Let’s not lie here, pricing of puppies is very exciting. I know we are breeding to make these incredible dogs, but pricing is where people financially thank you for what you’ve breed.
Let’s get the guilt trip over with. We all have met people that loathe dog breeders, like we are some scum of the earth. I’m sure you’ve heard the #adoptdontshop hashtag thrown around. But here’s the thing, in ANY OTHER TYPE OF BREEDING (except maybe humans) people expect to get paid. No one goes up to a pig farmer and says he’s wrong for charging for one of his hogs. Cattle ranchers make a living selling the product of their breeding. The funny thing, too, is that we’re breeding dogs: this amazing species on the earth that has been living with humans for many millennia supporting all their endeavors from hunting, to protecting the family, to managing livestock; I mean we, as a species, have been in thick with dogs for a long time, and when people buy dogs they make them additions to their family or their business, they are very valuable members of their owners’ lives. So here’s the thing, why would it be even remotely wrong to breed that perfect companion when society has no issues breeding cows, killing them at 16 months, and eating them. And please don’t take this as a vegetarian pitch, I love me some ribeye, medium-rare please!
Now that we got that over with, let’s talk about the long-term pricing plan and how it fits in with building your kennel. When you are building your kennel, the goal is to build not just an excellent bloodline that performs as you design, but also to build a reputation and brand recognition. One breeder I spoke with had been breeding for 22 years and she referred to her breeding program, and the dogs and owners in it, as her “little empire.” I want you to have that, too. There are some dark days in breeding, when you encounter a new parasite, you lose a puppy, or worse a bitch, and what gets you through those days are the people who are in love with their dog—and therefore life—that you’ve given them.
Pricing really plays into the perception of your kennel later on, but in the beginning, we can use it to build our reputation. For example, when you first start breeding you are bound to make some mistakes; I find that pricing puppies at a lower price point will find you buyers who are much more forgiving and whose expectations are far less. Yes, it will be easier and faster to sell your puppies at a lower price point as well, but that is secondary to working with easier buyers in my book. Think of the first 2-4 litters as practice.
Let’s talk about the difference in buyers at different price points.
Lower Price-Point Buyers
Lower price-point buyers are wonderful when you are first breeding. They usually come with the belief that no matter what puppy they are going to get they are going to make it work. They are the people that usually have the hearts of gold that would normally get a shelter dog, but have decided to go with a breeder for one of these reasons:
Sometimes they are in love with the breed, usually because they had one as a kid, surprisingly, many had a mixed mutt as a kid that had some dominate traits of the breed you’re breeding.
Some are smart enough to know that shelter dogs usually come with temperament problems or parasite problems, and often have genetic health issues, and they are hoping to avoid that by going to a breeder.
Often it is also about what the dog does, for example, hunting is a part of their lifestyle, and so they want the dog that fits the lifestyle, much like the truck they buy. They are often less concerned with performance and more concerned about checking the box.
Many of these people have young families and are looking for the “family dog.” They won’t really have all too many expectations for what the dog does, more so, they want to look back at their memories and remember a dog as a part of them.
All these families are wonderful to work with because they are very concerned about taking care of the dog and making it a member of the family. Simultaneously they are much easier on you, the breeder, because they are not as well educated on the breed, so they won’t ask you as many questions, which can be a little overwhelming those first few litters. They will see you as an authority, but they won’t expect you to fix all their problems.
Although there are some difficulties with lower price-point buyers. One thing that can be very disheartening is that they often won’t appreciate all the work that you’ve put into your breeding program. They often won’t think to ask about health clearances, usually they only ask things like “are the parents healthy?” and that’s the extent of it. They can also be a little annoying when they aren’t too concerned about the temperament or personality, since they are looking merely for appearances because they don’t understand the differences in puppies, often thinking they are all the same. They tend to be less concerned with pedigrees, titles, or performance records. So sometimes it feels like you are unappreciated for all the work you’ve put into the pups. Just know, that in the beginning, this can be a little bit of a blessing as you build your program.
It is much harder in the beginning, when you breed performance dogs, for owner’s looking to compete or show. This is because you may have titled a great dog, but you haven’t built a program yet, so people are not generally going to be seeking pups from you when searching for performance dogs.
The majority of your pups in the beginning of your program will go to pet homes. People always talk about pet homes as a place where lessor dogs go, but honestly, when looking at the quality of the life that a pet dog has, it’s rarely a bad thing.
The only hesitation I would warn you about is when you have dogs that will not thrive in a family environment. Some examples might be overly-driven performance dogs, who are managed in your household more like athletes than family members.
