In its simplest form, you need a pregnant female and nature will take its course. Isn’t that the beautiful thing about pregnancy? You can’t stop it, nor speed it up. I remember being pregnant with my daughter thinking will it ever end? But you can’t stop it, nor speed it up, the pups will come when they come.
It’s the planning that goes into it that’ll make it a success or a failure. If it’s a success then it becomes a stepping stone in your program, but if it goes poorly, it’ll be a setback.
The human brain is amazing, but it is skewed negatively. For example, people will feel worse losing $5 than they will feel good finding $5.
This is why it takes five positive interactions with someone to cancel out a negative one—I have to remind myself this with my kids all the time.
I know so many breeders-to-be have that voice in the back of their head that keeps doing the loop of saying “I don’t know enough to do this yet.” And it’s easy to get stuck in that trap of not knowing, all you need to do is google breeding dogs and you’re bound to find blog post that talks about something you didn’t know about. Then that confirmation bias kicks in and says, “see, you’re right, you didn’t know enough.” It can be a bit of a spiral.
I’m going to give you some bad news…you’re first litter, it isn’t going to be perfect. In fact, your first few litters won’t be perfect. Breeding just isn’t something you can tackle in one litter.
Now if your stomach just twisted in a knot and you feel like the hill turned into a mountain, I want to put your mind at ease. The fact that you can’t learn it all in one litter is a great thing, it means that breeding is a little more complex. Complexity is great, because once you get it figured out, you’ll have highly sought after dogs, but, the threshold of entry is relatively low.
If you aren’t familiar with the term “threshold of entry” it is list of things that you need to know/have/do in order to enter into an industry.
For example, if you were a plumber, the threshold of entry is going to consist of tools, so pipe wrenches, tools to cut pvc or pex, glue (shout out to Cristie’s Red Hot Blue Glue, which I always have on hand ever since my mama pig dug up my water lines to make a bath for herself every day for a week a few years ago during the dry heat of the summer). A plumber will also need knowledge of plumbing, and in some places he will need a license to work. These are the thresholds to entry in the plumbing world.
In dog breeding, you don’t need much, like I said, just a pregnant female. Thankfully, for most naturally breeding and naturally whelping breeds, nature takes care of the brunt of it. The girls want to be bred, the stud wants to breed, the body grows the puppies and 63 days later, her instincts help her whelp them.
Okay, so if it’s so basic, then what am I worried about?
What makes breeding complex is changing it and improving it with each litter. It’s adjusting breeding pairs to make better dogs, it’s adding socialization to your puppy-rearing process, it’s improving your website to attract the right buyers, it’s working with people to better understand what they need and where your dogs can improve, for them.
The best breeders feel responsible for the dogs that they breed. They feel responsible to the dogs they are using to breed, they feel responsible to the puppies they’ve bred, and the very best of breeders also feel responsible to the people who buy their puppies.
Add to that the adopt-don’t-shop movement and if it doesn’t work out well, you come across as a backyard breeder, or worse, a puppy mill. No one wants to be responsible for contributing to the “problem.”
So how do we avoid that?
The simple answer is a plan. This is where I come in to help you get it organized.
I made a roadmap for you to start breeding, it’s in the show notes at honestdogbreeder.com/19.
I do believe that in order to be the best breeder you can be, you should aim to do it full time, but I also know it doesn’t start that way, there is a build up in part-time and there is a transition. All of this is in my roadmap to help you get from the idea of “I want to breed” to building a breeding business you’ll love—that also pays the bills.
Obviously, you want to select the right stud and female to pair together to give success to your breeding program. Yet, we know that not all dogs work for all people, even within breeds there is a lot of variation of temperament and drive, and depending on the dogs and the people that will either work or be difficult.
In order to get some direction in your breeding program and the breeders you should be selecting you need to develop your ideal puppy buyer.
I like to start with what I want my dogs to bring to the world. Who is that person that will call us five years after they’ve had the dog to tell us a story about that dog? What will that story be? How will that puppy have impacted—maybe even changed their life?
If you want to learn more about what an ideal puppy buyer is, definitely check out Episode #3.
Once you know who you are breeding for, then select the breed that will fulfill those goals.
Now if you’re all like “umm, Julie, I already have the breed I want to breed,” I feel you. I would say that MOST breeders fall into their breed, meaning the breed finds them, they have a dog they want to breed, etc. I didn’t seek out German Shorthairs when I started breeding. I was given Buster and I wanted to give what he was to other families and that’s where my desire to breed came from.
If you already have your breed, you’re fine! You’ll now want to look at all the things the breed can do, then narrow that down to find where your breed overlaps with the ideal puppy buyer you want to work with. It’s like a Venn diagram. Select the traits within your breed that align with the people you want to have your puppies.
