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#03 – The Single Biggest Mistake Most Breeders Make –and how to avoid it!

by | Jun 15, 2021 | Dog & Puppy Management, People Management

The number one reason that people have issues with their dog is because the dog is misaligned with the lifestyle that it has to live in.

How do we fix that?

Well, what if instead of trying to find the perfect dog for your lifestyle, you selected the breeder that bred dogs for your lifestyle?

What if instead of trying to find the perfect owners for your dogs you instead picked a specific type of customer and bred a dog specifically to their needs?

It sounds like a complete 180 from the traditional, but how would it work? Envision yourself 5 years in the future. Your breeding program is booming, everyone wants your dogs.

What do you want people to think when they think of your dogs?

Do you want those dogs that people rave about how much safer they feel knowing that the dog you bred is on the lookout for their family while they sleep? How about the rancher that hasn’t lost a lamb to a coyote since his dog he bought from you turned a year old? What about the family that sends you endless pictures and videos of the the dog they got from you enjoying their active outdoor life with them?

Most breeders design their breeding program backwards, they take the ideal dog by the breed standard and they try to emulate that, but they forget the other half of the equation. They forget that the dogs are going to live with someone and often times the day-to-day lives these dogs lead are not the ones that the breed’s predecessors led. How many cattle dogs are actually working with cattle?

Why not take a different approach? Let your dreams run for a moment and envision what you would love people to say about your dogs. Now think of the type of owner or family that would say those sort of things. See their life and how your dog would fit into it. Now design it backwards. Use that family as your ideal and design your program around that ideal.

Back when I first started breeding, I had a vision that I wanted to breed Buster to give other families what that dog gave my family. He was a goofball. He was full of personality, sweet, but a little stubborn. He wanted to be with you, but he also wanted to hunt. When he was in the field, he made us look good in front of our friends and find us lots of birds. When we were home watching Netflix he would wait until an exciting scene, then when we weren’t looking, he would sneak on the couch, sneaking some popcorn we spilled. He was healthy and sound, and so gentle with my kids, even when they decided he was pony and they tried to ride him, using those floppy ears as reigns.

He is why I started breeding. I wanted to give all that he was to other families.

Of course, I was an idiot when I started breeding. I made all the basic mistakes so many new breeders do. With hunting dogs you want them to hunt. Well I had a really strong hunting female and when I bred her to Buster those puppies were really strong hunters, but their drive was so much that the families I was homing them with had a hard time getting their focus in training, they were too interested in their environment, finding birds, hunting everything and it was very frustrating. I actually had 4 people return dogs from those first few litters.

The dogs were misaligned with the owner I was attracting and when that happens you get behavior issues and frustrated owners.

Reflecting on my situation and the breeding pairs I was using, I decided to make a shift. I bred that strong female to a new stud I had selected and although he was a great bird dog, he absolutely loved people. His love of people and fetch changed how the bird drive manifested when he was bred to that female; instead of being so birdy they lost their minds at home, they were very driven not only for birds, but to please their owners. They loved working with their owners toward a goal, and it didn’t need to be birds. They simply wanted to be with their owners.

The puppies out of these litters were not returned to me, instead their owners raved about the dogs, constantly sending me pictures and tagging me on instagram.

Looking back at my situation, I really had two options—even though I didn’t understand them at the time. I could have changed my breeding program, adjusting breeding stock to make a more family-oriented dog or I could’ve changed who I was marketing to, finding the type of owner who would thrive with a super-high drive dog.

The later would’ve been someone who was more of an avid hunter who didn’t need a dog to be as focused around the family, as the dog would be more a one-on-one companion, not someone with little children around.

I love working with families, especially those with young children. I want to breed the dog that those kids judge all other dogs in their life against.

This made it an easy decision to focus on shifting the temperament to be a little less crazy-birdy to more family focused.

All my dogs are the same price. I don’t charge any different price for color, sex, or anything. Breeding rights are more, but that’s because it brings the conversation around breeding to the forefront of the conversation with new owners. All my dogs are the same price because there are no better or worse dogs, rather they are better or worse for certain owners and lifestyles.

If you were in charge of a love matchmaking service, you wouldn’t take a guy who is highly active, constantly outside hiking, camping, and getting dirty and put him with a girl who loves wearing high heels, keeps her vehicle immaculate, and has nails so long she struggles to use a zipper. It wouldn’t be a good fit.

Matching dogs to owners is the same. You want them to align in lifestyle, which means aligning the temperament and drive with the owner who will be be able to manage it and won’t be disappointed by it.

For example, if you have a high-drive dog, they will need more management because their drive needs to be satisfied. This requires more structure, routine, and drive-specific outlets for the dog. You need to find a family that can develop and maintain that structure for the dog to be satisfied.

These high-drive dogs are best aligned with owners who use them in their day-to-day lifestyle. Think police dogs, livestock guardian dogs (who have livestock to manage), and bird dogs for avid hunters.

Alternatively, you can select for temperament and drive that doesn’t need as much structure or you can select for drive characteristics that are satisfied by companionship and the general lifestyle that your dogs often live in with their families. This dog wouldn’t carry the same requirements in management that higher-drive dog would.

By now I’m sure you see that you have two avenues of approach when developing the perfect fit of dog to owner: you can either adjust your marketing to find people who align with the temperament and drive you currently have OR you can adjust your dogs to the people you are currently attracting.

I recommend you go with the people that you get along with best and develop a dog specifically for them.

There is probably a reason you have the breed you have. Remember the beginning of the movie 101 Dalmatians, the cartoon, where the owners are all walking their dogs and all the dogs look just like their owners? It was funny, but it does point out that most people pick a dog that fits them.

