#94 – How to Break the Cycle of Overwhelm in Dog Breeding

by | Jun 10, 2024 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management, Facilities Management, People Management

“I’m not sure what to do Julie. I have a thousand things to do in my breeding program. I have puppies to sell. I have pens that need to be built and organized. I have buyers that need things and have questions to answer, and I have no idea how I’m going to find the time to update my website or get posts up on social media. I know I need to work on my SEO, but I honestly don’t even know if I’ll have time until next year.”

I hear this all the time.

Many breeders are overwhelmed with all the hats they need to wear. It’s a lot, as you know. Not only is it all the skills you need, but it’s often all the decisions that go with that. How do you set priorities? What do you need to do first? What can wait?

Our comfort zone is leaning into our strengths

Often we lean into our strengths because they’re comfortable. This might mean that if you have a good system for puppy rearing, spending time with the puppies, and cleaning up their pen, you’re going to be more likely to clean pens than work on your website or do your social media, especially if those feel irritating and you loathe them.

Just the same. Maybe you love editing and cropping photos, making fun reels for Instagram and posting them, but editing your contract or writing up the boring FAQs on your website? Well, maybe that feels overwhelming, it’s a lot to think about.

Other times we are so comfortable doing our website and talking with buyers, that we might forget to clean the puppy pen a few days in a row. I’ve been there. If it’s happening to you, guess what!? It means you’re human. It happens to us all.

Yet, in order to be successful in our breeding businesses, we need to be consistent.

Consistency is a word that used to make me cringe. When people told me to be consistent with a routine for the kids, with training with the dogs, with cleaning the kitchen, or just anything, I wanted to scream at them. Not only did that feel impossible, but it felt like a nice way for people to tell me I was failing. By hearing them say, “You just need to be a little more consistent,” I heard, “You are failing at doing this to an acceptable standard.” There are those words again, “You are a failure.” Sometimes it feels like other people are telling us this, and sometimes it’s our own minds criticizing us.

Consistency used to feel like imprisonment. How in the world was I ever supposed to get anything done if I had to have consistency in 1.3 million things?!

Someone told me once that consistency gives you freedom. I think it was hard to decide if I wanted to punch them or laugh in their face. Thankfully, that was a few years ago, and now I’m better at being an adult.

What I’ve come to realize over the years is that consistency does in fact lead to success. When you are consistent, you can take a lot of the guesswork and chaos out of things. For example, think about your dog food. You probably found a dog food that provided you consistent results with your dogs. Their coats look good, they are keeping weight on, but not getting overweight, and they are easily breeding and whelping, with healthy puppies. Consistency is wonderful. Imagine if your dog food gave you great results with one batch, then the next batch would be terrible results, the dogs get the runs, puppies are smaller. You wouldn’t be able to stay on that food. You can’t keep your dogs on an inconsistent food.

So why does consistency really matter? It matters because it allows you to know what you can expect. When you know what to expect from a product or system, then you can trust it; but in terms of making it better, you can tweak it.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, chances are it’s because you aren’t being consistent. OR, if you are being consistent, then you are losing your mind because you aren’t getting a break. Either situation leads to overwhelm.

Not too many years ago, I spent about a decade living in a state of overwhelm. I was in a business that was struggling, my home organization was struggling, my finances were struggling, my kids were overwhelming me, and I was all-in-all disappointed in myself for where my life was and why I just couldn’t seem to get it together when there didn’t seem to be a reason for it.

I was told, “You’re doing too much;” and yet, at the same time, I was told I needed to do more, spend more time organizing the house, picking up after the dogs, spend more time doing dishes and putting away laundry.

When you’re overwhelmed, often you are doing too much; simply put, you are doing more than you can squeeze into a day, week, month, where it can be completed adequately, and consistently—ugh, that stupid word again. How do you fix that when there are a million things to do?

What is Stopping You From Being Consistent?

First, know that an inability to be consistent stems from one of a few things: either you don’t have an efficient system, causing the task to take too long; you don’t have a clear-cut definition of the standard of completion, which can cause you to overspend time on tasks, since you never know when they’re done; or, it might mean you’re taking on too much, you bit off more than you can chew—at least at this time.

