#57 – Can You Leave Your Dogs For a Family Emergency?

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Dog & Puppy Management, Facilities Management, People Management

Recently I had one of the scariest days of my life. Bill called me and said he was driving himself to the Emergency Department because he had no idea what was happening, but he didn’t feel right, and was in a lot of pain.

Now, if you ever met Bill, you’d know he’s the farthest thing from a hypochondriac and he’s certainly not a couch potato. People think I’m busy, but Bill runs circles around me. For him to have such a health scare caught me completely off guard. To make it worse, he was 13 hours away, working a job in Colorado.

The blood test confirmed that his suspicions were correct, had he not gone to the Emergency Department we might have lost him.

So many things go through your mind when someone you love is facing such a medical emergency: you wonder if they’ll be okay, if they’re in pain, how they’re handling it, if life will ever be the same for them, yet, without a doubt, the number one thought that was racing in my mind was I need to be with him and as soon as possible.

While everything in my body said, “Grab your coat and go”…thankfully a slightly rational part of my brain still remained and reminded me that I have two kids that are 8 and 10…oh yeah, and 18 adult dogs, 7 puppies getting ready to go home, a sick puppy that needed nursing and some herbal deworming, and a mama dog who was ready to pop within the next few days. How could I leave with all these dogs? All these buyers waiting on taking home their puppy and so many other families waiting on their puppy to be born? All counting on me to ensure their pup is healthy and well?

I knew in my heart I needed to be there with him. I bought a plan ticket, leaving me with 2.5 hours to prepare to leave for an unknown length of time, could be a few days, could be a few weeks, we probably wouldn’t know for a little while.

How do you prepare to leave all those dogs in 2.5 hours? The short answer is you really can’t, some of that prep has to be done first, but that’s what I want to talk with you about today, how to design your breeding program where you can leave, even if you only have 2.5 hours notice.


First off, as you might have guessed, facilities are everything. Facilities are truly what made my leaving possible…along with my kids…but I’ll get to them in a second.

In my menagerie of dogs I have four GSP studs and 2 Rat Terrier Studs, along with Cinch, who is still intact. Imagine if I had been managing my studs by rotating who was inside in a crate and who was outside in the backyard. That sort of management system, while possible—I did do that for a few years—would’ve been too much burden to place on someone watching my dogs, it would require someone to live there and understand who can be around who, essentially setting the situation and responsible person up for failure. Trainers often say that management often fails despite our best attempts and I can assent to that. Add the complexity of someone who doesn’t normally manage your dogs, it can be a recipe for disaster.

In my current set up, I have the individual kennel lanes, separate exercise pens, and a fenced yard that allows me to host my dogs without direct supervision.

The individual kennel lanes I have, as you might recall from episode #54 have an indoor 4×4’ area and an outdoor run that’s 4×12’, a little bigger than 1 x 2 meters for my international friends. While not the most ideal, it was something that my dogs could live in for an extended amount of time without fear they would be sleeping in their own feces, nor fighting with one another over food.

If you don’t have the opportunity to build facilities like I have or you aren’t there yet, then something you can do more affordably is have an outdoor area that is safe, has room to move, and has some form of dog house that the dog or dogs can retreat to comfortably, allowing them to escape from the elements and sleep warm and dry.

In fact, when designing facilities, I would highly recommend you first start with the exercise pens and then worry about building an actual housing facility.

What helps in preparation for leaving is a map of your facilities with numbers or letters. This way, even if you have to leave on short notice, you have a map you can give to your helping hand who will feed your dogs when you leave and you can put individual instructions for the dogs in each of the locations on the map. To see what mine looks like, you can check it out using the form below.

What I’ve found over the years between friends, family, and hired hands, is that people will not know your dogs as well as you, and honestly, most struggle to learn the names of your dogs if they look alike or once you have about six of them. For example, with my dogs, I have three solid liver German Shorthairs. One is my stud Rusty and two mamas, who are his daughters. Although the mama dogs look very different to me, coming from two different maternal lines, it would be difficult to describe which was which to someone verbally, even though they are about 10 lbs different in size, it’s subtle enough that many people wouldn’t be reliable in their assessment of who was bigger.

In fairness, I’ve even had people come over who struggled with who was a male and female, despite the obvious.

