Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year. Building a dog breeding business takes time, but it can be done more efficiently-not necessarily more quickly-by planning it out and chipping away at it a little bit each week.
When I started breeding I thought I had a plan because I knew which dogs I was breeding to who. boy, was that only scratching the surface. I didn’t have a plan for marketing, so I didn’t know how I was going to find my buyers. I also wasn’t seriously looking ahead at how I would build facilities. I treated my breeding business like a bit of a hobby that I would engage in when I had puppies.
The problem that arose from that mindset was that I wasn’t taking baby steps along the way to make it better. I didn’t think that I should post on Instagram when I didn’t actively have puppies to sell, I didn’t think that I could take that quiet time in between pups to build a guidebook for my buyers, I didn’t think about updating photos. I am sooo guilty of being that guy who built a website page for my breeding dogs the first time they had a litter and then never updated the photos as they got older, so all the pictures are of my dogs when they were young and not fully mature. it was terrible.
You’re probably much better at planning and scheduling than me. I fight some procrastinator tendencies I developed in my younger years, but if you’ve struggled like me, here are some things that have helped:
Blocking Off Time
I find it’s easier to block off time for my breeding business instead of setting completion deadlines. This way I can say I’m going to work on my website for 60 minutes on Thursday at 8:00. I give it the full 60 minutes and whatever I get done is what I get done. The goal shifts from being done to working on it for one hour (which is great because can you ever really be done with a website?) This subtle shift makes you feel accomplished instead of discouraged and it makes it likely you’ll feel better about working on it more next week.
Finding Your Priorities & Your Problem
Sometimes I get lost in the weeds of the details. For example, I’m perfecting the wording in an email rather than seeing that I am losing the possibility for me to work on something else by spending so much time on something that won’t really improve my business.
Knowing your priorities and what is most important to move the needle on your business will help you figure out where to spend your time.
A simple place to start is to look at your breeding business and start collecting data on your time spent with your dogs. Can you find something that is taking too much time, preventing you from investing that time in other things?
When my ex and I had a lot of livestock, I had only one water spicket and had to drag a 200’ hose from pen to pen each morning. To complicate it further, the hose had a lot of holes in it, so it took even longer for the buckets to fill with water. It was about a 45-60 minute ordeal, and sometimes longer in the Arizona summer. It was a huge waste of time. Imagine if I could get that down to 15 minutes a day, that would allow a whole lot more time in my business to improve it, things like making email templates to send to buyers, spending time enjoying my livestock instead of merely taking care of them (ahem, you ever have a horse you just feed and never ride?).
For my water solution, my ex got a ditch witch and dug trenches to all our pens and laid water pipe to them with their own spickets and water hoses. It made it much faster than dragging that giant hose with all those holes in the line. If my pigs hadn’t been so destructive I could’ve even installed floats in my buckets to automatically keep them full.
Another big time suck for me was my puppy pen situation and litter box training. You may have heard me embarrassingly admit that it took me 30 litters before I learned to litter box train and it cut my cleaning time down so much. I also found a better way to do puppy pens so they were easier to mop and clean, taking it down from 90 minutes of cleaning to about 15, and also sparing me from feeling completely disgusting.
Consider making yourself an excellent cup of coffee and taking your favorite notepad and pen (because let’s be honest, phones are distracting), and write out 3 columns on a piece of paper.
Or you can download the worksheet here…
Want to Get the Planning Your Year 3-Column Exercise?
In the first column ask where are my dogs a burden to me or my loved ones? Maybe you are feeding the dogs and cleaning pens when you used to be making dinner and now dinner is consistently late and there isn’t time to relax, or now you’re not cleaning the kitchen after dinner because you want to relax. Maybe your puppies are in your master bedroom because it’s the safest place for them, but your spouse is losing sleep or is irritated that he can’t get up to pee without sounding off the beasts. Look to see if you’re asking more of yourself or loved ones than is appropriate and fair, putting undue strain on you, them, or the relationship.
