It was mid afternoon on a crisp March day, down here, in Arizona. Just two days earlier, I had installed a toilet and, well, needless to say, based on the flooding, it would appear that a future career as a plumber was not in the cards for me.
Bill walked into my house and I shared my concerns about falling through my floor while using my beautiful new toilet. Long story short, we met over a new toilet and a flooded floor. This poor man didn’t have a clue what he was getting into when we started dating. He had no idea what it would be like being with a dog breeder.
When you ask him about it, he said, he didn’t really understand what breeding entailed, he thought puppies were cute and that was about it. He thought, what a fun, little side hobby I had.
I tried to prepare him, but can you really prepare someone who has never raised dogs for what it would be like to raise seven litters, all born in the same two-month span? And add to that that my “facilities” were Tarter livestock feed troughs sitting on my porch?
Over the next few weeks, this poor man would see litter after litter born, and the chaos that can exist when you’re with a dog breeder. Sometimes I’m surprised he stayed, I often pretend it was my cooking, but in the end I just got lucky.
It’s no joke, dog breeding really can be a burden on your family and loved ones. I wanted to share some some of what I’ve learned over the years about how it affects your family and some things we can do to mitigate the negatives so that our passion for breeding can be a net positive for not just us, but our families, too.
Time is by far the first major burden that can impact your family. I was talking to a new breeder’s husband one time and when his wife turned to help the kids with something, he leaned in towards me and asked, “can we ever take a vacation again?”
It’s an honest question. There was a time when I raised livestock that every time I left for four days or more, I lost an animal. It was usually a goat or baby pig, but nevertheless it made my stomach twinge thinking of leaving.
You don’t have to be bound to your breeding program though, I mean, yes, there’s certainly some coordination. Bill and I plan trips for the weeks we have in between litters and sometimes that means we have to take a bred bitch during the last week of her gestation, just in case.
A simple solution is finding a good person who can feed and manage your animals while you’re gone. One of Bill’s younger construction guys was particularly good at pressure washing, so I hired him to clean my kennels each week and, as a bonus—since he’s reliable, trustworthy, and already knows all the dogs—he is a great option to have come out each day, check on the dogs, and feed them when I leave town.
Finding someone like this is so helpful for your sanity. A lot of breeders are inclined to use family for this, but just consider if that person might not be available because you’re both attending the same event, like an out-of-state wedding for a cousin.
There is also sanity in treating your breeding program like a job. Most jobs, at least the good ones, tend to have a time when the day ends. Yes, there may be the late-night whelping, where you’ll be like a doctor who is on call, but for most of the time, you can have a time of day when your “breeding job” ends. This can bring lots of sanity to you and your family.
Some ways to do this is to set up a schedule for dog maintenance, facility maintenance, and responding to buyers. If your family is gone at work and school from say 7-4, then this is when you should do your breeding program. So when the family comes home at 4, the kennels will already be cleaned, the dogs will be fed and exercised, and you’ll be able to give your family you when they get home.
If you treat it like a job, it’s easier for your family to see it as your job. Not to mention, if you’re like me, I do sooo much better when I have a written schedule, I have like the absolute worst ADHD.
If you intend on titling your dogs, this can also be a considerable time investment that your family will need to work with. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t title or show, but it does mean, out of respect to our loved ones, that the time investment of these events needs to be discussed, and the financial costs of them, also.
I used to play traveling soccer growing up, we would travel all over Michigan playing, I once even had a game in Canada—I felt pretty cool being international and all, even though it was only an hour drive to get from Detroit to Ontario.
If you played a sport or you have kids that do, you know it’s a lot of coordination, logistics, and planning to make it to the events and you have to juggle the home chores when you’re home, which can eat up a lot of your family time. Titling dogs can be very similar.
My recommendation if you want to title is to understand what it will do for your breeding program (if you aren’t sure on that, check out Episode #11), and then if you decide it will be beneficial, sit down and have an honest discussion about how you and your family will manage these events.
If you truly enjoy titling activities, then don’t forget to factor in the intrinsic benefit it gives you. If you love the bond you get with your dogs in agility, then by all means, do it. For me personally, I’m a homebody and my ideal customer really couldn’t care less about titles, so it doesn’t really benefit me, either for my program, nor for my own satisfaction. I’d rather take the kids to one of the elusive Arizona lakes for the weekend.
