#85 – What Does the Dog Breeding Lifestyle Look Like?

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management, Facilities Management, Getting Started, People Management

Do you remember career planning in high school? They have you take a survey of questions asking what you liked: Do you prefer to work outside or in air conditioning. Do you like being physical or would you prefer to be mostly using a computer? Do you like to travel or go to the same place each day? They also asked questions about what you liked to do, such as do you prefer new problems to solve each day or more routine things that you know how to do?

While I’ve taken many of these tests over the years, never did any of them suggest that I should be a dog breeder. I don’t think dog breeding as an industry makes it to many career lists. Maybe we can change that!

Where I wish more of these career inventories placed more focus was on the lifestyle of being in that career, not just what the job is like. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we selected our career based on the lifestyle we want to have, not just the job itself?

Selecting Your Career Based on the Lifestyle You Want t0 Have

I remember that when I was in school and growing up, teachers and family talked about my career as the thing that would give me the most fulfillment in life. They never specifically said that, but it was very implied. I have to say, I love you guys. The entire community of dog breeders I’ve gotten to work with are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I adore you. Yet, while this is my technical “career” and, as much as I love it, I love my kids and Bill more. They’re important to me in a different sort of way. I suppose the best way to summarize it is: my family makes my life whole, but adding in the Dog Breeder Society, working with you breeders, and having my breeding program overflows my cup.

Yet, in honesty, if I flipped it around and had the breeding business and the Dog Breeder Society, but I didn’t have my family, well, then I wouldn’t feel whole. I would still be missing something. It would be worse, too, if I had my family, but because of my career I never got to spend time with them. That’s the part they never talk about in those career discussions, or at least I don’t remember that.

The Lifestyle of a Dog Breeder

One of the greatest appeals of dog breeding is the lifestyle that goes with it. Now if you tell that to a non-breeder, they’ll think it’s because you get to play with puppies all the time. While it is hard to be in a bad mood when you’re playing with puppies, the truth is, you’re not playing with puppies all that much. There’s a lot of other stuff to do. The real appeal of dog breeding is the freedom of schedule. When you are breeding as your job, you are able to make your schedule. The only exceptions are whelpings, where you can’t pick when your dog will have her puppies, and if there is an injury you need to handle. The rest of it? Well, you pick the schedule.

You choose when to get up, when to take phone calls, when to clean pens, and when to meet with clients. I love this freedom of schedule. I think it’s great for everyone, but especially women. The obvious benefits are the ability to make it to all your kids’ activities, be there when they have a bad day, go to the motor vehicle division when no one is there, and definitely grocery shop when it’s empty in the afternoon. You can be available to your family, which I love, because you set your schedule.

I don’t talk about it much, but a few years after my divorce I went through the beginning stages of endometriosis. I began to track my cycle as I was healing naturally. One of the interesting things I learned through the process is that I feel a bit different in each part of my cycle. Sometimes I’m more creative, which is a better time to take photos, write copy for my website, write advertisements for my pups, or write social media posts. I also feel more reflective during other times in my cycle. These are great times for me to reflect on my program, my business, my life and lifestyle, and see where I need to adjust focus. The idea of having the freedom to reflect on my business when I feel inclined to do so, and then to be creative while my creative juices are flowing, is a beautiful example of a major benefit of being a breeder and having the ability to choose your life and your schedule.

So what does the day-to-day look like for a dog breeder?

Dog & Puppy Management

Each day, as in EVERY SINGLE DAY,  you need to manage and feed your dogs. What this looks like will greatly depend on your facilities. In the beginning, if you have 1-3 dogs in your program, you’ll probably have the dogs in your home, just like if they were pets. They’ll be in your house, on your couch, in your kitchen looking for scraps, and will probably go with you to some activities. This is not much different until you have puppies, which will then add the daily maintenance of cleaning the puppy pen. Cleaning puppy pens is one of those things you’ll probably need to figure out over a few litters. It’s a place where you can lose a lot of time or gain a lot of time.

When you only have 1-3 dogs in your program, you probably will not be full-time. There probably won’t be enough income for that. The income will definitely improve your quality of life from a few litters a year, or provide you a great foundation of finances to grow; but you’ll still need to figure out how to pay your normal bills. Having to work another job can make breeding and puppies a little annoying, and your boss will either understand or make things difficult.

