A new buyer calls, interested in getting a puppy, and so you ask, “what are you looking for in a dog?” And instead of describing the lifestyle they lead and want to incorporate a dog into, they spout off a certain color, then, sometimes it gets worse, and they go into detail on the specifics of where patches should be, “I want a dog with a big patch on one side and a patch on its butt” and you’re thinking of ways to kindly tell them that they aren’t ordering a car, choosing the exterior color and the interior seat style. These are dogs, and we breeders don’t get to paint the spots on the Dalmation, they’ll pop up where they want to.
So do we have some control over color and pattern?
Absolutely. I highly encourage you to know the color genetics, especially for your breed, but as a whole I think it’s a lot of fun. When you know what colors your dogs will produce—or not produce—it’ll be helpful to many of the owners who call specifically looking for a certain color or pattern. I can also tell you from breeding a few hundred puppies, that patterns are a little genetic.
Buster, my foundation stud, had an offset patch right where his tail attached to his butt. We referred to it as his “butt patch” so many of his offspring had a similar patch there. His was just a little offset, and many of the puppies had an offset patch there, sometimes it was bigger, sometimes smaller, but a disproportionate about of puppies had the patch compared with other dogs in the breed. Just the same, dogs with heavier patching will throw puppies with heavier patching, same with less patching.
However, if the mom has nearly no patching and the dad a lot, all bets are off, the pups will be all over the place, except that the patching they do have, tends to be similar to the locations of at least some of the patching on the parents.
Anyways, that’s just an example using the piebald gene, which is called something else in different breeds, for example it’s the parti gene in Poodles.
So back to our question…how should we handle it if they are interested only in a certain color?
Part of being an Honest Dog Breeder—and running a good, honest business—is never selling someone a dog that they don’t want. So if the dog isn’t the right color and that’s very important to them, then you don’t send them home with a dog that isn’t the color they want.
Now we know that aligning temperament and drive with the family is a much better indicator of long-term success in dog ownership, so how do get these families what they want and also set them up for success?
It all starts when they initially contact you, interested in a dog. We want to stress that the key to success with a dog is aligning the temperament and drive of the dog with the lifestyle of the family. I actually put color preference on my puppy application, but then another line that said, “what is more important? The color or the temperament of the puppy”? Since writing that line, I have yet to have a single person select “color” over “temperament.” A subtle move like that will get people thinking about it, and will make it easier for them to open their mind to the possibility of a different color or pattern if the dog is a better fit for them.
Remember, people love things that are “custom” I mean, I can’t tell you how excited I am that Prose Shampoo considers the UV from our Arizona sun and my ridiculously hard water, and then pairs it with the fact that my roots get oily by the end of the day. I LOVE the custom stuff, it not only makes us feel special, but it usually works better, because it is catered to our needs. That’s exactly what you offer as an honest dog breeder, a custom solution to their dog dreams. So usually, if we can explain that a dog is the right temperament for them and a perfect match, they’ll be interested, even if he’s the wrong color.
We also have to be compassionate with our buyers. I know it might seem foreign to us as breeders, BUT many people don’t know that dogs aren’t all the same, merely different by the way they look. They don’t know that some dogs in the litter will be better or worse for their family. It is our job as breeders to educate them on this. Now I’m not saying you make them feel like idiots…but just sort of talk about it like it’s common knowledge, they’ll usually pick it up.
I often do this by explaining that the success of my kennel rests on my ability to align the right temperament puppy to the family’s needs. Usually there is a split second of silence on the line and then the light bulb hits and they are like, “yes, that’s what I want!” It’s the custom solution, and it goes over very well.
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So what happens when the right color is born, and the family really wants the dog, but you aren’t so sure it’s a good fit on temperament and drive for them?
Well, you have to use a little judgement here. There are some dogs that are simply going to be too much for some families, so if that’s the case, kindly explain that the dog will drive them crazy. For example, if they are a family in an apartment and the dog is particularly vocal compared with the other puppies, explain how the dog will be a menace in the apartment because it’s never quiet. Usually people come around to this idea. I always tell people that the look of the dog will never make up for the struggles that come with a dog who is misaligned to the family.
