Honestly, there are better ways to make money than dog breeding, especially alternatives that don’t involve as much poop. However, if you’re a breeder at heart, you do it because you love it, poop and all.
Just because we love the dogs and all they are, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be financially rewarded for all our time and dedication to our programs and the puppies they produce. We need money to make it all happen. And let’s not forget that making money off our breeding program not only gives our dogs better care, but keeps tension at bay with our human relationships, particularly our spouses.
It’s common not to make money in the beginning of your program, but it shouldn’t stay like that. Today I’d like to discuss five reasons that your breeding program may be struggling to make money and stay in the black.
Ultimately, your ability to be profitable as a dog breeder hinges on one concept: you have to be able to get enough healthy puppies into the hands of the right buyers. Therefore, if you are not getting enough puppies into the hands of the right buyers, there will be a financial loss.
Not having enough puppies can come from many things. You may have a small litter. You may miss a heat cycle and not have a litter. You may have issues losing puppies—sometimes that is stillborn puppies or puppies who fade. You could have puppies who get injured, who have to be sold at a reduced price. Sometimes they get injured and die. You may have puppies who are born with defects, whether genetic or congenital, and they will also require a reduced price. You may have infections in your puppies like coccidia, giardia, or worse, you may have Parvo. Sometimes you get the puppy in the hands of the right buyer, but you find out it wasn’t healthy and they have a lot of vet bills you have to reimburse.
I don’t have to tell you how many variables there are in raising puppies. I know you know. It’s not exactly easy.
Your ability to make money will rest on your ability to manage these variables and mitigate the associated risks, allowing more healthy puppies to make it to the right homes.
1. Breeding Dog Health
The first major reason you aren’t making money is because your dogs aren’t as healthy as they could be.
A healthy bitch will cycle regularly. She will manage the pregnancy well, without much change in her attitude or demeanor, meaning she won’t be overly stressed from it. She will whelp her puppies relatively easily and they will come out healthy. She will take care of them and they’ll be fat and happy.
If your dogs aren’t cycling regularly, this is another health thing we want to check out. It’s possible she’s stressed or isn’t in balance hormonally. If she’s not regularly cycling, you might consider checking your food. There is some evidence to suggest that some ingredients are estrogen mimickers, which add to the body’s perception of estrogen and can throw the hormonal balance off. This isn’t always from the food, and can also be from the environment. I’ve also heard stories of people who have had difficulties with their dogs because of their water: either it had too high of chlorine in it, or sometimes it had bacteria in it that was preventing them from being regular.
I have found many of the fertility issues are mitigated with breeding back-to-back. It seems to keep the hormones really regular for my girls. Similar to a woman who has her children 2-3 years apart, she usually has fairly easy pregnancies, but taking a break can make it harder later. I know breeding back-to-back can be controversial, but if you haven’t already, check out episode #13, all about breeding back-to-back.
When the litters are stressful, that’s when there is a red flag for you, something you want to investigate
One of the first costly problems with an unhealthy or stressed mama dog is needing a C-Section. If she can’t naturally whelp her puppies, then you need to know why. Sometimes this happens because a puppies dies and goes toxic. If a puppy dies during normal gestation, but the rest of the puppies are okay, the body is supposed to just allow the dead pup to stay in its sack and get born with the rest. That’s how it’s supposed to go, but sometimes, they go toxic and it forces the litter early. Premature pups being born are difficult, especially if you need a C-Section to whelp them.
Another reason you may need a C-Section is because her cervix isn’t as elastic as it could be, usually from too long a time between breedings or waiting to breed until she is older.
Unfortunately it can also occur because she is having a singleton, or a small litter, and that puppy is too big to pass. This is more common if she isn’t dropping eggs well or is older and slowing down how many eggs she drops during a heat cycle. It’s always helpful to track the number of puppies born in a litter, as well as how many were born alive and dead. The number of pups will give you good information about how many eggs she drops, but the number that were born healthy and alive will let you know a lot about the health of her eggs and her health during gestation.
Ultimately, you want to see consistency. So if she consistently drops seven pups, then you’ll want to see 6-8 in every litter. Then it would be worth reviewing if she had a litter of 4-5 pups.
Most of these issues will be mitigated with a good quality dog food and routine life, with normal loving, exercise, and mental enrichment.