Dog & Puppy Management as Your Breeding Program Grows

As you get more dogs or grow your program, things will change. You’ll have more management, as not all of your dogs will be able to just hang out and chill in the same pen. This can be easy if you have the right facilities, and will be essentially releasing dogs to different exercise pens or alternating who is living in the home; or it may be a total pain if you’re managing it with crates and constantly rotating dogs. I did this for a while in my breeding program, like way longer than I should’ve. It can take 2-3 hours to properly rotate dogs throughout the day, as in 2-3 hours of your actual time. The worst part is that it really restricts your ability to leave, and it is very interrupting, as you have to stop to move dogs because one is whining in a crate.

One thing I learned over the years, a lesson I wished I learned sooner, is that having the right facilities to manage your dogs is a game changer in how stressful—or not—dog breeding is. Whether that’s a good backyard with exercise pens or a dog room in your house with a place for your dogs to go to the bathroom, the simpler your daily time investment in managing your dogs, the less stressful your breeding program will feel.

Give yourself some grace. There are always growing pains when you increase your program, transition to full time, or before you can build facilities. The goal is to keep this as a transition period, a time where it sucks for a short while, but isn’t how your program will be forever.

If numbers help guide you as they do for me, I aim to have my dog management, which is the feeding and moving of dogs, to be at an hour or less per day. When I have puppies on the ground, I add an additional 30 minutes to an hour, between feeding and cleaning pens. This varies a lot based on the age of the puppies. They’re a lot less work the first 3 weeks, and then increasingly become more work as they get older and ready to go to their new homes.

If your dog management is taking more than 2 hours per day, then you need to consider where you can make things easier on yourself. Usually it’s facilities that’ll be the trick.

As a side note, dog management time is not training time, nor is it spending quality time enjoying your dogs. That’s separate, although you can certainly enjoy the time you’re spending managing the dogs.

Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

What about the business side of dog breeding?

The business side of dog breeding includes advertising, planning your social media posts, building your website, tracking and evaluating your income and expenses, making breeding decisions, and sourcing your supplies, like dog food and puppy packs.

Optimizing Your Social Media Process as a Dog Breeder

The most time-consuming part of it is usually the social media. It is often the bottle neck for breeders. They get so busy with the social media, they forget to find time for the other things.

It’s not unusual for social media marketing to take up 4-6 hours per week. Mostly though, it takes that sort of time because there isn’t a plan in place. If you have to dig through your phone or work for a while to take a photo for Instagram, then edit the photo, add your filter, figure out a caption, add hashtags, and then post it, well, that’s a good hour. It’s way too much time to spend each day. Not to mention, social media can be a black hole: a place where you go to post, then get sucked into reels for an hour. All of a sudden the kids are hungry, it’s 6:30 and the meat for dinner isn’t even thawed—do you order a pizza or make a quick spaghetti?

Social media is a big variable in breeding. It’s hard to continue to keep coming up with new stuff to say, taking pictures and videos. It really needs to be done in a batching way. This way you have the images done and ready. Then you can use our Breeder Copy Hub to get your captions, adjust them for your program, then pair the captions with the images. If you don’t create a flow for your social media, it will be a bottleneck in your program.

The other side of social media is that if you don’t get a flow before you have puppies, it becomes even more work when you do have puppies.

Creating & Updating a Website

In addition to the work of the flow of social media, it is also important to have a decent website. The maintenance of a website is less than an hour a week when you have puppies, and nearly nothing when you don’t have puppies; however, the building of a website can be very time consuming. The average website is near 100 hours of work. This may be something you’d like to outsource to a web designer. Working on a website isn’t a lot in maintenance, but that initial build can be a lot.

If you can, build the basis of your website before your dog is bred and you’re waiting on puppies. Your mind will be clearer, there will be less pressure, and you’ll be fluid with it prior to worrying about advertising and finding homes for puppies.  You can get my 5 Pages Every Dog Breeder Website Needs Cheatsheet here.

What about managing receipts and supplies?

It isn’t too bad. I spend about 1-2 hours a month managing receipts and expenses. You can always check out Episode #80 about how to manage expenses to better help you get a flow.

Lastly, there’s research.

The Role of Research in Dog Breeding

There’s always something new to learn in dog breeding. Whether you’re making some time to listen to this podcast, take a new MasterClass inside the Dog Breeder Society, learning a new technique with photography, or maybe even struggling with a new parasite you’ve never had before.

Research and learning are built into breeding. You’ll find yourself needing to expand your understanding of something quite frequently. In the beginning you’ll do a lot more research. I would estimate the average breeder will want to put 2-4 hours of research into learning per week, or about 8-16 hours of learning and applying per month. Of course, this will fluctuate based on the situation. Often I do research and learning in bursts as the situation calls, then go a few weeks without researching things. It’s part of the flexibility of dog breeding.

