on their team, resulting in hurting the trust in our relationship. Expectations—and whether or not I properly set or met them—was at the root of all my buyer relationships, good or bad.

You see, when the buyers struggle with their puppy and they weren’t expecting that struggle, often they blame the breeder, even if it’s just normal puppy stuff! BUT, if you told them about that coming up, now they expect it, they recognize it, they know what to do, and instead of blaming you, they respect and trust you because you set them up for success by telling them what to expect.

Once I realized that setting appropriate expectations was a key component in creating great buyer relationships, then I was able to take a lot of work and stress off my plate in my program.

I’ve taken this understanding of setting and meeting expectations and applied that to my life and it’s made a big difference. I let my kids know what to expect for the day’s schedule, I try and zoom out on my goals so I make sure I’m working toward the greater end goal. I even discuss expectations with Bill in our relationship so we not only have awareness of what each other expects, but we can have conversations when it seems like the other’s expectations of us may be unrealistic. It helps keep us all on the same page and prevents resentment from building up.

To summarize, dog breeding has taught me many life lessons, but three big ones are: have the right tool for the job, plan to pivot, and expectations are what make or break everything.

I hope you enjoyed this reflection and I’d love to know what life lessons you’ve learned from dog breeding.

Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

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!