None of that sounds fun to hear. I hated figuring it out at the same time as having an internal war with myself as to whether I was taking on too much or simply being a failure. It’s a fine line sometimes, and that voice inside can be real rude.

For me, I had a combination of all of those things. I didn’t have an efficient system. If you recall, when I met Bill, a few short weeks later I had six litters of puppies on my front porch. Total nightmare. Was six litters too many? The answer is, it depends. If you have six litters and they have to live on your front porch because you have no facilities, then, yes, probably six litters is too much, which means that having six females is probably too much, especially if you’re the only one whelping. Yet, six litters, when you have facilities and a helper who comes in and cleans those pens for you every day, well then six litters might just be fine and normal.

What’s the difference? A System.

Have a System

Many of us have a lot of things we want to accomplish—dog breeders often dream big—but we don’t have the systems in place to accomplish all those things at the start.

I see this a lot with new breeders. New breeders, I love you, you are amazing, you have so much heart and passion, and I’m so excited for you to get started with your programs to see what you’ll create! However, I’ve seen so many new breeders who are trying to do everything perfectly the first time. Many new breeders are trying to do EVERYTHING they’ve ever heard or read; they want to socialize the puppies, they want to keep it all sanitary, they want to do ESI and ENS, and play all these sounds for exposure, then take perfect pictures, have the perfect website, have a beautiful Instagram grid, and then also have a life.

I meet many new breeders who are pulling their hair out trying to maintain some sort of life and raise puppies, too! It’s a lot. Yet, it’s mostly because it takes time to get a flow. It takes a while to get a system down, it takes a while to find the products you like for cleaning, for puppy rearing, and to figure out how to have puppies with nice poop while weaning! It’s normal to deal with all this in the first few litters and feel like it isn’t ideal. You might feel like you’re failing, you might feel like this is unsustainable. And you’re right! It is unsustainable WITH the system you are currently using. That’s okay, it’s part of the process.

To give you an example, in the beginning, my puppy cleaning was a nightmare. It took me an average of 90 minutes to get the pen clean, and the puppies were climbing all over me or the house, they created new messes, and I swear in about 10 minutes after cleaning, it looked like I hadn’t cleaned. Nothing feels less rewarding than cleaning puppy pens some days. They seriously don’t appreciate the work you put in.

Once I got my system down, then it became easier: 15 minutes a day, or about 30 minutes if I didn’t get to clean it the previous day. This is a combination of better products, but, more so, better systems. I know the order I need to do things, I know how to move the puppies safely out of the way. The system makes it possible.

Incorporating your systems into your day

Yet, the system of how to do it, is only part of the overall system. You also need a way to incorporate this system into your day. WHEN are you going to clean the pens? Before dinner? Before you shower? An hour after they eat and make a mess everywhere? What is going to act like an alarm going off saying, “Hey! It’s puppy-pen cleaning time!” Some of you may actually set an alarm; but with kids, events, homework, and life, it can be hard to be consistent with a time.

Finding time to do what I needed to do was a big piece that was missing in my systems. My life has always been variable, making it hard to stick to strict times with anything.

At first, Bill told me that I just needed to make a schedule and stick to it. Well, that didn’t work; not only were there so many variables like the items I just listed, but I realized it wasn’t authentic to me.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to be a trend in women. Women are incredible creatures and we have a knack for being receptive and taking something in, adding energy to it, and making it better. We do this with dinner, taking ingredients and turning them into a meal; we do that with our houses, making them feel like homes; and we do that with our families, taking our children and their wants and desires, and helping them turn those dreams into reality.

Yet a big part of being able to do that is being flexible in our time, we have to be available when the situation arises. If my son feels down because he lost at a battle in his Jiujitsu class, I can’t tell him, “Sorry, the alarm went off, it’s puppy pen cleaning time, this will have to wait.” Of course I can’t do that. I have to stop, give him my attention, and help him when the need arises. That’s part of being a mom. Walking that line between being consistent and being available to those who need us—not just our puppies—is one of the hardest parts of dog breeding.

So how did I do it? Well, that takes me to my next tip.

Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

Reduce the Things to Do

We have to reduce the number of things we have to do. I can already feel your blood pressure rising. Are you thinking of punching me? I understand.

This reducing of things was a big one for me. It really irritates me when people tell me, “You can’t do that.” My response is usually, “Watch me.”