The more you learn, the better you can make your program, and the better you can serve your buyers and their dogs.

What about People and Managing Buyers?

People are a wild card in the business, but they’re essential. About half the business of dog breeding is relating to people and understanding their needs.

What does it look like to manage buyers? For me, most of the time, it’s using HoneyBook to manage my buyers. If you want to sign up with my link, you’ll get a discount, and I’ll be able to send you my templates. I also have MasterClasses on how to use this amazing software that manages my waitlist, buyers, my contracts, payments, and buyer preparation and education.

Regardless, you don’t need to use HoneyBook, at least not at the start. Most buyers these days seem to converse through text message, although some of my older buyers prefer a phone call. Regardless, most of my buyers have seen my website and contact me from there. Then, once they’re ready to move forward, they either fill out my puppy application or I add them to my software and collect the deposit.

Reduce Buyer Management Time by Understanding Your Ideal Puppy Buyer

The average time you spend with an individual buyer will vary a lot. It can be a few minutes to a few hours, sometimes spanning over days. The better you have your Ideal Puppy Buyer dialed in, the easier it will be to advertise to the right type of home, since you’ll be able to write your advertisements to speak directly to them just with all the copy on your website. In the beginning, while you’re getting this all figured out, it’s not uncommon to spend 30 minutes to an hour on the phone with a potential buyer as you two discuss things. Since your marketing won’t be as strategic in the beginning, it’ll attract a fair amount of people who won’t be good fits. So, not only will you spend 30-60 minutes talking with people, a lot of those people will not get a dog because it isn’t the right match. This can be very time-consuming in the beginning. It wouldn’t be unusual for you to spend 4 hours talking with buyers and only get 1 buyer. If you have 8 puppies in a litter, and it averages 4 hours talking with potential clients for every sale you get, then you can anticipate about 32 hours of working with buyers to sell all your puppies, which will be about 4 hours per week while you have puppies.

As you get better, your marketing will attract the right people and you’ll need to talk with them less. Let your social media, email list, and website do most of the talking and educating. It saves you time talking to those who are good fits. In fact, if they aren’t a good fit and your website is written correctly, they’ll sort themselves and won’t even contact you, which is ideal. None of your time wasted. Now that my marketing is dialed in, about 8-9 out of 10 people who put in my puppy application will get a dog from me. When they text me, I’m at about 50/50, and they can text me for whatever, even if they’re in the beginning of getting a dog. However, the text messages I’ve found are people who don’t want to read the website, as most of the questions I answer are on the website. However, I do convert a lot of these conversations to buyers in fairly quick order, like 20-30 minutes texting, while doing other things, like cooking or cleaning, so it isn’t as “expensive” with my time.

My average phone call with someone who calls asking about my dogs is 13 minutes before they are ready to buy. Let me clarify. It is NOT because I’m an amazing sales person with crafty phrases. It’s because my marketing does the sale for me. I just fill in the last questions and bring it to life. I know what my dogs offer and they can hear that in my voice.

My buyer management for getting leads takes me less than 6 hours per month.

By spending time knowing what you offer and how the process works, you can clearly convey that on your website. When you do, people will come to you with their questions already answered, which makes the whole thing simpler and much faster for you. It’s worth the time investment in the beginning to get this all straightened out.

Supporting Previous Puppy Buyers

The other part of buyer management that can be consuming is helping previous buyers with their questions—which you definitely want to do because it’s how you learn what they need, where they are struggling; and you can make breeding and marketing decisions based off this information.

It is usually busiest helping buyers the first 2-4 weeks after they get their puppy. This can be busy if you have 3 buyers out of 8 who are a little extra anxious or overly diligent and want reassurance. I average probably 1-2 hours per week assisting previous buyers, usually through text, with questions, the first 4 weeks after the dogs go home.

You can see, between marketing and dog management, breeding usually takes about 15-20 hours per week to manage. However, you have control over when you do these things. By putting time into your marketing and advertising when you don’t have puppies, it’ll save you time spent when you do have puppies, as your time will need to be spent with cleaning and puppy rearing..