In the second column ask what time am I spending on my dogs and is it reasonable for that task? Ask yourself about feeding, watering, exercise, training, enrichment, and see if it is taking more time than it should. Maybe it isn’t enough? Not only was the water a complete waste of my time before we had it all situated, but I remember how much time I spent rotating dogs and crates in the yard because I didn’t have exercise pens where all the dogs could safely be outside at the same time. It wasn’t reasonable for what it was. You can also think of unreasonable as unsustainable. So when asking yourself this question, think about how you would feel 3-5 years from now if you were still doing things this way?
In the third column ask what do I wish I could do more of? This one is in relation to the dogs, but also your life. Maybe you feel guilty because you spend more time cleaning up after your dogs than you do playing with them. Maybe you feel they aren’t getting proper exercise, training, or enrichment. Maybe you feel you can’t leave your house to go on vacation. You can get a lot of these questions answered by thinking of when you feel suffocated by circumstances in your life.
I remember when I had limited exercise pens for my dogs and they didn’t have individual kennels, just crates. It was extremely hard to go on vacation, like literally I didn’t feel I could leave for a weekend. It was because, not only was the feeding list long, as in who gets what feed, but it was also scary. The dogs had to be rotated just right, following a certain order to prevent two studs from getting into the same area, puppies from getting trampled, or any escaping the yard. It was a nightmare to explain. The few times I left, it was short trips, no more than a few days, and the whole time I was gone I anxiously worried I would get a phone call from the sitter about what tragedy had happened. Doesn’t exactly make for a relaxing vacation.
Now, with my facilities, it’s not a big deal. I have all the dogs in individual kennel lanes, where they can be inside or go outside to relieve themselves. It makes for a much easier management for a sitter. They can roll my food buckets down the kennels, scooping food for each dog, and I just say how many scoops. Then they can walk down the line with one hose and fill up each water bucket. When done right, it’s about 30 minutes of care with nothing else to juggle. I don’t worry, I enjoy my vacation, it’s simple.
Often the hardest part about dog breeding is that you don’t know what you don’t know. When looking to improve things start with where you have pain, guilt, or frustration. Then let your brain wander into what it would look like for you to not have those emotions, and start to make a plan.
One thing I see a lot of newer breeders do is misunderstand that they need facility management and design, not dog management. For example, we used to have a pond on our property and the dogs thought it was super fun to play with. They would drink it, swim in it, and use it to cool off in the summer. Well, turns out that little pond carried giardia. The dogs drinking from it would get it, and their stools would show it based on how well their gastrointestinal tract could manage. Most had loose stool on a continual basis, but it was hard to know whose stool was whose unless you saw them go, because they weren’t designated in any pens. The worst part was that the moms would have the giardia on their teats and would pass this to their puppies.
As a newer breeder I thought their loose stool was a feed management thing, like I wasn’t doing the right dog food or deworming correctly or something like that, but in reality, I had a facility problem. My facilities were perpetuating giardia in my dogs.
The solution was to build more exercise pens, drain the pond, and make sure mama dogs were washed with Dawn Dish soap if they were exposed to that area. The solution wasn’t that I needed to worm them more or change their food. Most dog and puppy management in a breeding program is prevention. We want to prevent our dogs from being exposed to things so we don’t need to treat them.
If you think about where you are struggling with your dogs you’ll probably find facilities would be that game changer for you, making life easier, less stressful, and improving the quality of life for your dogs, you, and your family.