If this sounds like a lot of work, I don’t want you to worry, it really isn’t something you’ll need to completely nail down the first few litters, in fact you’ll develop it and become better at it over time.
For me, in the beginning, I thought that my dogs needed to go hunting families, and while I’ve retained a lot of hunt in my dogs, I’ve adjusted to where only about half of the families that buy my dogs hunt, the other families tend to be very active and get outside a lot, which is where my dogs love to be…they don’t actually know they are bird dogs, they just can’t help but get ADHD when they see birds.
I would encourage you to start, focus on your puppies in that first litter, watch what they do, how they interact with each other and the world. Note the differences they have. Are some more cuddly? Are some more independent? Do some ALWAYS have to be with an other dog? Those first few litters you should study the dogs and not necessarily make judgements, just learn them.
Ideally you want to stay in touch with the families a bit. Obviously not being obnoxious, but check in once in a while, more in the beginning, then maybe once a month for the first few months, I love seeing pictures and videos, it tells me a lot about how the dogs interact with other dogs, the families, and you get to see what the dog is engaged in and how it responds to it.
The people that I’ve seen be most successful with my dogs involve them in their lifestyle, the dog becomes a member of the family that goes on trips, goes to soccer games, comes in the car to get ice cream on Sundays. Find out what your dogs are succeeding at and go from there in developing your ideal customer.
I also want to share a secret, most buyers do not know that dogs are different in a litter. I know that might sound crazy to you. In fact, most buyers think that all dogs of a certain breed are the same, this is why they can be so bent on a specific color.
To some extent, they feel they’ve already found a match when they took the test online and it came up with your breed. If you’re worried you’ll get this match wrong, don’t worry too much, take the lead from the breeders who you got your breeding stock from and ask about the lifestyle that succeeds most with the dogs they’ve bred.
Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?
What about the finances? What does it cost to start breeding?
You’ll need a good quality female for sure, when shopping for your foundation female or females, buy the best you can, but within reason. I am not so concerned with getting a dog out of the best breeder in the country, but get a healthy dog, with the temperament you like. Buy from health tested stock and if you can build a relationship with that breeder, it would be ideal to have her as a resource if you have questions. I can’t exactly put a price out there to give you an idea, since breeds vary so much in their costs, but in many of the easy-breeding/easy-whelping breeds, the ones that don’t require AI or scheduled C-Sections, you’ll be looking to spend probably somewhere from $1500-$3000 when you buy a breeder.
It is easier if you can get full papers up front, because this way you aren’t dependent on a breeder to adjust the registration papers to full registration later. Again, the more people involved, the more opportunity for error and challenges. If a breeder has quality lines, she’ll be confident her dogs will pass health testing. Having that said, it can be hard to find a breeder willing to give you full papers when you get your puppy. This has to do a lot with breeds and their cultural antics.
Then you’ll need to consider health testing. Find out what health tests are required, then find out what those cost, you may want to check around, as I’ve found the pricing of tests varies a lot.
For example, my dogs need eye exams, a normal visit for this exam at the clinic costs $168, BUT if I do their monthly eye certification clinic, it’s only $34 for the first dog and $27 for each additional dog I bring. That’s a HUGE savings. It is also worth the 90 minute drive for me.
The last consideration is what the dogs will cost in feed and maintenance, plus the basic stuff for them, like a crate, leash, exercise pen, etc. This is where you tally up monthly feed, treats, and grooming if you have it, along with anything else you’ll need.
You’ll also want to see when you can breed, as this will play into the costs. Most online resources will say that you need to wait until a dog is two years old to breed. This suggestion is based on OFA and their permanent score on hips at two years of age.
I don’t find this concept of any particular use biologically. For example, my Rat Terriers will have two heat cycles before they are a year old. If I waited until they are two years old to breed, they’ll have four uterine linings stacked in their uterus and we will be trying to breed at the fifth heat cycle and that can be dangerous. Check Episode #13 to learn more about breeding back-to-back and how it is healthier for the uterus and cervix.
Regardless, there are also some breeds that aren’t really fully grown at two years of age. It may not make sense to breed them at two, it might makes sense to wait longer.
Well what about the OFA score on hips you ask? OFA did a large study and found that the standard deviation is only 5% or less from the age of five months to two years on hips, this means that there is very little shift in hips from five months to two years of age. Meaning that if you have a dog who has great hips at five months of age, barring injury, which isn’t genetic, that dog will have great hips at two years of age. It makes sense to get hips assessed earlier, this way if the dog doesn’t pass, you can rehome the dog to an owner whose lifestyle will align for it and you aren’t waiting two years to find out your next breeder wasn’t going to work out.