Day to Day

For me, I like to get up, let out the few dogs I need to in the backyard, top off mama dog’s food and water if I have a mama dog at the time, check on the pups, and then make coffee. This is usually 20 minutes in the morning. I don’t do too much with my dogs until around midday when I feed all the dogs—I only feed once per day. I will often take calls or messages from buyers. It happens about every day or two that I’ll get a new contact about a dog, especially if I recently had a litter. I’ll talk with them and we’ll see what questions they have. Because of my software, sending contracts and getting deposits is very quick, about 2 minutes of my time.

I spend about an hour feeding and watering the dogs each day. My kids help me, and I pay them. We will pick up a few things, usually collecting most of the dog poop once a week for about an hour.

I probably spend 1 hour a week updating my website. The pictures take me about 90 minutes to update once a week when I have puppies, but this time really pays off in advertising. I only need to do this for a few weeks and my pups are usually sold. I did three rounds of pictures to sell 9 out of 11 puppies in my most recent litter, and it was definitely time well spent.

I find that buyers are the biggest variable in time. To get the sale, you want to communicate with them fairly quickly. I try to get with buyers in about 30 minutes to an hour, but it isn’t always possible. When it isn’t, I try to let them know that I am currently busy, but will get to them soon, and I estimate the time. This works well. Most people are very understanding and excited to talk. I’ve found there isn’t really a certain time people contact me. It tends to pair with the demographic of your buyers, their jobs, and when they have time to make a call or fill out an application.

I do work 7 days a week, not just feeding dogs, but taking calls and working with buyers. When my life was really chaotic before, I decided to take Sundays off and didn’t let puppy buyers come on Sundays. It was a good decision at that time. With the podcast and Dog Breeder Society, I actually prefer to keep the ranch stuff more on weekends with buyers, so this has worked well to open Sundays back up and close off most of the week. You just have to make it work for you. I do my best to be available for buyers, but I don’t usually let them come past 5 pm, and not before 8 am. If I’m gone for something on a weekend, I’ll just tell them I’m busy. People are fairly understanding, especially when they know what they want.

I take pictures of the puppies all at once when I do. I have a few different setups I use. When I have pups, like I said, this is usually one day for about 90 minutes. After I take the pictures, I crop all the photos to the same dimensions, add my filter, and add them to my website. I usually do the photo editing, which is on my phone, in the evening while watching a show with the kids, or sometimes I’ll do it while in line or in the car if someone else is driving.

As far as social media goes, I like to batch the content using the Breeder Copy Hub templates. I like to take a few–like 3 of them–and edit them in between tasks; again, like when I’m in line and my brain isn’t being tasked with something. Often I can get some good edits on photos when I’m at my kids’ activities and they’re doing their warm ups. It’s much better than surfing Facebook or Instagram. It moves the needle on my program. However, part of dog breeding is being home with my kids and involved in their life, so I don’t worry about editing photos when they’re actually doing their activities—I like to watch.

Sometimes, if the kids are asleep in the morning, I make my coffee and sit down and write them. I don’t worry too much about emailing my list each week. They are mostly interested in available puppies and new things I’m doing at the ranch, so that’s where the bulk of my focus with the emails comes in. I aim for 1-2 emails per month. With social media, I found that only about 2-3 posts per week is adequate to sell puppies and keep people interested.

When I have more time, I block off time to work on my website and social media. When life is busier, then I squeeze it in where I can. If I am absent from social for a week or two, I never get mad at myself, I just do the best I can. It’s good to batch a little, so you have things ready to go. It makes it easier to keep a flow.

I wish I could tell you that every day from 12-1 I feed my dogs, from 3-4 I work with buyers and from 4-5 I work on my website and social media, but that’s just not how it works for me. I work with my buyers as they come, my website as I have time, and I, of course, feed each day, but not always at the same time. I like the flexibility of it.

The hardest part of dog breeding is getting all the things done and building a routine, because no one is watching and enforcing your actions. It takes the discipline and understanding of priorities to make it happen.

I hope this helps you understand a little more about the lifestyle as a dog breeder, at least how it works for me. Every breeder has a little different flow, but for most the routine is less than rigid—and that’s by design.

If you’re interested in breeding, I hope you’ll consider joining the Dog Breeder Society. Not only do we have all the social media captions each month to help you save time with social media, but the MasterClasses help you understand all that’s involved in dog breeding. I don’t believe there is any ONE WAY to do dog breeding, it’s always a custom solution. My goal in creating this podcast and the Dog Breeder Society is to discuss all those decisions and what you should consider when making the best choice for you, your breeding program, your buyers, and your life in general. Make it work for you!

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. Thank you for taking time out of your day to hang out with me, I enjoy every minute of it! 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!