Take a look at the people who’ve bought your dogs in the past, where there any ones in particular that you really clicked with? Was it easy to talk to them because they had a similar lifestyle to you? Enjoyed the things that you enjoy? How about those owners who were difficult to talk to, were they were hard to have a conversation with and they didn’t laugh at any of your jokes?

Analyze the different experiences you’ve had. Figure out what was different about the people that you clicked with and those you didn’t. As you do this you’ll start to see some trends and that will steer you to the type of people you should be breeding for. And yes, that’s definitely the people you click with.

Now you might be thinking, “Julie, me clicking with people, how does that matter? They are buying a puppy, it’s not like we are going to be friends forever.” And you’re probably right, you won’t be texting all the time and probably won’t be inviting them over to your kids’ birthday party. However, building trust with your buyers is key in maintaining relationships with them. It is hard to build trust with someone who you don’t ‘click’ with.

The trust is what will really set you apart from other breeders and improve your program. If your buyers don’t trust you, then they won’t call you when they have health issues or behavioral problems. If you don’t know about these things then it’s really hard to pivot your breeding program to fix them and worse, what if the problems are so great that they no longer want to keep the dog? If you don’t have trust, they won’t bring it back to you. When dogs are returned, it sucks. But it is one of the greatest ways to learn where your breeding program needs improvement, whether that’s changing breeding pairs or your marketing to find different buyers.

Let me explain how I think of marketing—if you’re like me—after business school I had a bad taste in my mouth for marketing. It felt slimy and disingenuous. I felt like people with marketing degrees essentially had a Bachelor’s in Con Artistry.

Then I learned about magical place where marketing and integrity meet. If it were a traffic intersection, the pavement would be smooth, the lights would be a pretty shade of green, and the corners would have the most beautiful landscaping.

You see when you have a quality product, like your amazing dogs, marketing is no longer slimy, it is merely the avenue you use to let those perfect owners know that you have the pup for them.

Dog marketing is building awareness around the dogs you offer. When done right, it attracts the right owners, while simultaneously pushing away those who aren’t a good fit for your dogs. Don’t worry, you WANT to push away some people with your marketing, this is the first filter in finding the right owners, after all, when you’re marketing with integrity, you don’t want to sell a puppy to a home that will struggle with it.

Want to Get the Designing Your Ideal Dog Buyer Cheatsheet?

What if you know you want to breed, but you haven’t selected your breed yet?

I wish I had known what I know now when selecting a breed, I fell into my breed, as seemingly many breeders do, but I would’ve saved so much time if I had actually planned my breeding program when I started.

If you’re still selecting your breed, consider selecting a breed that really jives with your lifestyle. I dog that you love to look at because you’re going to be staring at them A LOT and select a breed where the people that will thrive with your dogs, are your people. The people that you love to work with.

This will make you relatable with the owners, it will create and maintain trust, and you’ll be better able to help them figure out how to provide the dog with quality of life so that not only is the dog happy, but the happy dog enhances the quality of life of the owner.

I see a lot of breeders select breeds because they are popular or they are expensive and new breeders think they will be easier to sell or think they will make more money with them. I can tell you that you can be profitable with any breed of dog if you plan it around a group of people whose life experience will be enhanced with that type of dog.

The magic recipe is breeding the perfect dog, in your favorite breed, for people who share a similar lifestyle to you, and who are people you like to work with. This sounds more complicated than it is, it’s fairly easy, because most people like people who are like them and if the breed you love works for you, and your lifestyle, it’ll probably work for them, too.

By default you’re going to have a little bit different life because you have so many dogs, but you’ll probably have similar ideas of what a vacation will be and what relaxing should entail. And therefore, what life with a dog should be like.

Now, I get it, you’re not going to jive with every person who buys your dogs. When this happens, consider their ability to care for the dog and give it the quality of life it deserves. You still want to have some positive relationship with them, even if they are a little difficult to have an easy conversation with. Always consider if they will give the dog quality of life and if they are comfortable talking with you if they have problems.

Remember, this is all in designing your breeding program. You have to aim somewhere and this is the ideal. It’s sort of like putting a red circle on the wall, and then throwing handfuls of mud at it. It’ll be close, but it won’t be perfect.

Here is how it shakes out

In my kennel I breed for families who have 2-3 kids under 8. They are active and like to be outdoors. Only about half of my buyers actually hunt, and a lot of them think they’ll hunt more than they actually do—it’s hard with little kids. While this is my ideal customer, or well family, I get a range of people who are similar. For example, I get a lot of newlyweds who lead an active life and are planning to have kids in the near future. They are a little different from my ideal because they haven’t had kids yet and aren’t yet familiar with the chaos that kids and puppies have in common. I usually give them more resources for managing all the puppies phases so they are more prepared.

I also get many families who have kids who are older than 8, often they want to go hunting together with the dog, father and son. These families usually manage the puppy really easily because the kids are old enough to respect the puppy and give him his space. So while I breed for a dog that won’t be so reactive under the stress of a toddler, a puppy in an older family just won’t have to encounter this sort of…shall we say, “socialization?”

Then I get the empty nesters who love to hike, boat, or go RVing. They are great because they aren’t as busy running around with their kids’ events. Instead, the dog will get lots of attention. Similar to the families with older children, this puppy won’t be subject to sticky peanut butter and jelly hands petting him, but the loving temperament is still very important for these owners. Many of them actually hunt, which is fun for the dog to engage an activity that tests his abilities and allows him to work with his owner.

As you can see, while my families are not in the same place in their life, they are all relatively outdoorsy people and I make my dogs as “bomb-proof” as possible by breeding a temperament that will survive in a family with those little kiddos.

Well there you go, the secret sauce for designing your kennel program.

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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!