#70 – How to Downsize Your Breeding Program & Retain Your Bloodlines

by | Aug 24, 2023 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management, People Management

Is the thought of having a giant litter stressing you out? Normally these are exciting things, all those puppies, all those options for buyers to pick from, but it can feel a bit stressful if your waitlist isn’t what it usually is. If you feel a little PTSD from the stress of selling a lot of puppies, you’re not the only one. I feel it, too, sometimes.

In the last few episodes, Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed if pausing a breeding program makes sense, what has caused the slump in demand in the market, but also what makes breeding ethical and unethical, as well as if that changes based on the market. If you haven’t had a chance, feel free to check those out.

Today I’m excited to share with you the practical steps you can take in your program to reduce your breeding program. There is a free download cheatsheet that’ll have all the below listed ideas on it for easy reference for you. You can get that using the form below.

Well, let’s dive in.

Retaining Bloodlines

All of the solutions I’m about to list for you will allow you to keep the bloodlines you’ve worked hard to create, will keep your females healthy and not at health risks, and will allow you reduce production so you aren’t stressed with too many puppies.

Remember, within 12-24 months, you can retain a daughter from every female in your program and double your program size. Nothing I’m going to suggest will remove that capability from you. These are all tactics that allow you to be fluid in the market, adjusting with it, not fighting it.

By and large, the only way to reduce production of puppies is to reduce the number of females we breed or the frequency at which we breed them. There really isn’t a way to have half-size litters, but that would be nice, right?

The following options are ways to reduce females or production of puppies. Some of these options will work better for you and your business than others, so feel free to mull them over, play them out in your head, and then select and execute the plan that works best for you.

#1 – Retire Females Early

This is a pretty easy one. If you have females that have done great for you, but could be retired now, then an easy way to downsize your program is to retire them early. I know during Covid demand was up, so I was actually getting a few extra litters out of my females since they were making such awesome pups and made it look easy, with an easy recovery.

However, things are different now and we are looking to reduce size, so retiring a female early is not a bad option. Not to mention, when moms are younger, they often can be rehomed more easily, which never hurts.

Ideally, when you choose to retire a female you’re done with her genetics in particular, usually because you’ve retained a breeder, or because you’ve decided to end that bloodline.

When to retire females is a big question in the breeding world, which is why I wrote an entire masterclass on it inside DBS. You can sign up for the Dog Breeder Society here.

#2 – Cull Breeders Who Don’t Make the Cut Anymore

Culling is a term often used in the agriculture community, it refers to removing a certain animal from the breeding program. In some instances they actually mean to kill the animal, which is why you don’t hear this term as often, but it doesn’t exclusively mean to kill the animal, more so, it merely means remove from the program for a reason other than retirement or their intended purpose, such as selling the animal. So if a breeding dog is culled from the program, they are removed from breeding.

If you have that female that just isn’t quite making the cut, she struggles in whelping or she needs all kinds of supportive care to recover, or maybe she is messy with her puppies, not cleaning them like she should, often causing parasites to arise, then there are some good reasons to cull her from your program.

We’re in a market where supply is high and demand is reduced, so we need to produce the best, we don’t have time for extra unnecessary expenses, like vet bills for a mama dog who gives her puppies parasites because she isn’t clean enough.

We also need to make sure we are producing the best of the best, so our reputation is enhanced by our puppies, not jeopardized. You know that breeding pair that just isn’t quite as great as your other breeding pair. Those pups aren’t your favorite to sell. It’s probably time to pull that breeder from your program.

Want to Get the Retaining Bloodlines when Downsizing Your Program Cheatsheet?

#3 – Skip a Breeding Cycle

I’m not a huge fan of skipping heat cycles, it’s not the best for the female in my opinion, but one heat cycle isn’t going to cause problems in an otherwise healthy female. While there is no reason to skip a heat cycle for health reasons, there is definitely a reason to skip a heat cycle for business reasons.

In theory you could cut your entire production of puppies down in half by skipping every other heat cycle, allowing you to retain bloodlines.

I don’t like the idea of you managing twice as many dogs as are producing for you, however, in a situation like this, where extra puppies means more headaches, rather than profit, I completely understand this as a tactic for a short time.

#4 – Put A Dog In A Co-Own or Guardian Home

I believe you should own, under your roof, all the dogs you need to run your breeding program, this way you have control over your breeding program. However, when downsizing, it can be hard on facilities, overhead, and cashflow to have extra dogs in your program that you holding off on breeding. I know many people retain two females, debating which to actually use in their program until later.

As an alternative you can opt to put these two, or even three, females in guardian homes, this way you can save those genetics without having to manage those dogs. The reason you’ll want to do this with multiple females is because of the reliability.

When you place a dog in a guardian home, there’s always a chance things will get complicated because you’ve added the complexity of another person into the mix. They may need to move for work, they may decide to stop responding to your phone calls, they could even get the dog spayed and not tell you.

This is why the best thing to do is keep what you need under your roof, however, in a downsizing situation, you may choose to take the risk by using a guardian home. I also find that having multiple guardian homes is a good way to hedge your risks. This is why we may opt to place three females in guardian homes from the same litter just in case one or two falls through.

In a situation like this, you have flexibility, one person may be more interested in being a guardian home than another, so you’d do well to put your favorite breeding prospect in that home, and put the backup females in the other guardian homes.

I will warn that you need to go into all co-owns and guardian homes knowing that you may lose that dog for your program. So we need two things to ease this concept:

One, you need a contract so people know what is expected. Please please please write up a contract and write it so that it protects both parties!! I can’t tell you how many contracts I see that only protect one person or the other. It’s no fun and a bad way to start the arrangement. But you absolutely need a contract because it’s much easier to discuss all the what-if scenarios before you actually have puppies and buyers in the mix.

Two, don’t place a dog in a guardian home that you have to have. All dogs in guardians or co-owns need to fall under the category of “nice to have” for your program. The amount of internal rage you’ll feel losing a dog you needed for your program, to retain your bloodlines, is worth the cost of having them in your home. I promise.

A note on reducing the price or giving the dog for free if they’re going to a guardian home. Remember, people value that which they pay for, if you give a dog for free, they probably won’t value it as if they paid for it. I would rather you ask people who you feel you can work with if they’ll allow you to breed their puppy they got from you, rather than have them come to you wanting to get a puppy at a reduced rate because of the obligation.

It’s a subtle difference, but it can mean all the difference in how that relationship plays out.

#5 – Wait a Year to Retain a New Breeding Dog

I generally have these ideas where I plan a stud for my female because I want the daughter who will be born for my program. I get excited to select a new female for my program.

If you’re downsizing, then it may make sense to wait to retain a female, select one from the next litter. If you’re worried your female is getting older, and there might not be a great female next time, then you can opt to keep one, or alternatively, you can place 2-3 females in guardian homes, as a backup if the right female isn’t born in the next few litters with this female.

In the event a great female is born in that later litter, you can release the guardian homes from your program if you like or you can continue them with them as backups until the contract expires. I always recommend an expiration time frame on guardian and co-own contracts.

Well there you have it, five ways to reduce your production of puppies while retaining your bloodlines. I hope you find one or two ideas helpful and can implement them.

If you’re not sure what to do and are struggling, don’t hesitate to schedule a free 30-min business strategy session with me. I’m more than happy to help you figure out the next steps for your program.

Don’t forget you can grab the cheatsheet with all these options using the form below.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. I know you’re going to weather this market like a rockstar and I’ll be here to support you and give you new ideas, tools, and techniques every step of the way.

Thank you again, and I’ll see you in the next episode!

Want to Get the Retaining Bloodlines when Downsizing Your Program 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!