Having that said, for me, if I were to leave for a while, my family wouldn’t do great with dinner, or lunch, or, really, food in general. There would be a lot of Pizza. Now the Papa Johns people know me by name and all, we’re cool, but I can’t have my kids eat that all the time, so if I am leaving town and my family is staying, then I need to plan on preparing them meals that can be thrown in the instant pot or easily heated up in the air fryer. It’s also helpful if I cut up some fruit and having it ready to grab for the kids in those amazing stasher bags—man, I love those things. They’re also great for marinating steak, Bill does grill a mean steak.
I have found that if you are going to ask your family to manage without you, then it goes really far if you look at what will become more difficult in your absence and try to mitigate some of it. If you normally do the feeding, and now your significant other is going to have to do it, then maybe it’s easier if you use ziplock bags and label them with the dogs’ names and have them all prepped and ready. This is also a great technique for anyone who will be watching your dogs, not only will the portions, and supplements if you use them, but they’ll be less likely to forget a dog, which can happen sometimes.
Support or Interest?
I think one thing that some breeders miss—and I have been guilty of this myself—is that while breeding and thinking about growing and improving my breeding program makes me salivate, it simply isn’t that exciting for everyone. We breeders are a strange crew.
We have to be very careful as breeders to not confuse support from our loved ones with their actual interest. For example, Bill is fantastic at working on vehicles, he kept my Red Dodge 3500 running, she’s at 412,000 miles and going. He doesn’t just fix vehicles, but he also likes buying more specialty parts and making really cool vehicles. I am super supportive of him doing this with his vehicles, he really enjoys it and they’re fun, but I really don’t care all that much about how much more horse power this new injector system will get. My interest in vehicles pretty much extends to understanding how they work, so that when they don’t work, I can let him know. I will certainly sit out there while he’s fixing a vehicle, I will hand him tools (I have even learned the names of the tools), I’ll get under the hood and help where he needs smaller hands like mine to do stuff, and occasionally I’ll discuss the troubleshooting so that we can solve a problem together.
I know you don’t really care about how we fix our vehicles, boring, I get it, but I explain it to demonstrate how I am involved and supportive of his thing, but I am not exactly interested in it. Many of you will find that your significant other will be very supportive of your program, but they won’t actually be interested in it in a way that has intrinsic value for them. They care because you care.
That may sound like a bummer, but believe me, it is so amazing when someone loves you enough that they will sit and help you figure out how to manage poop, I mean, really, that’s a special kind of love.
So why do I bring all this up? I want to remind you to remember the distinction between support and actual interest that your loved ones have in your dog breeding program. You want to know where they are on that spectrum and make sure you respect them wherever they fall. So if they are as interested in it as you, wonderful, you’re very lucky, and definitely the exception. If they aren’t particularly interested, then make sure to give them back the support they give you in the things that they are interested in. And, unfortunately, you can’t ALWAYS talk about breeding with them, it’ll turn the relationship south fairly quickly.
Another thing to consider. If they aren’t particularly interested in breeding and see it more as a time suck than anything else, then sit down and listen to their concerns about where your breeding program is eating away at the relationship or family in their eyes. It’s worth it to discuss ways you can balance the relationship with breeding so that they don’t feel like they got the short end of the stick.
I’ve seen some breeders look at their program as a family thing—and I love that, my kids feed and water the dogs, they help me do all sorts of things—but it’s still my thing, they didn’t pick it.
It would probably be unreasonable to expect your supportive, but uninterested husband to clean up the puppy pen every day. Remember, this was your thing, not theirs. Having that said, it is important to discuss how this time investment will impact what household tasks you can complete while you have puppies on the ground. Sometimes it’s more reasonable to ask your husband to help with dishes while you’re whelping a litter, than to ask him to help you whelp the litter.
One other thing to consider…you’ve all seen the meme online with the dog breeder laying in the grass, her beautiful hair perfect and laying so nicely, she has cute puppies kissing her all over her face…yes, that one. Many many people think that’s what we do as dog breeders, as you know, but sometimes our families think that also because they just don’t know, especially if we are taking care of it while they are at work or school. So while I would never suggest you make a list of all the things you have to do for the dogs and throw it in their face, as if to prove how amazing you are, it is really helpful for them to understand what is involved, so they can be more understanding of the time that is required of you for your breeding program.
Once Bill understood how much was involved in it, he actually started to help me figure things out that would make it easier for me…he is so much better at organization than me. If you can get to the sort of balanced spot with your family, it will be so much easier on everyone, they’ll understand and you won’t feel like you’re at odds with them. Sometimes they even get good at noticing things with the dogs, which is so nice to have an extra set of eyes helping you out.
Every family is different, I know you’ll find your balance if you put your mind to it.