It took me a long time to allow myself to release certain things so that I could put more time into things that were more important for me. I realized that being available to my family and dogs as needed meant that I needed to have flexibility. That flexibility came from having less things to do, less to manage, creating openings in my day for rest, reflection, catching up, and, of course, being available when I’m needed.

Here’s a little of how this all happened for me:

When my divorce was just about through, I was drowning trying to pay a large mortgage, while trying to feed two cows we had gotten, as well as the pigs I had, a few goats, and the dogs. I didn’t have enough income to do that and reasonably put fuel into my truck and keep groceries in the fridge.

My kids gave me a lot of strength. I was able to set my ego aside and downsize, not because I wanted to, but because it was unacceptable for the kids for me to try and continue to manage all these things while being unable to cover all the costs.

I had to let the cows go. I called a friend who had had cattle in the past and was since retired on a comfortable 10 acres. He picked the cows up, agreed to feed and finish them and give me a good portion of the meat when it was done.

Then I called my friend who bred goats and asked her if she wanted the girls I still had. I sold the pigs. My breeders went to a friend who bred them, and I still buy my processed pigs from her today. I also had a pig processed for myself.

By reducing the livestock, I was saving a few hundred in feed per month, plus the work of feeding and watering each day. It opened up my finances and my schedule.

The dogs at this time became my main source of income. I had to keep them fed and on good food. Thankfully I was still getting a good price on my favorite dog food from my distributor, so my dogs were healthy and fertile. Next on the list was organizing the dogs so they would be safer and easier to manage. This is where Bill really helped me get my facilities up–the block wall kennels on a large concrete slab. It made a big difference. Now the dogs didn’t get giardia from my pond anymore, and I wasn’t struggling with sick puppies. It was easier to clean and manage, and safer. I was no longer worried dogs would escape the yard, as I have some impressive jumpers and climbers.

The kennels reduced the work I had to do each day to accomplish the same goal of feeding and watering the dogs in a safe environment. They were healthier, and that reduced the time I needed to spend managing giardia flare-ups.

I pulled two females from my program also. This reduced the number of dogs I needed to manage and feed, but also reduced the number of puppies I was producing, and that brought it down to more manageable numbers for a single mom with two kids, especially while I was dabbling in helping Bill with construction before we lived together.

I can hardly put to words the difference between managing 6 breeding females with no kennel facilities and managing four breeding mamas with facilities. They are so different, it’s like black and white.

Reducing the things you need to manage

Reducing the things to do also extends to the things you need to do in your home. This can be done in a lot of ways, but I’ll tell you what helped me a lot. I was a bit younger compared with my friends, so I had a lot of hand-me-down clothes and toys from friends, since my kids were younger. This was helpful, being broke and all, but, gosh, did it lead to a lot of ‘inventory.’

Inventory was a word I heard from one of the clutter specialists on YouTube. She said, when you have a lot of stuff, a lot of inventory, that inventory takes a lot to manage. By reducing inventory, you reduce the burden of managing it, which not only saves time, but creates more clarity of mind. This couldn’t be more true in my experience.

I was listening to Dr. John Delaney on YouTube the other day, and he said that you have ten thousand conversations a day with the stuff in your life. In his example, he said, every day, when he saw his guitar, sitting, collecting dust in the corner, it was like it was asking him, “Are you done with playing music? Is that part of you gone?” It was a feeling of shame that surrounded him over that darn guitar sitting in the corner. He’s right. Everything speaks to us. When my kitchen is clean, it tells me I’m amazing. When it’s dirty, it says, “Why don’t you have it together?”

Well, back to the mess of kid clothes and toys EVERYWHERE, I had to get rid of a lot of things. I found that if the kids have 10 outfits, the laundry pile simply cannot look like Mt. Everest. If I have only four plates, I can never fill a sink. If I only have 8 forks, I have to run the dishwasher more frequently. If the kids only have enough toys for one big bucket, then they can always clean it all up in a few minutes.

Going through the process of reducing my inventory was hard, and oddly emotional at times. Like getting rid of all the books that I wanted to read, but hadn’t made time for. Those books were always having conversations with me about how I wanted to be something I wasn’t.