Going back to my mantra “never knowingly breed problems” that extends to placing a pup in a home where you know they will struggle to manage it. Although you didn’t breed problems in this case, you are certainly instigating problems by selling the dog to a family that would have difficulty handling him. It would be a disservice to the buyers to not tell them if you have hesitations that the dog may be too much for them to handle and won’t give them the lifestyle they are looking for.
The solution for this is to raise the price a small margin. This will bump you into the group of buyers that will be a bit more educated. The ideal home for one of these performance dogs is obviously a home that plans to involve them in the activity they were bred for, and while that won’t always happen, the second best option is to get them into a family home that understands and respects what they were bred for; these buyers will be better prepared to manage the higher drive they have.
Breeding performance dogs will often bring you into the bracket where you will need buyers who are better-educated about the breed. Your website will be your best asset here in attracting these buyers and weeding out the others.
The most wonderful thing about the lower-price-point buyers is that they will feel fully satisfied with the dog they get from you, and, because of the price point, they won’t believe the quality of dog that they got from you. They often turn out to be some of your best ambassadors, as they want to share how wonderful their dog is with everyone.
How long do you stay at the lower-price point? Generally 2-4 litters depending on your setup. I had two females of quality when I first started and I kept this price point for the first litter they each had, which was about 6 months before I moved my price up to the middle-price point.
Let’s talk about middle-price-point buyers, these are by far my favorite buyers.
These middle-price-point buyers are wonderful. They are similar to the lower-price-point buyers, but they are more educated. Often they are a little older and more financially stable than the lower-price-point buyers. They will have researched the breed and there is a good chance they will be reaching out to a few breeders. Generally they will live in your state, but not necessarily your area. Obviously if you have a rarer breed, people will be even more educated and more willing to travel or to have you ship the dog.
These buyers will ask a lot more questions. They will respect the dog for what it is bred for and dabble in using the dog in that way, but it will fall more as hobby than a life commitment.
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They will rarely ask for you to adjust your price, usually only the ones that fancy themselves as negotiators, which is more a personality thing with them than a reflection of your program.
They will see you as an authority, but they won’t expect you to fix everything for them. They will see you as an asset in helping them take care of their dog.
This price point is where you can really grow your kennel and get confident in what you are doing. Because the price point is still a bit lower, it is a great time to add a few more females to your program and an additional stud. For a while, when I was at this price point, I had the two females that I had bought, then I had 5 females that I had retained from breeding and I had 3 studs. It was a fairly sizable program and I had around 10 litters born per year. I had no problem selling the pups as the price point was very affordable, the dogs were of quality, and I had an online system that really helped interested buyers get to me.
It is also a great place to be in while you are still developing your style and flow with breeding. During this time I had a few different lines and the dogs I were producing out of each litter appealed to different people. While I still have litters that produce more driven dogs and some litters that are better with younger children, I have greatly narrowed my program to producing a certain “style, drive, and temperament” that is very repeatable. One way you’ll know that you’ve gotten there is the variance in temperament and drive within a litter will be small, so small that nearly every dog within the litter will align with your ideal customer.
Another thing that can happen in this price point is that you’ll make a pivot in your program and adjust your ideal customer now that you know more about your dogs and what you like.
This registered with me in my third year of breeding. I was working to breed a hard-driving hunting dog who had loads of hunt drive and yet still had the temperament to be the ideal family dog when not in the field. I had had 4 dogs returned to me over the course of my first three years, after having bred around 70 pups.
One was because the family was making a huge shift in their life and were in a terrible financial bind and just couldn’t afford a place that would allow a dog, so there’s not much you can do there, I gladly took the dog back and found him a home, but the other 3, well they all came from the same breeding pair, which, as far as I could tell was creating some amazing dogs, they had super hunt, were wonderfully athletic, and were very pretty, given the coloring of the parents, so I wasn’t sure what was going on, but something was certainly going on.
After talking with buyers and learning more of the troubles that buyers had with their dogs from this litter—the ones who kept theirs—I learned that these dogs were too much for what I would consider normal, active families to handle. They had so much drive to hunt and to run around, but it came at a cost to their focus on the owners. It was like the owner would try and spend time with the dog, training or playing, and the dog would have that “squirrel” moment and just lose focus. It was very trying for the family because it created a struggle in bonding.