This also allows you to breed when it is biologically appropriate instead of arbitrarily at two years of age.
When you know how long it long it will be until you have a litter, you can plan financially. This also comes into play later when you are looking to plan for retiring and replacing breeders.
So in summary, financially speaking, tally up the cost of purchase, decide if you want a male or just a female or two., add the cost to health testing. Then add up the monthly costs of maintenance beyond the initial investment of supplies. For most of you, that will probably be somewhere between $5000-$8000 to get started.
If the initial investment of two breeders seems like a lot, consider that you don’t really want to manage two puppies at the same time, try staggering your female and male 6 months to a year apart. This breaks up the financial investment considerably. Remember, males can breed longer than females, they can also breed sooner, so this gives you lots of options when staggering the ages of your initial breeders.
What about the vet bills?!
There are usually some vet bills beyond health testing, but not a lot. If you don’t do your own vaccinations, you will have that expense, you may want some fecals done prior to breeding to make sure your dogs have strong immune systems and aren’t carrying anything they can pass to the puppies. You definitely want to get that stuff figured out before breeding, mostly because certain medications, even certain herbal dewormers, shouldn’t be given during gestation.
If you have a healthy breed that naturally breeds and whelps, then you really shouldn’t have extravagant vet bills. I have some breeders that are so easy that I haven’t taken them to the vet since they had health testing. There isn’t a need to.
Isn’t whelping costly?
Whelping is not costly if your dogs naturally whelp. Most of the time I sit there with her while whelping and I watch a movie on Netflix. When the puppies come out, I pause it, help her if she needs anything, usually that’s just wiping the puppy noses so there isn’t fluid in them, and helping her keep the puppies who are already born organized while she’s birthing new ones.
Sure there can be complications, but they usually aren’t the norm. If they become the norm and that’s not normal for your breed, I suggest you consider retiring that breeder, and opt for breeders that don’t have these complications.
Most of whelping is being support: you get a towel to help keep the area clean, there is a lot of fluid, but while you can help with the excess liquid, let her lick the puppies since that bonds her to them.
My biggest role in whelping is rearranging puppies. Once the first puppy comes out, it’s usually pretty easy.
I do more laundry, I suppose that costs me some detergent.
Unless you have a problem, whelping really isn’t expensive. In fact I don’t even use a whelping box. Some of my dogs like to be on my floor on a blanket, while others like to be in a large dog crate, they push off the sides while whelping.
I did have a dog who had her puppies on my couch while I was gone one day. She then ate the cushions where her puppies where born so that no predators could smell it, that was a little costly…it looked like it snowed inside my house when I came home because there was stuffing everywhere.
Where is the balance of enough education and not waiting too long to start where you’re wasting time?
Jordan Peterson says, “It’s better to do something badly than to not do it at all.” If you believe you should be a dog breeder, I encourage you to start. While having an aim for what you want your breeding program to be is helpful, it won’t be until you start doing it that you can really understand what you want your program to be.
When I first started this podcast, I just knew I wanted to help breeders build an honest breeding program. I knew that there were so many good breeders-to-be out there that just needed a little direction and they’d be able to make amazing dogs and have a life they love living breeding them.
I had an idea of what breeders needed when I started, but it wasn’t until I received feedback from you that I was able to adjust and shape the content I’m putting out to better serve you. If you’re one of those people who have emailed me, direct messaged me on instagram, left a comment on a blog, or even participated in a poll on my stories, thank you, you are shaping the direction of my business.
It is the same with your program, you won’t know what you need to change until you do it badly, and learn where the problems are.
A lot of breeding you can learn from reading, however, you really need to do it to get the feeling of it. It’s a lot like raising kids or being in a relationship, you can read a ton of books on parenting or how to be a great partner in a relationship, but until you are in it, you won’t understand it fully. Before I was a parent I didn’t understand why getting certain things done, like keeping the car clean or getting kids to bed on time is so difficult. I didn’t know before I was in a relationship how much coming from different cultures can change the whole relationship or how differing financial priorities can lead to so many problems.
Once you get started you’ll improve your program in ways you can’t even imagine before you start. You’ll figure out what works for your specific dogs, you’ll learn what they like, what they don’t like. You’ll learn what your buyers need from you to be successful with their dogs, and you’ll learn what tweaks you need to make to your breeders to make even better dogs.
Don’t worry about having all the answers when you start, take an honorable aim, do your best, and try it. Once you have that first run you’ll be on your way to making incredible dogs.
I’m always here for you, too. That’s why I have this podcast and why I’m launching the Dog Breeder Society, I want to give you the resources to get your breeding program moving, getting you success much sooner than it was for me. Let my mistakes and winding path save you time, money, and heartache.