If you have a lot of clutter, I hear you, I’ve been there. Listening to Clutterbug on YouTube was a game-changer for me. She helped me understand where my clutter was coming from, what emotional and mental games were at play, and ultimately gave me the tools to do what I needed to do to get out from under my mess.

I can say that, every day now I get the dishes done, run the dishwasher. The kids do their own laundry, but I haven’t worried about having clean underwear in a long time. Managing the dogs is easier, I have what I need, and not too much more.

The real benefit, that I didn’t even believe was possible, was the clarity of mind that came from not having so many things to manage when I woke up in the morning. I could sit and think, and apply my creativity to the day.

Set Standards & Pick Priorities

Part of successfully finishing anything is knowing what the goal is. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to write, “Work on website” on your to-do list. Seriously, what does that mean? It’s not specific enough. Yet, writing “update available puppy photos,” now that’s something you can work with. It has an end goal.

You might also find yourself writing other tasks on your to-do list, like “make social media posts.” That’s so general. We should make it simpler and more standardized. Why not write, “Write 3 Social Media Post Captions, select images or videos, edit, and schedule.” Now that has an end goal. You know when you’re done.

If you’re working on getting a better flow with your puppy pens, you might start with, “Once daily, clean litter box, wash water bowl and refill, and change blankets.” You might not be able to mop the floor every day in the puppy pen, but at least, if they’re using the litter box, and they have clean water and bedding, then they’ll be relatively clean. It’s a start. It’s much better than the overwhelm of not getting everything done, but also better than the feeling of defeat that comes with it, too.

It’s all a process. Start somewhere, it’ll get better in time as you make tiny pivots and adjustments.

What pairs with this standard of what “done” looks like is knowing priorities. Priorities should always be weighed against the time and money invested and the return you get.

Are you posting religiously on Instagram 5 days a week, but you are typing out all the emails to buyers who ask questions because you haven’t written any templates? That wastes a lot of time. Why not post on Instagram 4 times per week and take that extra savings of time and write up a template. Do that for two months and you’ll only have 8 fewer posts, BUT you’ll have 8 email templates to save you time in the future. Better return on investment.

Sometimes we have to give up consistency or a standard we’ve created in one area to make time for another area. This is probably one of the hardest parts of dog breeding, but also one of the hardest parts of life.

Where Do You Start?

You’ll need to pick priorities. It’s a little hard at times. I always recommend starting with the thing that is driving you most crazy. The more something evokes negative emotions, in addition to being a task on your to-do list, the more clarity and time you’ll have by fixing it with a better system or removing the problem altogether.

So, start with the puppy you have to sell that you dislike the most. Start with redesigning your puppy pen to make cleaning easier or faster. Can you get a rabbit waterer from the feed store to stop your puppies from walking in their water? Can you invest in a better mop?

There are so many options, but starting with what is most aggravating will give you the most gains.

Sometimes you can’t deal with things that are the most aggravating, such as building the facilities you want. Okay, that makes sense. Then look to see what the lowest hanging fruit is. What is the simplest things you can do to open up some time?

Often we need to start here, as it’s more attainable. Over the last two years I’ve been working one-on-one with dog breeders helping them get their businesses smoothed out. Additionally, I wanted to put a lot of time into MasterClasses for the Dog Breeder Society, making sure to do my two live calls per month. As such, it was very important to get the podcasts out, but not as important to put my time into Instagram, so I paused my Instagram feed. Now that I’m on a great routine with coaching clients, my schedule, and the MasterClasses inside the Dog Breeder Society, I’ve decided that I’m ready to add Instagram back into my processes.

It’s all a process. Give yourself a little grace and reduce the overall list, focus on a thing or two, make them better, then use the newly opened time and clarity of mind to apply to the next thing.

I wish you the best of luck. Know that these things take time, and don’t expect perfection at the start … or ever, really.

In summary, the steps to breaking the overwhelm are:

  1. Having an efficient system
  2. Reducing the things you need to do and manage
  3. Setting standards and picking priorities
  4. Then give yourself a little grace as you make these changes.

If you’re super-overwhelmed, not sure where to start with all of this, I’m here to help. I offer one-on-one sessions, and in our 90 min sessions we can sort out a lot of the pain points and where to start. Given my exposure to so many breeding programs, I can help you decide what is a priority or not.

You can learn more about coaching on my website here.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. Thanks 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!