#84 – What Skills Do You Need to Be a Dog Breeder?

by | Mar 8, 2024 | Business Management, Getting Started

A lot of people schedule a free strategy call with me and want to know if they are good enough to breed dogs–if they have the right skills to do it, or if it would even work.

I understand that. I myself wasn’t sure if I was the right person to start dog breeding. I’d love to share the skills you need to have in order to be a dog breeder, but, before I do, let me tell you a few things that might be deal breakers for you.

Dog Breeding might not be for you if. . .

First off, if you’re grossed out by poop. I don’t just mean nice logs, but like poop in all shapes and sizes, pebbles to liquid, yellow to green, and sometimes red or pink. Working with and around dog poop is a big part of dog breeding. If you can’t stomach it, then dog breeding probably isn’t for you.

Next, blood. There is quite a bit of blood and fluid in dog breeding, especially at the time of whelping. It has a certain smell and, well, I’ve met many people who just can’t handle amniotic fluid and blood. So, if you’re one of those people, it probably isn’t for you. However, I will say that I can’t handle my own blood very well, yet I manage to handle it just fine with my family and my kids, so there might be hope for you if you’re like me and only your own blood freaks you out. I have been bitten, scraped, scratched, and one time I had a cactus thrust into me. All drew blood, but I managed.

Lastly, if you don’t like people. Many people get into dog breeding thinking they’ll get to stay at home, play with dogs, and avoid people. Well, the problem is that dog breeding produces puppies and, fortunately or unfortunately, PEOPLE buy them, which means about half of dog breeding is actually working with people. It is very difficult to be a successful dog breeder if you don’t like people.

Okay, so those are some definite deal breakers. But, if you’re with me still, let’s move on to what skills you do need.

What Skills Do Dog Breeders Need?

Dog breeders need lots of skills to successfully manage a dog-breeding business, especially to do it full-time, or at least as a full-time income.

Here are some of the skills you’ll need:

  • Dog Management Skills – being able to manage multiple dogs, especially when they’re in heat and not always the normal gentlemen and ladies they usually are.
  • Dog Training Skills I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a terrible dog trainer; but I do know how to get basic training things done to make management easier.
  • Dog Care & Maintenance Skills – It helps if you can determine if your dogs are healthy and, if not, to do basic diagnosis on what they need. Feeding a great dog food will mitigate most of this, but you’ll still need some understanding of dog parasites and their management. It also helps if you can manage minor injuries at home and not consistently need vet visits. This will help you run with leaner overhead.
  • Understanding of Biology & Genetics – You don’t need to be a biologist, but understanding how the breeding works, how genes are passed to offspring, and how complications can arise from bad pairings will definitely benefit you.
  • Understanding of Dog Structure – You don’t need to be a professional evaluator, but having a general idea of the physics of dog movement and structure will help you select better breeding dogs.
  • Janitorial Skills – Dog breeding involves lots of cleaning, so having some cleaning skills is never a bad thing.
  • Marketing Skills – Understanding how to build a brand and dial in your Ideal Puppy Buyer to market to.
  • Sales Skills – Having sales skills does not mean you don’t have integrity. Sales are very misunderstood, in my book, sales skills are merely your ability to properly convey the value your dogs have.
  • Customer Service Skills – Not just in educating and supporting your buyers, but also in calmly managing less-than-desirable situations. Let’s be honest, dog breeding involves live animals; so it’s not uncommon for there to be an issue with a puppy here or there, and a buyer who is upset about it.
  • Money Management Skills – With dog breeding, cash comes in swings when litters go home, so you need to be able to prepare for expenses in between income, and further track your income to make sure you’re making a profit, or are at least on the road to it.
  • Contract Skills – Having a contract will protect you and the buyer. It sets expectations and limitations. Having a general understanding of contracts will benefit your program and build trust with your buyers.
  • Web Design Skills – Being on the internet is a must. You’ll need some form of website and the ability to update it with current litters.
  • Social Media Skills – One of the easiest ways to get traffic to your website is through your social media. Having at least a limited social media presence will build trust with your business and get traffic to your website.
  • Google Skills – You have to be able to google things you need to know that you currently don’t know … or at least start there.

Okay, phew, does that feel like a lot? It feels like a lot. I don’t want you to freak out. It sounds scary, but it isn’t too terrible. Not a single breeder had all these skills figured out before they started breeding. I had very few of these skills. So how does anyone become a dog breeder?

The successful breeders actually have personal skills that allow them to not only learn how to do the things I’ve just listed, but to stick it out when things get tough.

To be a dog breeder, what you really need is:

  • A Willingness to Learn
  • Grit
  • Discipline & Habit Forming Skills

Willingness to Learn

What is a willingness to learn?

It’s the answer to not knowing all the things I listed above. Since we’ve already established that no one starts breeding with all of the above skills, yet they’re needed in some capacity, it’s the answer: we learn.

It’s easy to get frustrated with all of it. I’ve been there for sure. Yet, I encourage you to be willing to learn the things you don’t know.