Sometimes, if you think the family has the capacity for handling the dog, but that it wouldn’t be your first pick for them, tell them. Explain that the dog is going to be prone to certain misbehaviors and it will take more time and dedication on their part—don’t make it sound like an exciting challenge, be frank and explain that it’ll probably be a pain, and that you think this other pup would be a better fit for whatever reasons.
However, let them choose, and don’t give them a hard time for choosing the color they want, it happens a lot. Many of the buyers who have done this with my dogs have gone on to be really successful with them, but they did need to get much more involved in dog training and boundary setting than they originally thought.
It’s tough, but it is your judgement call. The key never creating a dynamic between you and the buyer that creates tension, so you would never want to threaten that they’ll regret a certain puppy, rather, let them pick, and keep the lines of communication between you and them open. I always tell people I’m there to guide them in their selection, but the choice is theirs.
On a side note, I have never regretted turning anyone down from buying one of my dogs. So if you decide to not sell them a dog, don’t be mean or condescending, just gently state that you don’t breed the type of dog they are looking for and wish them the best luck on their puppy search. This usually happens before the people give me a deposit.
What do you do if the color they want isn’t born or there aren’t enough of them in a litter to satisfy the buyers?
I’m a big fan of bumping people to the next litter when the dog they want isn’t born. Remember how I said never sell people a dog they don’t want? Well if the color they want isn’t born, I usually just suggest we bump them to the next litter that will have that coloring pattern. That’s why it’s important to know your color genetics so that you know what the chances are of another pup, in the color or pattern they want, being born.
The key to being successful in bumping people to the next litter is giving them that information upfront, that if the color they want isn’t born, we can always move them to the next litter. This is why it is helpful to have them only give you a deposit once they have decided to get a dog from your kennel. In this respect, getting a dog from your kennel should be more important than getting a dog of a certain color or pattern in their mind.
There are always those people who will still want a certain color or pattern, I’ve had people wait 6 litters for a dog to be born with the coloring pattern they wanted with the right temperament. Sometimes you’ll find that puppy fever gets to people and even though the color they want isn’t born, they want a puppy more than they are set on the specific color. This is great because you can then focus on getting them the right puppy.
Another thing that can happen, which I think is a little funny, is that online they only ever saw one color or pattern for the breed and didn’t know they come in different colors or patterns. I see this a lot with my shorthairs, for some reason they continue to vote that black shorthairs, although fully recognized by AKC, are still not allowed to show, only the liver ones can. Well many of my buyers don’t know they come in black. They also rarely see solid ones, so when they see my solid dogs—especially my solid black one—they often change the color or pattern they were set on because they like a few of them.
It’s also funny, many people don’t like the solid shorthairs, they don’t think they are as pretty, oh well. A LOT of those buyers end up coming back for a second dog a year or so later and specifically request a solid. Again, I never call them out on the irony of it, but it does amuse me.
If this sounds exhausting to you, try to take it with a little bit of a sense of humor, some people are really set on a dog whose dog hair won’t show up on their couch, and can you blame them?
Know that it gets easier.
As your program grows and you’ve honed your dogs for a few generations, specifically breeding for your ideal dog buyer, you’ll find there will be less variation in temperament and drive in your dogs. This means that nearly any dog in the litter will work for most of your buyers. Honestly, that’s the goal, to make a relatively predictable pup with a predictable and reliable temperament and drive. When this happens it makes it easier for people to get the color they want because it will matter less which dog they choose. All dogs are individuals with their quirks, but you’ll narrow these quirks and traits with your breeding selection.
It took me about 3 generations to have this figured out to where it was very repeatable. With my family hunting dogs, I still have some lines that are stronger hunters and others that are easier going that work great for the younger families with little kids. However, the dogs are similar enough that my stronger hunting dogs still work out well for the young families and my family lines still hunt well.
In the end, understand that when people pay for something, especially when it’s a larger purchase like a pup, they will get more particular about what they are getting. You’ll see this get worse as your price increases. Take the requests in stride, understand what they want, educate them, and send them home with a dog that will fulfill their hopes and dreams. And remember to never send them home with a dog they don’t want.
Well there you have it, a way to help your buyers get the color they want, without sacrificing the honesty and integrity of your breeding program. With a little education and patience, you’ll be sending your pups home to families that are drooling over them.