The other thing I noticed was many of these people had difficulties keeping their dogs in the fence, which didn’t strike me too much at first because I know the drive of my dogs to run, but it became apparent that these dogs were able to scale a fence in a way that my other dogs couldn’t. After closer investigation, I realized that the hips of my female, because her pelvis was slightly tilted forward, giving her that spring, paired with my male, who was a lighter, field-trial build, allowed the dogs to do a standing leap that really challenged the effectiveness of fencing. As a solution, I bred her with my other stud, my big German stud, who had a chest for days, a lot more bone, and less field-trial energy. The result? Puppies that were highly sought after.
By breeding her to this stud I was able to make thicker dogs that were unable to scale fencing, by taking out some of the pingy field-trial energy, the dogs were more focused on the owners and really wanted to please them more than find birds—but they found birds when left to their own devices, but more importantly when the owner wanted to.
When you’re in this middle price point, this is the place to hone your skills as a breeder. Make some mistakes, learn, and make adjustments.
One thing I want to point out, getting a returned dog sucks, BUT, it is extremely helpful for you as a breeder. If they are health issues, then that is of the utmost importance and may be a reason to cull some of your breeders, removing them from your program, but if it is a personality or drive thing, as was in my example, it really gives you an opportunity to improve. In my case, the dogs I was breeding were not bad dogs, but they weren’t placed in the right homes. This left me with the option to adjust the homes I was attracting, in essence, change my ideal customer, OR, adjust what I was breeding to better fit my ideal customer, which is what I ended up doing.
As your breeding program grows, you’re honing your skills, and your dogs are beginning to look like “your kennels’ dogs” another thing will happen, people will be seeking your dogs left and right. You’ll start to get lots of calls and emails or messages on social media asking for your dogs. When you begin to get more people who are ready to place a deposit on getting a puppy than you can possibly produce puppies for, it is a time to embrace good ‘ole supply and demand and bump up your price.
Moving into the next group of pricing is your higher-price-point buyers. There are many price points within this group of pricing. Generally, this pricing will put you at the higher end of the “standard pricing” for your breed.
As far as buyers in this category go, well, they become more picky. In this category buyers feel they are paying a fair price for a quality dog, so they have higher expectations for the dog. They also often are very particular about looks at this price point.
Many will have done a lot of research on the breed, which is a bonus, they will have lots of in-depth questions, and they will expect thorough answers. I love the buyers with a laundry list of questions because it means they really care and want to do right by the dog. They generally have done a pretty hard assessment on their lifestyle and are very set on the breed. These buyers are very rewarding, they won’t feel they got a “steal” at this price point, but they won’t negotiate the price with you, nor will complain about it, they will merely feel it is fair.
However, sometimes, as this price point, you get a slightly different kind of buyer. This buyer will be the buyer who decides they want your breed after minimal research. This buyer will be a bit more impulsive and instead of reading loads of articles, they will quickly conclude that if they pay more for the dog, then they will get quality. While we know this isn’t always be the case, there is a little truth to it, after all you’re producing better quality dogs now and your price has rightfully increased.
The difficulty with this buyer is that they won’t come to you very educated. I’ve had some goofy questions from these buyers, like “do they come spayed at 8 weeks?” or “they are already trained at 8 weeks, right?”
Many breeders will tell you to just tell them to screw off, and wouldn’t bother working with them, but I don’t see it that way. People who are used to quality, are used to paying for it, just the same they tend to be very diligent in taking care of their stuff once they have it (I mean how many expensive foreign cars do you see with mud all over them?). What I know from experience with these buyers is that they will do whatever the dog needs and that is really great for the dog. They’ll hire trainers, they’ll have the nicest dog beds, and they tend to be only-dogs, as in the only dog in the house, and they’ll be spoiled. Many of them have children and that will be the dog of their child’s memories.
The goal with these buyers is to educate them, be the expert that they want you to be and help them figure it all out. These people do well with worksheets and plans. They want you to tell them what to do and they will do it. They will also be willing to pay for any help you can provide, so if you do training for your pups, these buyers will nearly always take the opportunity. They are certainly more work, but it is rewarding and they can be excellent ambassadors for your program and your pups will always be taken care of. You’ll have to use your judgement with these buyers, but I’ve been very happy with the majority of those who I’ve sold pups to.
Now that you know how your price point will change the buyers that you attract, do you need to change your price point? Was the price point you were at misaligned with your program or where you’re at in your program?
Pricing can be so frustrating for breeders, which is why I’m so excited to do a deep dive into pricing in the Dog Breeder Society. Inside the community we can help you evaluate your pricing structure to see if it’s working for you, helping you attract the right buyers, and what to do if it isn’t working. Have you signed up for the waitlist yet? Members who sign up during the first launch will get lifetime special pricing. I can’t wait to work with you inside the Society.