When you breed dogs, people often ask you why you breed, it’s sort of funny, people don’t usually ask farmers why they are farmers, nor do they ask engineers why they are engineers. Yet, people always want to know why breeders breed. I think some of this comes from the cultural idea that if you breed dogs and sell them you have questionable morals, but we know that’s not the case.
I started to really break down why I breed and why others breed. I realized that it comes down to three main things: the lifestyle of a being a breeder, the void that breeding fulfills in the world, and the intellectual challenge of breeding.
A lot of breeders breed because of the lifestyle
We all need to make money and oftentimes our schedule is dictated by our jobs. The job tells us where we need to be when. It doesn’t matter if it’s working drive-thru or being a CEO of a Fortune 500, for the most part, people’s jobs dictate when they need to be at work, and, by default, it therefore dictates when your free time is.
Breeding is a unique schedule, for the most part you get to dictate your own schedule: you can clean kennels when you want, feed the dogs when you want, and you don’t have to do dog stuff when you don’t want. Of course, you’ll always have those moments in breeding when you don’t get to pick the time: the obvious one is the midnight whelping, which would be entirely difficult if you had to call in at work, and feeding struggling puppies through all hours of the night on occasion (although with the right management in place, you can really reduce the likelihood of those struggling pups).
It seems like the people who are most happy, or at least content, with their lives are the people who have their life built around their values, or at least the things that they value.
I grew up in the Michigan Suburbs, we had good schools and my whole life I was pitched that I needed to get good grades, go to a good college, get a good degree, find a good job, and I’ll be happy. That is what success and happiness was pitched to me as.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned that my relationships with the people around me, and the success of those relationships, was what really brought me happiness and contentment.
It’s not that money isn’t important, it absolutely is, you know me, I’m all about running an honest and profitable dog breeding business. However, once you hit a certain amount of money per month—where you aren’t struggling anymore—more money doesn’t greatly improve your life satisfaction, in fact, for some, it can amplify their vices.
I think it is ill-advised to strive for money in and of itself, it just isn’t satisfying enough. It’s just a tool that enables us to do what we want to do in life, but merely having it doesn’t accomplish anything.
What I like about money is the freedom it provides, it allows you to put attention where you want to put attention, instead of being dictated where you need to be. Ultimately, money allows me to have my time. Isn’t the joke about time that it’s the most limited resource? I can see that.
Breeding full time allows me the freedom to choose how I use my time, without the stress that the lack of money creates, like the burden the lack of money would put on my loved ones. It’s exactly how I’ve had the time to create this podcast and open the Dog Breeder Society. It’s the sweet spot between freedom of time and financial freedom.
The next reason people want to become dog breeders is because they fill a void in the world by breeding dogs who fill that void. Sometimes that void is obvious, it might be a big need in the world, like guide dogs for the blind, it’s an incredible solution to a relatively difficult problem or another need might be a livestock guardian dog, it just isn’t really feasible to purchase land-defense drones, and—given the discernment that dogs have—I don’t think a computer algorithm will be taking that job over any time soon.
Sometimes the void might be looked at as an emotional void that your dogs fill. This can be as simple as a wagging tail to come home to, so the apartment isn’t lonely. I don’t know about you, but I get a little anxious when the house is so quiet and there aren’t even some clicking nails on my floor. Another emotional void might be for couples who can’t have children, but need to pour their love into something. Of course, my favorite is little kids, I love making a dog that little kids will get to make all those memories with, to become partners in crime with, the dog in every family photo, often photobombing.
Some breeders start breeding because the type of dog they want doesn’t exist, so they want to create it. It’s the same as many inventions, they are developed because there’s a need, so a solution is invented. Isn’t that the cheesy quote, “necessity is the mother of all invention?”
Other breeders want to share what they have with their dog with other people, this one can be tricky, it’s where a lot of breeders have good intentions, but forget to do their homework and breed an unfit dog because it has a great temperament, but regardless, the need for dogs with a great temperament most certainly exists.
I chose the word “void” because I think it covers the vastness of why people breed, simply put, their dogs fulfill a void. I also didn’t want to choose the word need or want, because where need fades into want is very subjective. Some people would say that you just “want” a family dog, but others would say, building responsibility through a dog, and the dynamics it adds to a child’s life, are a “need.” It’s not my place to judge, really, but I do find it awfully rewarding to be able to make those dogs for those families.
I also wouldn’t say that if you breed to fulfill a need or a want is better or worse, breeding police dogs doesn’t make you better than breeding family companions. We humans love dogs, they’re a part of our culture in so many ways, and having healthy, well-temperamented dogs, with the right drive for their owners’ lifestyles, that’s a worthy goal, no matter what the job.
When you’re evaluating your breeding program, you’ll do really well to intimately understand the void that your dogs fill in the world. When you have that worked out it will be easy to find and vet the right buyers, you’ll know what they are looking for and you’ll know whether or not your dogs will fulfill that need. When people ask you’ll have ammo in your arsenal to explain your purpose in breeding. When you have the void figured out you can take that and build your ideal puppy buyer around the void you have selected to fulfill.