Don’t you just love the sound of a quiet litter—where all the puppies are resting, fully hydrated, growing well, shiny coat, and sleeping? Especially when they get into REM sleep and their little paws and ears are twitching while they have dreams? That’s my favorite.
Quiet puppies are generally healthy puppies. If your litter, or even a single puppy, is loud, that’s usually a sign something is wrong.
If your female is underweight, as in she didn’t put on enough weight during the pregnancy or she can’t keep weight on, she may have a hard time keeping up with the required milk production. Sometimes, if they aren’t feeling well, they won’t eat like they should—and don’t worry if you find she doesn’t eat the first few days post-whelp. That’s pretty normal. My girls barely eat, and don’t drink all that much those first few days. But it is cause for concern if she can’t keep her weight on. Usually you’ll notice this around weeks 3-5, as the puppies are consuming a lot of milk, especially larger litters.
I have found that adding powdered milk replacer or an egg mixed in to my girl’s food can make it a little more tasty and give her a lot of the extra nutrition she needs to continue making milk.
Remember, biology is funny. It prioritizes the babies over the mom. Same with humans, meaning that the milk will have all the nutrition that the babies need, even if that means taking resources out of the mother’s body, like pulling calcium from her bones. This is why nutrition is so important for nursing mothers. She’ll make the milk, but it might take everything she has.
When she uses her personal resources, it will make her recovery difficult and will be extra stressful on her body, which will not only be miserable for her, but can also affect her temperament. She may be shorter-tempered with the pups. How the mother treats her pups will greatly affect their temperament as adult dogs and we want our pups to have the best start they can. You want it to be easy for her, and in return she’ll be patient with them.
It’s similar to making sure a pregnant woman is first in line at the buffet. Lord only knows what could happen if she’s very hungry and can’t get food. You wouldn’t want to mess with her. It only gets worse if she’s nursing, hungry, and the baby is crying. Talk about stress overload…now multiply that by seven because dogs don’t just have one puppy.
A calm mother will also be more careful with her pups. She will be less prone to lay on one, more likely to clean them all, stimulating them to go to the bathroom and keeping their systems moving correctly.
As a general guideline, I like my females to fully regain their weight by week eight, postpartum. If they are heavy milkers or had an especially large litter, then I would like to see them back to their regular figure by twelve weeks postpartum. If she takes longer than that, usually something isn’t right. Depending on the dog and their coat type and the time of year, I find that some dogs won’t get their coat pretty by eight weeks. It may still be thin, but that should also be pretty normal by twelve weeks. And give a little grace for first-time moms. They either bounce back the fastest, or they take the longest. It’s hard to really gauge their abilities as a mother that first litter. It’s definitely something that is easier the second time for them.
Lastly, it’s always worth checking for parasites. With having bird dogs and rat snatchers, I have seen every kind of parasite. I’ve seen that parasites can actually cause anxiety.
I once had a dog returned to me, she was 10 months old, and should’ve been about 40 lbs. She was 28 when I got her, her coat was dull, and she was ribby—you know where her ribs were poking out the sides. The guy returned her to me at my retail shop, and she paced in my retail shop for seven hours. She could’t sit down, couldn’t relax, and it was difficult to get her to focus on anything.
I used MOOM to treat her, and within two days she was able to calm down and focus. Within a week she had put on seven pounds and her coat started to renew itself.
The guy had difficulties with her because she was “so crazy” as he called it. But it was really because she had giardia-induced anxiety, which killed her focus and ability to relax. It’s sad, because he had already given up on her when he called me. And I’ve found you can’t change people’s minds once they give up on a dog.
She now happily lives a few miles away from me in a home where she gets to play all day with her brother and she has her own couch.
She was never a breeding dog for me, but she’s a great example of how parasites can change the demeanor of a dog so much that they are unrecognizable.
I had a lot of issues with giardia when I first started breeding. That’s why I created MOOM. It’s a natural alternative to chemicals for treating giardia and other intestinal upsets…Bill and I even use it personally.
