#92 – 3 Things Dog Breeders Do Wrong When Talking with Potential Puppy Buyers

by | May 22, 2024 | People Management

You ever talk with buyers and then they sort of ghost you and you’re worried you’ll never hear back? You’re in that place where you are questioning yourself, was it something I said?

This happened to me the other day. Recently, in my own breeding program, I’ve seen a lot of families get German Shorthairs because they’re “good with kids,” yet I’ve noticed a different trend with my buyers. While my dogs are easier to train, more loving, and nicer to look at and more consistent in general, my buyers seem to be struggling with them more, particularly people with young children under 4.

I realized that I may need to have more discussions about what “good with kids” means with my buyers. To me, it means they aren’t reactive; that is, they won’t bite children, they never seem to have a malicious intent. However, it’s not uncommon for an excited puppy who is 5 months old and 35 lbs to knock a toddler over, and that can be a common occurrence for a while with my dogs. To me, this is sort of expected with a puppy who is as tall as your toddler, just a part of the process. BUT, as I’m finding out, this is not standard expectation and understanding with a lot of buyers. In a way, it often appears to me that people don’t seem to be willing to put the same work into things that they used to. I see this trend with myself. I often look at taking on a new task or project, and really think hard about if I want to put that sort of time investment in; and, if I don’t think it’ll give me the return I want, whether money or enjoyment, I’m okay pulling the plug on the project and moving on. I’m seeing buyers more willing to pull the plug on their puppy project—not kill them like they’re in a coma, just calling it quits on the idea. It was a good idea that didn’t work out. They are more willing to return a dog because it was a bit too much work.

I could get mad at the situation, start complaining about people and how they just don’t get it. Or, I could take the opportunity to see this as a shift in the market, or at least in my Ideal Puppy Buyer. When you realize you have a split like this, where what you’re producing is giving you problems, well, you need to ask yourself: is it me or them? If it’s them, and they’re just not a good fit for one of your dogs, then you have to ask, is it my marketing that’s misrepresenting my dogs? If so, you’ll need to adapt your marketing. Recently with my program I’ve seen that it’s more me. I hadn’t adapted my conversation to reflect the change in buyers, the buyers who now had a different definition than I did regarding what “good with kids” really meant.

So, that’s where it began. I had a lady contact me. She says she works from home, has a smaller yard, and has a 2-year-old son, says everything she has read says the GSP temperament is great with kids.

Immediately, I start to realize this is one of those situations where I would’ve told her before that the GSPs are great with kids. However, then I remember how many people have messaged me struggling in the last year with their young children and a GSP. I start to think about how my kids are overall probably a little more durable than most, and how it was still a lot for them with the GSPs when they were two years old. I also had acreage for the dogs to run on.

What did I do? Well, I wrote her a long text–her requested method of contact–that the GSPs had great temperament, but a lot of energy, and this energy often caused them to knock small children over and, while that stage passes, it can last for up to two years. I told her that about 1500 sqft of backyard, about 30 by 20 meters, would be the smallest yard where it would feel adequate.

I told her the energy and knocking over children was where most families struggled with the dogs; that it was never aggressive, but that they just didn’t yet have control of themselves.

How did she respond? Well, she didn’t. I waited about an hour. Then I realized, because she said she was a single mom, that she might be getting some flack from people. I remember feeling icky when people told me there were things I couldn’t do when I was a single mom. It was very irritating. So I said, “It’s not that I don’t think you can handle it; it’s just where families with children of a similar age seem to have the most trouble, and I want you to be prepared for that if it’s what you want to do.”

What did she say? Nothing. She actually never responded to me after sending me that first text. She had messaged me on Facebook the night before, super eager to chat. I sent her my number, she was very excited, messaged me early, very polite, and willing to talk. She would’ve been a great buyer normally, but a two-year-old, it’s been hard on families, especially recently.

This happens sometimes. Sometimes people never message back, they don’t respond to your questions or answers, they just ghost you. It’s totally normal to feel icky and irritated about it. As you can see, I still do. I think a big part of that is because we are trying to be helpful, supportive, and we are doing our best to prepare them for what they’re getting, the good and the bad.

It’s worse when the market is down, and as breeders we need to find our puppies homes despite the market.

First off, I want to tell you something: if people are ready for a dog and they want your dog, you won’t have to chase them.

Mistake #1 – Sounding Desperate

One of the biggest mistakes we breeders make in marketing is sounding desperate. Sometimes we are desperate to sell a dog. Maybe your spouse is getting upset because the puppy or puppies are getting older and older, less and less cute, selling for potentially less money after costing more. Sometimes just managing older puppies feels stressful.

This pressure can make us feel desperate to sell our puppies. The key, though, is to not be desperate in your conversation with buyers.

When we feel desperate, often our word choice reflects it. We might say something like, “We really think you’ll love him” or “I just don’t know why no one wants him.” These phrases lack confidence. Simply put, they sound bad. They sound desperate. It makes the potential buyer worry that you’re hiding something and it feels like you’re trying to get a sale out of pity rather than helping them find the perfect pup for them.

Avoid Being Pushy or Giving Ultimatiums

Another way you can sound desperate is by being too pushy or giving ultimatums. These seem to go hand in hand. Sometimes buyers are a bit wishy-washy with how they respond; they may take a long time to text back or never text back at all, like this girl the other day. They might not be putting the effort into their responses. Like, you might ask what they’re looking for, and they’ll simply text a color or a size or male or female, when you were really hoping they’d say something like, “A dog that will be able to go with me to work every day, be good with my five-year-old son, and that we can take on our boat.” As a breeder, that’s something to work with! However, I’ve seen that there are a lot of people who don’t know to say that sort of stuff and they think buying a dog is all about physical attributes. How to fix attracting those buyers is a discussion for another day; however, they still happen from time to time.