If you aren’t sure what void your dogs are filling, start with asking yourself what problem are you solving in the world with your dogs. Sometimes this is a new concept for breeders, so if you’re getting a cold sweat right now, don’t worry, you’re not alone. If you’ve sold a few litters, you can look at the type of people contacting you for puppies and what expectations they’ve had when purchasing their pup that your dogs filled. You can look at those who were successful with your dogs compared with those who struggled with them and try to breakdown what was different.
Understanding your void, leads to a better understanding in your ideal customer, which leads to a better guide for making breeding decisions.
I’d love to know your void, send me a DM on instagram @thehonestdogbreeder.
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Lastly, the Intellectual Challenge.
When I turned 16 and got my Driver’s License I had this idea that I would miraculously have a car…you should’ve seen the look on my mother’s face, she was trying to hold back her tears of laughter for thinking I should just “get” a car and not “earn” one. Then the answer hit me like a rain on your face when you don’t have a jacket, I needed to get a job.
Arby’s was a mile away from my house, so I got as job there a few weeks later. I quickly was trained to be the drive-thru girl. It’s funny, to this day, my right ear still hears phones better and my left ear ambient sounds due to using the drive-thru headset. Regardless, I really enjoyed the job, it took a few months to really get all the ins and outs figured out, how to get drinks made in three steps so the foam wouldn’t overload the cup. How to get all the sauce packets filled so I didn’t have to run to the front counter, slowing things down. How memorize an order while I dropped their chicken into the fryer late at night , so it would be ready in a reasonable time frame.
When I was 16 it was a fun challenge. I really enjoyed building efficiency into things and as a reward my boss was really generous and awarded me whatever hours I wanted. Once I got it all down, it was nice to be able to just be there and not really have to think, just do. It worked well because I was in some pretty heavy classes in high school, I was in an apprenticeship, and I was playing soccer. I really didn’t have the brain capacity to do much more.
When I was in the military, it was again challenging in the beginning, training was pretty intense at times, but then that became not stimulating enough for my brain. The military taught me many things, and I’m grateful I served, but my brain needed more to do, she’s a busy-body up there.
Our gun shop business was fun, I really enjoyed it, but I also enjoyed being at home with our hobby farm, it always felt like my heart was split between my love for business and my love for working with animals, for breeding. When I got to blend my love for dogs, breeding, and business, it was ideal.
Dog Breeding, by far, has been the most intellectually challenging long-term thing I’ve ever done. It’s because it is so dynamic, there are so many moving pieces; you have the dog breeding selection, which is as much an art as it is a science, you have the dog management, which sometimes feels like you’re playing Tetris with pens and dogs, the nutrition selection, along with potential supplements, so you can support your breeding animals in the best way. You have the business side of things, because despite what it seems, you’re generally an entrepreneur when you begin dog breeding, which includes managing cash flow: deciding how much money to invest in facilities, in your dogs, and what to take to compensate you for your time. You have to manage your time, balancing it between giving the dogs the exercise and enrichment they need, rearing puppies, keeping things cleaned, working on your online presence, and working with buyers.
Ahh yes, the buyers, the people part of the job…which is the elephant in the room a lot of the time with breeders. Sometimes we forget to add our buyers to the equation when we take care of the dogs, but we have to include them because their success is our success. People are often the wildcards in the equation. They can make breeding a dream come true or your biggest nightmare. Learning to understand, find the right people, prepare them, and support them, through a trusting relationship is the key to success in this area. Yet there are entire sections in the bookstore dedicated to this particular idea of working with your customers. It is very dynamic in and of itself.
This intellectual challenge is what makes my mouth water, I love having all the options, being able to try new things and test out ideas, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The possibilities are endless. I love listening to enlightened minds like Jordan Peterson, Sadguru, and Joe Dispenza. So many times in listening to these people they seem to conclude that the point of life is to create. Dog Breeding is all about creation and creativity. It is my ultimate creative outlet that I indulge in. This podcast is a spin off of that for me, a creative outlet to discuss and share what I’ve learned, helping other breeders create. The Dog Breeder Society is a community I’ve created to help all of you honest breeders grow and create in a way that enhances your overall life, making it enjoyable to do what you love.
I want to say that this, of course, can be entirely overwhelming at times, it is exhausting to try and sort it all out, especially in the beginning. There is so much to figure out. There are an incredible amount of decisions to make. Some breeders burn out from all of it, they get overwhelmed with it all and usually the first sign of burnout is how they treat their customers, some are afraid to sell puppies because they are afraid to lose them before they go home. Others don’t have a good way to vet buyers and are afraid to send the puppies to the wrong home.
I have lost entire litters to Parvo, it gives me chills thinking about it. Having to make those calls to buyers and tell them that their puppy died is heart wrenching. You feel like a failure, you feel inadequate, you feel like you’ve burned their trust, and I’ve been blown away by the compassion that my buyers have given me back. Of course you always have a few rude ones, but most of the time they are nothing but compassionate.