Parasites don’t just hurt your finances with vet bills, they hurt your breeding program. Puppies often get a little stressed from the transition to a new home, the stress can cause his immune system to drop and if he has parasites, that’ll give him the runs. The new puppy owners take him to the vet and then the test results show parasites. It makes you look like you lied to your buyers, and hurts your reputation and trust with them. It hurts the referrals they would’ve otherwise given you, and, of course, in some places, you’ll be responsible for those vet bills should they pursue it.
2. Your Mama Dogs Aren’t Performing
While management of the health and well-being of your dogs is paramount, sometimes you have a bitch who just isn’t a good mom.
Some moms don’t produce enough milk, and you see that lack in her puppies and their growth. Again, you have to give a little consideration for a new mom, as she has to build all the mammary glands that first time and will not be the best milk producer with her first litter.
We saw the same in goats. First-year milkers always produced about half of what they would the following year, and they were bred for milk. It’s similar with dogs and even people.
Some moms aren’t good with their puppies. Some don’t have a nurturing temperament and won’t have patience for their puppies. They will snap at them and can injure them. It’s normal for her to growl at them when they’re getting older, say five weeks or so, and she’s ready to wean, but she shouldn’t injure them. Of course, she needs reprieve from the puppies, so make sure she isn’t just overly stressed because she isn’t getting a break. But if she actually injures them, you may want to see if it’s a pattern that she’s aggressive with her pups.
I had a female who started to get very angry with her pups after her fourth litter. I thought she was just having a hard time that day, but it persisted. It was unusual for her, so I thought it may be a health thing. I made sure she was healthy and well the next time around and saw that she was short-tempered with this litter. Even though she made incredible dogs, it wasn’t worth the stress for her, nor how she raised the puppies. I retired her after that litter.
Some moms are not cognizant of their puppies. They just lack general awareness of them. This can be devastating for you and your program—especially if they crush their babies. Again, first-time moms are often overwhelmed that first time and you’ll need to monitor more. But if you find she’s crushing—or would have if you didn’t save the puppy (one or more puppies)—then she just may not be cut out for the mothering gig.
Some moms are terrible at cleaning up after their puppies. This can be a real problem for them getting stopped up when they are little, and can set them up to be messy dogs as adults if they don’t get that example of cleanliness; not to mention it greatly increases the risk of parasites in the puppies if the mom is messy.
If you find that you have a mom who maybe isn’t cut out for mothering, then it makes the most sense to retire her. If her puppies are healthy and okay and you need her genetics, breed her once more, retain a puppy, and retire her.
When evaluating a mama dog, it helps to compare her with the other moms you have. If she is struggling more than the others, often that’s an indication that she isn’t quite the quality you want. When she is an oddity amongst your females, you can use that to help remove management as the culprit of her difficulties.
Whenever you have to do lots of human intervention to keep things going smoothly with your litter, then something isn’t right. It really shouldn’t be frustrating, more just monitoring with small adjustments.
Nature is really good at managing puppies, and the more we, or the vet, have to interfere, not only is it costly in time, but it costs money, and that will capsize your profitability, which makes it harder for you to create the life that your dogs and you deserve.
Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?
Facilities are a game changer. Many times problems with losing puppies is actually related to facilities.
I had a mother and daughter who cycled together. They had puppies that were four days apart. The two moms got along well, and it was winter and so I had them in my garden tub in my bathroom. There were thirteen puppies in that giant tub, about two weeks old.
My son had turned three only a few months earlier. He didn’t know any better, but while I was outside, he made his way into the bathroom and turned the water on in the tub. I had some blankets in the tub and they clogged the drain. When I came inside, the puppies were all huddled on the highest blanket, but they couldn’t all fit. I got the water shut off and got them out of the tub and onto the floor as best as I could. Two had water in their lungs. I was able to get the water out of them, but I was only able to revive one of them.
Losing that puppy is a sharp reminder of how important facilities are. Something like that could never happen in my facilities now. There is drainage, and the water buckets for mom are suspended too high for the pups. Of course my son is older, but it wouldn’t even be a possibility with my current setup.
Facilities are something I wish I would’ve developed so much sooner. They make managing the dogs so much easier. They are healthier, happier, have more ways to engage their brains, and they make healthier pups.
If you are losing puppies to crazy events that you wouldn’t think would ever happen again, don’t just chalk it up to a fluke. Consider that it may be a facility design or management issue.