Sounds obvious, yes, I know. Yet, think of people you know. Think of your friend who complains all the time that eating out is so expensive and yet they don’t know how to cook. Now, I understand learning how to cook feels like a giant task, but couldn’t they start somewhere? Maybe start with breakfast. Have you seen the cost of breakfast these days? You get a piece of toast, a couple eggs, and some potatoes and it’s $13. You can go to the store, buy a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, and a bag of potatoes for $13, yet you’d have breakfast for a week … if you knew how to cook the eggs and potatoes, and use a toaster.

Dog breeding is a lot like this. It can feel overwhelming to start. Yet the best way to start is … to start, with a willingness to learn.

How does that look? Well, it starts with doing something, then realizing you’re irritated or frustrated by it, so you decide to try something to fix it. For example, the puppies might be messy once they start eating food, so you opt for adding another blanket in their pen to keep them clean and dry. Or, you decide you want to attempt to litter-box train to make it easier to clean and teach the puppies better habits.

The path will begin to define itself as you go. You’ll know what the next thing to learn is because a problem will present itself. The key is to notice the problem, which is why it’s so important to be aware of your emotions, especially when you’re feeling stress and frustration. These emotions are always a compass to help us see where we need to grow. With the willingness to learn and a compass of what to learn, the path becomes clear, at least for where to put your energy and what to solve.

You Need Grit

What is grit? Grit is the courage and resolve that gets you through the tough times. Some things in dog breeding are annoying, like cleaning. But other things in dog breeding will test your resolve, they’ll test your willingness to learn, to persevere, and to work through the problem. There are days you’ll want to give up.

I remember in the spring of 2015, when I had many puppies get sick and die, puppies I had placed in homes were getting sick just days after they arrived. I had 21 puppies on the ground and 8 died. The vets couldn’t figure it out.

I questioned everything. Did I fail? Was I unworthy? Do I deserve to be a dog breeder? Why didn’t I know this? How could I have prevented this? My heart hurt. I contemplated quitting dog breeding altogether.

It took me a while, but I was able to muster some grit. I stepped into the darkness and, instead of embracing the failure, I embraced the opportunity to learn, to be better.

I recognized that if I was defeated by this, then that is what really made me a failure. I only became a failure if I didn’t learn and get better. The grit allowed me to stay willing to learn.

There are dark days in breeding. You’ll lose a puppy, you’ll disappoint a buyer, you’ll get a puppy back. These things happen to all of us, and they’re more common in the early years of breeding, which is the rub.

As you breed longer, you hone your skills, your dogs, your system, and your business as a whole. There is a cumulative effect in dog breeding. Most of what you learn and do in dog breeding will improve things for the long haul, for the bigger picture. For example, when you get puppy-rearing figured out, each litter is easier. When you figure out how to talk to buyers to share the value of your dogs, it becomes something that you don’t even have to think about. You just say the right things because it’s natural. When you take the time to build a nice website, do some social media, email marketing, you have the system, it works for you, even in your sleep.

This is what makes breeding better and better. Yet, it’s important to always know that something can catch you off guard. You’ll run into something you’ve never experienced before, and then you’ll lean on your grit, embrace the opportunity to learn, and you’ll figure it out and make it better for next time, storing that little gem of knowledge in your pocket for use later.

Discipline & Habit Forming

Aside from the willingness to learn, and grit, you need structure, which requires some discipline and habit forming. The majority of breeders will be working from home. This is one of the appeals of dog breeding, right? You get to be home in pajamas. I’m in pajamas right now as I write this. The beauty of being your own boss is that you can do whatever you want; the curse of being your own boss is that you have to make all the decisions. By and large, one of the most important skills that CEOs and managers have is that they are able to sort out priorities and set a plan into place.

They know what is important to do right now. And, potentially more importantly, they know the strengths and weaknesses of their people (ahem, you) and they know how to play into those strengths and weaknesses to get things done.

You have to be able to get yourself to take action, even on the things you don’t enjoy or want to do. You have to be able to get yourself in gear, harnessing your grit and willingness to learn.

If you generally need a boss or someone else to set the pace for you, then breeding will be hard. It requires a lot of self-motivation and endurance.

The other part of this is being able to make great habits. I remember learning a lot about habits because mine were so terrible; and in doing so, I heard this great quote. It says that successful people don’t find the boring and annoying tasks any less boring or annoying. Rather, they make taking care of those boring and annoying tasks a habit so that they become something they do automatically. That way  they never have to think about them and how they are annoying and boring, and they still get done.

The secret about habits is that it’s a habit if you do it without thinking about it. Habits can be harnessed to make your life better.

To quote Thomas C. Corley,

“Unsuccessful people have bad habits.”

So, if you can build your habits, you’ll be more successful. When you work for yourself, you have to build good habits, which requires discipline, and then your success builds on these habits.