Dealing with these buyers who seem to leave us in limbo is difficult. We may feel inclined to get an answer, yes or no, I want the pup or not; but pushing a buyer to give you an answer is not helpful. At best they’ll get the dog when they’re not ready; at worst, they’ll find you irritating.

You have to let the buyer come to you. If they don’t do a little bit of the leg work, then they aren’t ready for a puppy. Consider this a blessing in the long run. The people I’ve essentially convinced to get a dog, instead of letting them come to me, often turn out to be overwhelmed, irritated, and don’t often call me or keep me posted on their dog. Often they’re the most likely to return dogs, too.

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Mistake #2 – Being Too Accommodating

Breeders who are really pushing to sell are often too accommodating when working with buyers.

What does this look like? It can be anything from being too flexible with when you’re available to being flexible on price. If you find yourself offering to discount a puppy when the buyer didn’t even ask for a discount, that looks bad. It looks like you don’t believe in the price you’ve listed for your dogs, and, if you don’t believe in the value of the dog, then what else are you hiding? It triggers defensiveness in buyers.

To be fair, it’s a little different when people ask for a discount and you take that opportunity to give them a little discount. If you’re going to offer a discount, then it’s better to discount based on the person instead of the dog. For example, discount the puppy because they’re a firefighter, don’t discount the dog because he’s tan colored or because he’s the last one. Those devalue the dog. We never want our buyers to see the dog as lower value.

Think back to high school. I know, it’s been longer for me, too. Remember how there was always the person you wanted to date, and then the person who wanted to date you. The person you wanted to date, you’d rearrange your schedule for, you’d stay up late to talk with them, or you’d go to a party you normally wouldn’t go to so you could hang out with them. You were being overly accommodating for them, their schedule, their needs, etc. It never really works, does it? That person never seems to notice what you did. Instead, they take it for granted most of the time. Ultimately, they don’t place enough value on you and what you offer.

Just the same, remember that person who was ALWAYS available when you messaged? They would always go to the party with you. They were always a good back-up dance date? You didn’t actually place that much value on that person because they were overly accommodating to you. In fact, they may have been that weird relationship where you felt comfort having them there, but never really wanted to make it official. Ultimately, you didn’t value you them; you didn’t see them as a worthy match.

Now think back to that person who put themselves out there. They wanted to be with you, you turned them down; and then, with class, they stepped away, no longer being available to you in that way. You feel that more, you respect it more too.

It can be the same with buyers. When you’re too accommodating with your schedule, price, or even willingness to drive to them in an effort to make the sale, that’s when they will devalue you and your dogs.

Let them come to you. Make them do a little of the leg work. This prevents you from coming across as pushy, and will create value with your dogs. It also allows them to take more responsibility in the process.

Mistake #3 – Not Putting The Buyer at the Center of the Conversation

Lastly, you need to put them at the center of the conversation. I know, it feels like I just threw a wrench into things. At first it seems contradictory …  make them feel like they’re working for it so they value the dog, but at the same time make it all about them.

Let me explain. The key in selling puppies and being successful is aligning the right puppy to the family. Success isn’t just the sale, but the long-term success of the dog and owner.

When you put the buyer at the center of the conversation, what I really mean is that you’re aiming to fully understand them and their needs and wants for a dog. This way you can find them the right puppy. By focusing on getting them the right dog, which you do through asking pin-pointed questions, then you are placing their needs at the core of the process. If the dog is right for them, then great! If the dog isn’t right for them, no problem. Send them along or sell them on an upcoming litter.

Many times, when we have puppies to sell, all we can think about is getting the puppy gone, and we forget to take into consideration whether the puppy is a good fit or not for that family.

I see this inclination with my own program. When someone is jumping on a waitlist prior to the puppies being selected in a litter, there are definitely puppies I would and wouldn’t send home with a particular family based on their needs and wants and the differences in temperament and personality of the puppy. Yet, what happens when the type of puppy I wouldn’t normally send home with a particular type of family is the only puppy I have left, and they’re the people who call?

It so often depends. I can’t say for sure or not whether I would or wouldn’t sell them the dog. It depends on their willingness to make it work and their desire for getting an available dog over waiting. There are people who won’t put a deposit down on a dog until it’s born. That’s just how they do business.

What I’ve found is that, when I have puppies longer, they develop their own personalities and preferences in a way that makes them less of a fit for some families and better fits for others. So, if I do have an older puppy or returned dog, it often takes longer to sell, not because they’re undesirable, but because we are looking for the right fit.

You’ll find that you’ll sell buyers on your dogs, your program, and you, better, when you focus on them and their needs. Sometimes the mere act of telling them this particular available puppy isn’t a good fit for them and why, is enough drive for them to want to get a puppy from you out of your next litter.

Stay curious with the puppies you have, learn about them, do them right by giving them some basic manners and skills making them more desirable to buyers. Be curious about the type of family they would do well with and advertise it, let people know where this dog would thrive.

Then stay curious with your buyers. Learn about them, their life, their needs, and help them find the right dog, even if that means encouraging them to wait for the next litter, or telling them they probably won’t find what they’re looking for with your dogs.

Well, there you go! The three things I often see missed when talking with potential buyers are:

  • Sounding desperate and not speaking with confidence, or using ultimatums or being pushy.
  • Being too accommodating with time or money.
  • Not focusing enough on the customer.

Maybe you noticed that you do one or two of these things sometimes. Don’t feel bad, we all have. There are always more buyers, and just work to be better next time.

Thanks 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 schedule to spend time with me. I can’t wait to see you in the next episode!

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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!