If a pen got left open, find a way to redesign so that can’t happen. If your puppies are getting parasites, find a way to get them in an area that is easier to sanitize. I know concrete isn’t always affordable in the beginning, but you can find vinyl rolls of flooring very affordable at the home improvement store. They can be laid down even over carpet, grass, or dirt, and can be easily sanitized. If your puppies are injured from big dogs, look to find a better way to separate them. Maybe that’s as simple as rotating who is out at what time.
Facilities not only make it easier to keep your dogs healthy and safe, but they allow you to keep your sanity. Because when your dogs are in the right facilities, you don’t have to worry.
4. Finding the Wrong Buyers
Often times, especially in a younger breeding program, finding the wrong buyers will cause you lots of problems in making money. When you don’t have a consistent source of quality buyers whose lifestyle will work with your pups, it can be very difficult to make money.
The most common thing I see is young breeders still having puppies left at the end of a litter because they didn’t have good buyers to pick from.
Most breeders choose to either reduce the price of the puppy to make it easier to sell them, or they hang onto the pup for a long time waiting for the right buyer to come along at that price.
Neither solution is great. Reducing the price of your puppies certainly hurts your ability to make money, especially if it starts attracting the wrong kind of buyer, which is a headache for you. You know those people, the ones who start the conversation with “how much are your puppies?” I hate those.
Buyers who don’t align with your program will be a time suck. They’ll eat all your time like a friend who is addicted to drama and doesn’t let you get a word in edge wise, where you’re tempted to just set the phone down on the counter and walk away.
Buyers who don’t align well with you and your program will have many difficulties with the puppy they get from you. They’ll need lots of hand-holding or will just be frustrated with the dog because he isn’t what they need, and they’ll end up unable to give the pup the quality of life he deserves.
Then keeping the puppy until the right buyer comes along is better for the pup, but just continues to cost you money and adds to your management burden.
If you are struggling to sell all your puppies by the time they are ready to go home, then you have a marketing problem. Sometimes that problem means you don’t have the right information on your website and you need to update it. Alternatively, you may not be getting enough traffic to your website, so you’ll need to bring awareness to your program.
The single, biggest problem I see most breeders make is that they know the dog they are trying to create, but they don’t know the person that dog is supposed to go to. And while using your website to tout how great your dogs are helps, it isn’t complete. It has to be geared to your ideal puppy buyer. If you aren’t sure about your ideal puppy buyer, you aren’t sure who that is, be sure to check out Episode #3. Understanding your ideal puppy buyer is so critically important to the success of your breeding program, my entire first Masterclass in the Dog Breeder Society is dedicated to it.
When you nail down your ideal dog buyer, selling puppies to the right families is easy like a Sunday Morning, on the porch, sipping coffee with a puppy in your lap. It’s a game changer.
The last reason your program may not be making money is because your dogs are the wrong price. So many breeders struggle with pricing.
Sometimes we forget to add our standard expenses up when we price out our pups. I have been guilty of getting a little carried away with my puppy packs and losing money that way.
If your price is too low, it is difficult to make money. However, if your price is too high, it becomes difficult to sell your puppies.
If you are having a hard time selling your puppies, definitely revisit pricing. A lot of new breeders mistakenly try to charge high prices for their dogs. And, while it isn’t that their dogs aren’t worth that price, but more a situation where the price they are asking feels like too much because they don’t yet have a reputation. It is better to be a little lower in price your first few litters, wow your buyers, and then collect testimonials and referrals, then bump your price up accordingly. Nothing is embarrassing quite like selling half your litter at a high price and then selling the rest at a discount like seasonal inventory at the department store.
In the end, your breeding program should make money. If it isn’t making money, then you probably aren’t getting enough puppies in the hands of the right buyers. To recap, you want to check your dog health and welfare management, make sure your moms are good moms, your facilities are setting you up for success, you’re finding the right buyers, and you’re selling your pups for the right price.
When you nail down all these aspects, you’ll be making enough money to maintain—and maybe improve—you and your dogs’ quality of life.
- MOOM – Treating Giardia Naturally in Dogs (amongst other species)
Episode #3 – Understanding Your Ideal Dog Buyer (the single biggest mistake most breeders make!)
- Check out the Finding Your Ideal Puppy Buyer MasterClass
- Join the Dog Breeder Society