In the end you really need a fail-proof system and the best way to do that is through a map and then with each dog who is in there. You might find pictures helpful, but again, like with my solid liver dogs, people don’t really see a difference like we think they would. I imagine it’s akin to us looking at the animals at the zoo. When I look at the giraffes they all sort of look the same until I really stop to look at them…and I have a relatively trained eye, yet unless I take a moment to really notice, they look the same. Bill gets irritated with me about vehicles like this, I’ll be like, “Oh that looks like so and so’s truck” and he’ll roll his eyes, “Julie, Julie, that truck is different because it has this grill, those rims, and it’s a different lift” and I just sort of smile like I understand…

Anyways, all I’m saying is don’t overestimate people’s abilities to differentiate your dogs.

Want to Get the Facilities Map Example Cheatsheet?


Next, it helps to have capable friends and to be generous with your favors. Sometimes the most handy friend to have is another breeder, doesn’t need to be in the same breed, but someone who is local to you who understands what is involved with breeding, especially whelping. This person can be invaluable if you have to leave unexpectedly and you have an expectant mother or a litter on the ground.

I have a friend who breeds German Shepherds, she lives just a few miles away, I enjoy going out to coffee with her every few weeks so we can touch base on breeding, the German Shepherd word is culturally much different than the bird dog world, so learning her struggles and victories, what’s important to her buyers or not, gives me a lot of insight into my breeding world with bird dogs and always gives me things to think about. However, in a pinch, I know she’d come over and whelp a litter for me and that she’d let me know if things turned to an emergency or similar.

It also helps to have someone, particularly someone who isn’t family, who is comfortable feeding your dogs, and maybe even cleaning kennels, if you’re gone for an extended length of time. The reason you don’t want them to be family is because often family gets called away with you. I have a guy who used to work for the construction company who was always very reliable and great with the dogs. He has a very gentle soul. He would come out and clean my kennels each week and knew the dogs relatively well, he didn’t know all their names, but he could tell most of them apart.

He wasn’t always my choice for taking care of mama dogs with puppies, BUT if the puppies were weaned, he would make sure to feed and water them.

Sometimes when you have a situation where you have dogs and puppies in various stages of neediness, then you need to use multiple people to assist you. For example, someone, like your breeder friend, may take the expectant mama dog, while your neighbor may feed your dogs, while a third person may come out once during the week to clean out the kennels or exercise pens.

I have to say I’m pretty lucky in my situation this past time around, my kids, Dakotah and Hunter are incredible, they’re only 10 and 8 respectively, but they have been a part of the breeding world since my youngest was born. They know the dogs, they know the processes, they know when things are wrong, and so they are an invaluable assistance to me. I really couldn’t do this without them.

The only issue with my kids is that they can’t drive, nor live alone, so I had to employ the help of some other people for that.

In my situation I was lucky my daughter could whelp the litter over at my mom’s house, which was less stressful because she’s a seasoned mama dog and knows what she’s doing. My own mom was gracious in taking the kids over to the ranch each day to feed and water the dogs. The sick puppy I had, my daughter nursed and fed. It worked out pretty well.

I want to share a quick thought on being generous with your favors. You’ll find that as you deal with multiple dogs, have lots of supplies, etcetera, you’ll notice that you start to learn a lot more about dogs, more so than other people who have owned dogs as long as you, but not in the same quantity as you. You’ll find they start to call you with questions and often times you’ll have the answer, the supply item they need, or you’ll know where to send them for the resource to solve their problem.

I recommend you do this as much as possible, within reason. When I have friends that get new puppies, I’ll help them figure out a deworming schedule. When a friend isn’t sure if they should go to the vet, I’ve driven over to check on a dog for them and help them decide. I’ve helped people find better dog food and I’ve sent resources to people in the form of my puppy handouts or YouTube videos as a way to help them find better answers to their problems.

These are tiny things for me to do, they usually take 5-30 minutes total, but they often make a big impact on the person I’m helping. Now, we do this because it’s the right thing to do, but it also helps build your network of people, it helps you build a community, and when you’re generous with your time, then when you need you’ll be surprised how often wonderful people will be there willing to help.