If this has happened to you, you may be afraid to advertise puppies again, for fear they won’t make it and you’ll have to make those phone calls again. You may be afraid to go through those emotions again, the anxiety that can come from the fear of losing puppies can be exhausting.
Sometimes we lose good breeders from these hardships, they experience that kind of loss and heartbreak and they stop breeding. I know, I was there when it first happened, questioning if I deserved to breed. I’m glad I stuck it out and figured it out, I’ve created so many dogs since then that have improved the lives of their owners, it feels like it redeems the losses.
If you’re in a position where you lose puppies like this, give yourself some grace. I have yet to meet a seasoned breeder who has never had some disease or tragedy hit a litter costing the lives of puppies. Give the puppies compassion and love through recovery or through the end. It’s hard to watch a dog die, but it’s worse to die alone, we should be there for them, many puppies have taken their last breath in my arms.
If you suffer a situation like this, review the situation, do your best to understand what caused the incident, and make the necessary improvements so that you don’t suffer this sort of loss again.
Dog Breeding has undoubtedly grown me as a person in these moments of hardship. I would never wish these diseases on any puppy, owner, nor breeder, but the silver lining is you become better. You become a better breeder, you learn to improve your facility management, you’re reminded of compassion, and you grow as a person.
I meet a lot of young and aspiring breeders, and they are absolutely amazing. They have done so much research, they are eager to learn, they are willing to try, and they care so deeply. Many of them are worried to make mistakes.
I want to tell all these newer breeders that you’re going to make mistakes, but that it’s okay, it’s actually more than okay, because it’ll make you better. Dog breeding just isn’t something you learn in one litter, or even a few years. I’m still learning all the time, making things better all the time.
The good news is that it gets easier. I had an oops litter one time and the sire was a little more than twice the size of the mama dog. When the last puppy came, she was having a hard time pushing it out. I popped the sac in attempt to make it more narrow, for easier passage, but yet she was still having difficulty. After a few attempts at pushing again, I decided to help her. The pup was backwards, which of course isn’t a problem for dogs, unlike people where it’s a big problem. I gently, but firmly grabbed the pups rear legs and attempted to pull him out, he came out to his waist, but then he seemed stuck. Knowing the sire was broader in the shoulders and chest, I realized the elbows were probably stuck inside, preventing an easy exit. I got a firm grip this time, now around the waist, careful not to crush any organs, and firmly pulled out. I could feel the release of the elbows and sure enough he came out, his front legs extended past his head.
If this had been my first litter, I would’ve been super freaked out, not knowing what to do. But since I’ve whelped many litters, I knew that this was unusual, I knew she needed help, and I felt confident in pulling the puppy. I’ll never forget how to do that, so if I have to do it again, it isn’t stressful, just something you have to do.
Lots of things in breeding are like this, the first time you run into them, it’s a little freaky, but then you figure it out, and now you have that tool in your arsenal. As your arsenal of information and skills grow, less will catch you off guard. It takes about four litters and then you’re pretty situated with what is involved and it won’t be too stressful.
Further, as you get better with your facilities, your dogs are seasoned whelpers, or the daughters of dogs whose whelping you’re familiar with, then you’ll have less and less surprises, and even if you do, you’ll be better prepared to manage them.
It’s at this point that the challenges in breeding then become less about fixing problems and more about growth of your business and refining your bloodline.
If your life is busy or chaotic, you can sort of ride the wave of your breeding program, not changing much, it won’t grow your business and bloodline, but it also won’t add a burden to your life. As you move out of the chaos and your life becomes simpler, you’ll be able to choose to improve a new area of your program, thus add a new challenge for you to solve.
Maybe you’re ready to add a new stud or retain an additional female. This means you’ll need to build up your advertising or do lots of research on kennels to find the right stud. You get to choose to take on these challenges and you can hold off on them if you don’t want to add to your plate at the moment.
Another great example is your website, we could ALL improve our websites. Breeder websites are like managing four dogs and two of them are in heat. Your website can be loathsome, BUT it can be your greatest asset in finding and supporting your ideal puppy buyers. The thing is, you don’t have to do it right away. If you have a good waitlist or your puppies are getting ready to go home and need more attention and care, it can wait. You can choose when you want to engage in the challenge of improving your website.
The more successful breeders don’t get caught up in the mistakes, setbacks, nor hardships, they see the bigger picture, they have a vision for what it could be, and they let that light guide them. When you have that vision, it turns all these tough times into challenges, problems to solve, and ways to let your creativity shine.
So when people ask me why I breed, I smile, and then ask them if they have a few hours to talk about it over coffee. Breeding gives me the lifestyle I love, allowing to be the mom and wife I want to be. It allows me to give to the world in such a wonderful way, filling the void of so many families. And ultimately, it engages me, intellectually, but also emotionally, and allows me an outlet for my creativity.
If you’re in that state of overwhelm, don’t feel like you’re alone. We have a wonderful community inside the Dog Breeder Society, but if you aren’t yet ready to jump in, grab my roadmap for Building a Successful Breeding Program. It is an outline of what part of your breeding business you should tackle first and we deep dive into all these topics inside the Dog Breeder Society.