Successful breeders are those who can diagnose where their problems are, set aside time to tackle those problems, and figure out a solution. They then build habits around the processes necessary to run a successful program.

Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

Use a Good, Better, Best Model

Have you ever heard of the idea of good, better, best? It’s a helpful way to look at things when you’re dabbling in a large project that’s a little overwhelming. Let’s go back to our cooking example with the friend who doesn’t know how to cook. Cooking is a giant mountain. He doesn’t know what tools to use, he doesn’t know what to buy at the grocery store, doesn’t know how to flavor it so it tastes good, let alone not knowing how exactly to cook.

When you look at it like that, who would ever start learning how to cook!? It’s overwhelming. What if he didn’t need to know all the tools, pans, and secrets to spicing? What if he only needed to know how to buy eggs, butter, had a frying pan, and a spatula? It could be simpler! He could buy a Dash Egg Cooker. If you don’t have one, they’re great. You put the eggs in, poke a hole in the top with the tool they give you, add the correct amount of water based on the measuring cup, and bam, the music plays when the eggs are done.

While he might not advertise that he’s amazing at cooking eggs, he’ll at least be able to cook them and eat them without much trouble. This would be an example of good, in the good, better, best concept.

Then maybe he learns a few spice mixes that make the eggs more tasty. I found taco seasoning is pretty good on eggs and gives it a different spin than the standard pepper and salt. Maybe he adds a pan and spatula, learning he likes the silicone spatula over the plastic ones. He plays around and learns how to turn it to medium heat and get the butter just right before cracking the egg, knowing that it’ll make the perfect over-easy egg. He also screws up the flip a few times and learns how to make scrambled eggs. He learns his favorite setting on the toaster for the bread, and learns what stage of cooking the eggs should be at so the toast is warm as soon as the eggs are done. This is an example of taking good and making it better.

Then he gets even better. He learns how to prepare the eggs for a few people at their request. He adds some pan-fried potatoes with some sautéed onions. He is comfortable making eggs for his new girlfriend, who is beyond impressed with his egg-cooking skills.

This is best. His cooking skills feed him, he enjoys it, and he can share it with others. The funny thing about best is that it can always be better. But that’s the beauty of life and dog breeding–we can always make it better.

In dog breeding your puppy pictures just need to start out good. They need to show a clean dog, accurately representing the dog you have. You may then opt to learn more about taking photos, getting better angles, better lighting, or better backgrounds. You’ll see your pictures will get more attention. Then you’ll get better, your pictures will work with your brand, they’ll draw in your Ideal Puppy Buyers, and you’ll more easily be seen and sought after.

When you first start out, aim to be good, which you can think of as  “good enough.” You don’t have to know every puppy parasite to breed dogs. Instead, you need to know what the poop should look like. Then from there you’ll notice if it doesn’t look like that. If Dr. Google doesn’t have a quick answer or your mentor, then you can go to the vet. They’ll give you an answer and a solution. It all starts there. You learn that new parasite. Now you’re better.

Remember, every litter is an opportunity to get better.

Start with a simple website that shows your breeding dogs, available puppies, and your contact form. I even have a simple cheatsheet for you about the 5 pages every breeder needs on their website. It’s an outline for a basic website for breeders. You can get it at honestdogbreeder.com/website. You don’t need anything fancy on your website when you start; you just need somewhere to send people to see your dogs. Then you can add more to it. A page or something a month, it’ll get better. Eventually it’ll just be tweaks that you’re making. This will be best. But no one needs all that when they start. Just be good enough.

Many breeders worry they need to have all the answers before they start. You don’t. You won’t. You simply can’t. Aim to be good enough, then be willing to learn, find a better, and harness that grit as you need it.

As litter money comes in, and you’ve set some aside to cover upcoming expenses and treated your family to something nice, then plan the best use of that money. Maybe you want to use the money to hire out for some of the skills you aren’t as good at. Look at what would give you the most return. Usually in the beginning for breeders they need to buy more for facilities, allowing dog management to be easier. Maybe later you’ll want help building a more elaborate website.

A quick tip: sometimes you’ll meet buyers who have special skills in areas that you need help with. For example, you might meet a web designer who wants a dog. You could offer to trade the puppy for the site. I like trading money most of the time, but sometimes this barter idea works best for people.

Well there you go, the skills you need to start breeding. Remember, no one has all of these skills when they start. The skills you really need are the willingness to learn, grit, and the ability to harness discipline and habit-forming. This last skill, habit-forming is something you can develop over time. I was terrible at it, but I’ve gotten better over the years and my business is more successful because of it.

I’m glad you made it to me! My goals with the Dog Breeder Society and this podcast are to help you sort through all the things you don’t know yet or aren’t good at yet. I hope that my journey in breeding will help make yours better, …  and much sooner. To learn more about the Dog Breeder Society and the business services I offer, please check out the website at honestdogbreeder.com.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. I am excited for you and your breeding journey and I’ll help you any way I can! Thank you again, and I’ll see you in the next episode!


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!