Now, I hear you, facilities aren’t cheap. I’m not saying that in year two of your breeding program you should be dropping $30,000 on a facility, that’s probably a little unreasonable. But why not consider getting a few exercise pens first. I personally love the modular pens, the welded wire ones that you can buy at farm stores, like Tractor Supply or CAL Ranch. They can be pressure washed and sanitized, they look nice as the dogs can’t bend them, and since they are modular, they aren’t permanent, and can be moved or rearranged to accommodate facility design changes later. I love this, because it takes some of the weight out of the design. When things are permanent–for example made of concrete or block, or even fencing installed in the ground–there’s a lot of pressure to get it right so that money isn’t wasted. I felt that pressure a lot and so I delayed building more exercise pens. It was dumb and it sucked, so don’t do what I did.
Here are some things you might consider adding to your plan for 2022 to make it an amazing year and to really move the needle on your breeding program.
How about dialing in the food you feed your dogs. If you haven’t already sorted out a good dog food, why not figure that out this year? One of the benefits of having a great dog food is that your buyers will ask for your recommendation and you can show it really works. It’s also really helpful for your dogs to be healthy. Not only will they look great to potential buyers, but more importantly they will be healthier, take breedings more easily, have better pregnancies, produce healthier puppies, and recover from puppies more easily.
Many breeders don’t seem to put a lot of stock into their feed. This is because it’s one of the biggest expenses when running a breeding program, but I’ll tell you, it pays off in spades when they’re on a good food. Their improved health and reduced stress and shedding makes it so worth it.
If you’re stuck between buying a higher quality food or a lesser food and using supplements, I would always opt for better food and no supplements. Generally you shouldn’t need supplements with good food.
You could also work on developing a maintenance schedule. Maybe your dogs need grooming and you’re not a groomer, so you need to plan these things to have your dogs always looking good. Or you could develop a plan for enrichment and exercise so your dogs are more engaged in their life. Maybe you want to individually take them out in public to get them more socialized or spoiled with an ice cream from the drive thru at Culver’s.
Maybe you feel like you’re struggling with your website. You aren’t sure what you need for that. If you haven’t started and want a quick run through, download this cheat sheet 👇.
Want to Get the 5 Web Pages Every Dog Breeder Website Needs Checklist?
Maybe you already have a website, but you want to make it better. Maybe you want to plan a professional photo shoot for your dogs to really make your website pop. Maybe you want to streamline your puppy application process so you have a better communication flow with buyers. If you want more on that, check out Episode #25.
You may love your website and feel it’s all set, and that all you need now is to get traffic to it. So you could make a plan for advertising on Instagram or Facebook, or you could look into scheduling apps like Tailwind or Later. If you are just starting, you may want to investigate brokerage sites like Good Dog to see if they’re a good option to start getting your name out. It’s all about what will give you the biggest impact in your business. Where is your business struggling?
Another thing to remember: advertising is all about momentum. The consistency will give you results, but it takes time to build that momentum. So don’t be discouraged if you’re not getting a ton of engagement when you first start, just keep testing and evaluating to see what is bringing in your ideal puppy buyers. I would rather have a small, very engaged following than tons of followers who will never be customers.
Maybe you have a good waitlist and things are pretty organized, but you want to take better care of your buyers after they take a puppy home. You could develop a puppy guide with resources for training techniques, enrichment, exercise, and the like.
The last thing is opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the potential lost gain from alternatives when one path is chosen. That’s wordy, but basically means when you choose to use your resources on one thing, whether those resources are time or money, you invariably lose the opportunity to use those resources on something else. Say for example I would’ve fixed my water situation a lot sooner, I would’ve saved at least four hours a week in watering. Imagine if I had spent those four hours advertising on Instagram, how much better would my relationship with my buyers have been if I had had that time to dedicate to them? That would’ve been 16 hours a month. It’s ridiculous that my watering was near half a week of work!
Maybe you’re just starting and you simply don’t know what to do. Don’t worry, I got you. I’ve made an introductory course that covers all the topics of dog breeding, not just the selection of breeding stock and whelping and raising a litter, but selling the puppies, pricing them, and beginning your breeding business, too. Let me guide you through the whole process and give you a solid foundation.
I’d love to know, what are your goals for this year with your breeding business?