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Buyers, and how you manage them, can also eat away at your time.
When you have a litter go home, often the owners will have lots of questions and you really should do your best to be available for them. I find the first two weeks they have the most questions, but your support during those two weeks will be the most helpful for solidifying your relationship with them. I also find that after about six months they really don’t have too many questions. Of course you may get the phone call while they’re at the vet or wondering if they need to go, and you really should answer those as quickly as possible.
In the beginning, when your program is new, you’ll have to be very responsive with buyers and that will help you gain buyers over other breeders who have more experience. Many people will prefer a new, proactive and responsive breeder, over an experienced breeder, who they perceive won’t work as hard for them.
This often means that when people message you about a puppy on your Facebook page at 9:30 at night, you’ll need to answer and message back. It means you’ll probably need to take phone calls during dinner, and it means you’ll need to be more accommodating when they come down to meet your dogs, even if that’s a weekend.
It’s helpful to explain to your family that this is a temporary phase as you’re getting your name out there. But also, there are some techniques you can do to manage buyers so that they aren’t hurting your relationship with your loved ones.
Here are things you can do:
When someone contacts you late, message them back, thank them for contacting you, that you look forward to speaking with them, and then ask what a good time to talk tomorrow would be. People are usually really good about setting up a time the next day, they’ll even do a little preparation with questions I find, but it kills two birds with one stone: you’ll be responsive in a timely manner, and you’ll be respective of family time—or even your sleep time.
If you’re using email or Facebook messenger, you can set up an automated response that asks them to let you know a good time to message them tomorrow and that you’re looking forward to speaking with them.
Another great technique is specifying which contact method you prefer. While I find text to be quickest for me, you might like the extra time to respond that people expect with email, so let buyers know that email is your preferred method.
Because I have many previous buyers contacting me all the time, I now ask them to put “Urgent or 911” at the beginning of their text message if they need an answer ASAP, this way I know if I need to stop what I’m doing or if there is a little bit of time to respond. My mom came up with that one, I really like it. I think she’s also listening, “Hi, Mom!”
All these things help you manage time, but the other side of the equation is the finances. As you know, I fully believe breeders should make money.
At the very least, I believe that your breeding program should cover its expenses within a year of having puppies.
If your breeding program takes all the time that we discussed already, but it doesn’t make money, it will place a burden on your loved ones. It is very hard for people who are supportive, but not interested, to continue to support you when you are taking away the financial resources of the family above and beyond your time.
Going back to my example with Bill, what if he souped up all these vehicles, but never sold them, what if he was gone in the garage every night and missed dinner with us to be with his jeep? What if he took all our expendable money to enhance these vehicles and we were unable to go on vacation, or worse, pay for groceries?
Breeding can create the same financial money pit that any other activity can, and it can be worse because, unlike cars for example, you can’t just “pause” the activity and leave it in the garage; dogs continually need to be fed and maintained, yes you can pause breeding, but you can’t pause dogs.
We can’t put our loved ones under this kind of financial burden. They deserve better.
If you find that your kennel is losing money then you really need to figure out why so that you can end the financial burden before it gets out of hand. Check out Episode #14 for tips on that if you haven’t already.
Breeding done honestly, with a plan, will make money, sure you may have to pivot from time to time, make adjustments, improve facilities, change out breeders, and continually learn from your buyers, but you can do it, I have no doubt, and I’m here to help.
If you haven’t had a chance to jump on the waitlist for the Dog Breeder Society, check it out! My hope is that as a member of the society you’ll not only create a plan for your breeding program, but you’ll be able to avoid so many of the pitfalls that so many breeders painfully go through. I’ve already lost a lot of puppies, I’ve been sued, I’ve burned bridges with buyers, and I waited way too long to build facilities. I don’t want that for you. Let my mistakes guide your success and meet some amazing breeders in the process. I’m so tired of all the angry Facebook groups where when you ask a question it feels like you’re thrown into the center of the arena at the Colosseum in Rome, ready to battle other breeder gladiators. We need to help each other, the need for honestly bred dogs is abundant. Anyways, I’m going to get off my tangent, sorry, I could go on for hours about that.
When you make money with your program your family can now see the breeding program as an important component of your family structure, just like anyone who is working a normal job and bringing in money. It makes all the time you are unable to dedicate to your loved ones more understandable because you are contributing to the overall “success” of the family.
I wish you the best of luck with your loved ones and I hope this shed some light on the complexities of running a breeding program on the home front. If you have any additional tips or anecdotal stories, I would love it if you could put them in the comments.