I will say that you should never do these things because you want a favor later, that’s not cool, but when you take care of those around you, they’ll be more willing to take care of you.

On a side note to favors, one of the most interesting tidbits of advice I’ve ever heard came from Benjamin Franklin. He suggested that in an effort to make friends when you move to a new place, you ask them for a tiny favor that won’t really cost them anything. For example, to keep an eye on your dog while your run to the convenience store was the example I remember being suggested (I know…Ben Franklin had a thing for snickers at the convenience store), but it could be small, like asking someone to grab your mail for a few days while you’re gone. The idea is that people feel more comfortable in a relationship when you owe them, so you can open the door to a comfortable relationship by owing them a small favor back, simply because you asked them for a small favor.

I can honestly say, it works, despite being in direct contrast to what I just suggested in you helping other. I guess all that means is that it works both ways, you can ask a small favor and also give small favors, both open the doors to relationships. I’ll also note, that I don’t have expectations of something in return when I give these small favors, if I give some supplies, I’ll charge them what it costs me, or if it’s super small, I often just give it, for example, I’ve mixed MOOM for countless people, but it’s helped, especially in our area with so much giardia.


The next tip is to stock up on supplies and be friends with your suppliers. One of the most irritating things back in the day for me was buying dog food each week, it was annoying to have to go to the store every week and spend so much money on dog food. I was always thinking of ways to save money there since it was an expense I felt all the time.

Then one day I got smart and bought all my dog food in bulk, I bought 6 months worth of dog food. It was wonderful. I didn’t have to go to the feed store each week and buy so many bags, I didn’t stress if I needed to feed a dog a little more food because he was underweight. I just used what I needed and only felt that larger purchase once, after a litter went home of course.

Well, fast forward to leaving on short notice…having dog food in the shed, ready to go, was super helpful. I don’t have to worry about dog food, but a few times a year. Sure, you need to be careful of mice and other ways your food storage can get destroyed, but I’ve found it to be much better and less stressful.

Of course, I was at the point where I needed to order more dog food when all this happened—not to mention I was planning on doing laundry the day I left, which I didn’t have time for, so I had pack all the less-than-my-favorite clothes, you know how that goes, the underwear that aren’t your favorite, the socks that slip off your heels, you get it—well I needed dog food.

I had just come to the close of 7 months supply of dog food and I had been working with the feed store girls to get the new pallets ordered, problem was, in the last few months, the feed store had been sold to new ownership, and the new people decided not to return my calls.

So what was I able to do? Well, I am lucky to be on texting terms with the two girls at the store, I never abuse it, but I really like them as people, they’re horse people, and I really like them. Anyways, they were able to set aside some bags of food for my mom and kids to pick up, I sent them my credit card information and they charged it and sent me over a receipt.

To make things even more amazing, they told the dog food rep for the dog food I buy that I still needed a lot of dog food and that the new owners weren’t accommodating me. So the rep called me, I made friends with her years back, and she said that a local boarding facility that used their food was willing to accommodate my orders, so long as I picked them up as soon as it was delivered, since they didn’t have storage. I remember sitting there next to Bill at the hospital, getting that unexpected phone call from the dog food rep and it was like an answer to a prayer, I would have the food that Friday, she would put the order in for me.

Then it was time to call in another favor, my ex husband, who has a truck and could pick up the food in my absence. He told me no problem and was kind enough to stack the bags in my shed on the racks.

By always working with my suppliers, looking for a good deal, but not one that hurts the feed store nor the dog food distributor, has allowed me to build these relationships with them that lend them to be willing to help me out in these odd situations.


You always hear it, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse, what a weird euphemism, huh? Anyways, sit down for 15 minutes, obviously with a good cup of coffee, and think, if you had to leave tomorrow, what could you do to set everything up? Who could you call to take care of your dogs? What complications might arise and what could you do about it? What things could you start to put in place right now to make this easier should it happen? If you aren’t sure where to start, just start playing it out in your head, you’ll start to see the deficiencies in your situation and those are the first places to start working.

And don’t forget to make a map of your pens or facilities, something that’s ready to edit and give to your help. You can get an example cheat sheet using the form below.

Show Notes

Referenced Links
Want to Get the Facilities Map Example Cheatsheet?

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!