Your reputation is built on your breeding decisions, good or bad. We obviously want a good reputation, but, ironically, I’ve seen a fair amount of breeders care about their reputation, but then make decisions that directly contradict it. For example, I’ve seen breeders contemplate feeding cheap food to save on their expenses, but the cost of that is really high, as you get smaller litters, less healthy puppies, and they’re more prone to parasites and disease.
When you see your dogs having problems and continue to do the same things that are allowing those problems to continue, that’s when people start to question your integrity…are you really doing this to breed wonderful dogs and send them home to amazing families? Or are you just in it for the money?
It doesn’t mean that you have to buy the most expensive food on the market, the food I buy—and I’m successful on—is very reasonable for what it is, and I’ve done better on it than other, more expensive brands. Each breed and bloodline are a bit different; I do feed a different formula all together for my Rat Terriers than I do my Shorthairs, therefore there isn’t one king dog food, but generally, when you can spend $20 for 40 lbs. you’re not doing anyone any favors.
I watched that breeder continue to stud out his dog that had had three elbow surgeries and, based on the offspring I saw, it was clearly a genetic issue.
It isn’t always your fault, either, it’s hard to know what you don’t know. This is where the teachings of the school of hard knocks comes in, right? What we don’t consciously decide to figure out and learn, the universe is often kind enough to fix for us by giving us a real-life teaching moment? I’ve had plenty of them.
Often these teachings come through reputation. People will tell others not to buy from you if they have a bad experience. If you frequently send dogs home with parasites, that’ll get around, too.
I had parvovirus hit my kennel back in 2017, I lost all but one puppy. I was blessed to meet Bill a few months later and with his construction background he helped me figure out a way to build a large concrete facility. It was something I could sanitize. I had a few buyers completely back out, I refunded their deposits, and a few bumped to future litters.
I hadn’t dealt with parvo for two years when another Shorthair breeder in the state called me, told me he had heard several times that I struggle with parvo all the time. While I appreciated the outreach, it simply wasn’t the situation, I hadn’t had any problems when the dogs were in the concrete kennels. I had had 12 successful litters since the parvo pups when he called. These things diehard. I never lied to my buyers, but even accidents like parvo can have some lasting consequences.
By the way, if you’ve had parvovirus in your puppies, giardia, coccidia, round worms, hook worms, or other helminths, don’t beat yourself up. It is bound to happen at some point. Just to explain, in the case of coccidia, half of adult dogs carry it without symptoms. This means that if you have two mama dogs, there is a high probability at least one has it. Which she could pass to her puppies. This is why I don’t understand why breeders bash other breeders, saying that a breeder must be a bad breeder if they have a litter with parasites. I always think either they are the pot calling the kettle black, as in they are conveniently forgetting the fact that they have struggled with parasites, too, or they just haven’t been doing it that long, and therefore haven’t experienced it yet.
Have you ever noticed the double standard we humans have for ourselves against others? Like if I am at a red light and respond to a text message, the light turns green and I didn’t see it, and the guy behind me honks, then, to me, I made a mistake. Yet, if I’m driving behind someone who is stopped at a red light and they don’t see the light turn green, my thought is that they’re a bad driver? We make exceptions for ourselves, but not always others.
Can we recall that these are dogs? They eat disgusting things all the time: Toilet bowl water, road kill, nasty pond water? If they never get parasites, maybe they are never really living their best life.
So right now, you might be like, well, what the heck, Julie? If I can’t absolutely control things like parasites or viruses, and the reputation hits me years later, how am I supposed to work with that? How do I build and retain a positive reputation as an honest breeder? I hear you.
What I’ve found is it’s all about how you handle the situation. How honest you are with the buyers, the responsibility you take, and the actions you take after to prevent it from being a problem again later.
Say for example you have a litter go home and they have giardia. They may have no symptoms when at your home, but after moving to the new location, no more littermates, new bacteria, smells, and people is a bit stressful. The immune system drops just enough to have loose stool and let the giardia take over.
Maybe this has never happened before to you and a new owner calls you a few days later and says their dog has the runs and we don’t know what to do or they say they took the dog to the vet and he has giardia. It’ll usually come with a tone that suggests you, the breeder, lied.
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What do you do?
I never try to defend myself, that tends to lead to a blame game between the breeder and buyer that only ends in a bad relationship. Instead, try to keep the focus on the solution, not the problem. People love to blame, so often they’ll want to blame you, even if you didn’t know, nor have a way to know, they’ll then just blame you for not knowing, so I try to blow that off as follows:
First, apologize that they are dealing with that problem, you want to show them empathy and recognize that this is a bad situation for them, as well as the dog, and, of course, for you (although don’t tell them it’s bad for you, too, keep the focus on them).
You can explain that the stress of the move can bring out things we didn’t know about when they were in our care as the breeder, but don’t try to explain why it isn’t your fault, that just makes it worse.
Keep focusing on the remedy for the situation. Ask what the vet recommended for medication, ask if there is anything you can do, depending on the severity of the infection, it might be worth contacting other buyers and seeing how their dogs are doing, if they have normal stool. It’s a balance between checking in on your dogs and not freaking out the owners.
The goal is to stay on their team, the owner/dog team, the whole time, so you can work together to find a solution.
I’m not going to lie. This is not fun. It sucks. It is hard to not feel at fault, it’s hard to take the sarcastic jabs that often come out from the owner, but ultimately, we need to do this, to take some responsibility, and to do our best to help.
The lasting result of this approach is you retain your integrity and your relationship with that buyer. While they may still blame you, whether or not it’s your fault, a fluke, or a bad situation, they generally won’t see you as a bad breeder.
The long-term effect is that moments of integrity build and develop character and people see that and respect it.
Yet, to truly maintain integrity in your breeding program, you can’t just stop there. You need to now work to find a solution to this. In the case of giardia you need to learn how to treat it and prevent your pups from getting it next litter. What does that mean? Is that an herbal supplement? Is that using MOOM? Does it mean you need different facilities or a better facility sanitation plan? Lots of people don’t know that bleach isn’t effective on giardia, so there’s another problem.
Once you identify the potential leaks in your program that are allowing this to happen, you need to take action. I took a 3-tier approach when this happened at my kennel. I worked to treat and prevent the moms from passing it to the puppies and I used natural remedies to preventively treat the puppies. I made changes to my facilities so that I could clean them better and prevent mama dog from contracting it, and I prepared the owners with paperwork and natural remedies that I sent home with them in their puppy pack. I let them know it’s common in our area, that it might not show up with me, but it might show up when they get home. This is the natural treatment and to call me with questions.
Did I have that sorted out in 24 hours, absolutely not, in fact, I think it was about a year before I had the whole things sorted where the process was smooth.
The point is to not allow problems to be standard. There shouldn’t be a problem that is acceptable or that you leave your buyers to fend against by themselves. If the problem is inevitable, prepare them with a solution, which is primarily education, although can include other things, like supplements or dewormers to use at home.
Dogs are live animals, there will always be circumstances and things to watch for, but we should always be working to make it better for the dogs, the owners, and ourselves.
WHAT ABOUT BREEDING PAIR DECISIONS?
Breeding pairs will make a huge impact on your program, but again, it’s more how you make the decisions over time.
Life is the cumulative effect of our decisions: if you choose to eat ice cream today, that won’t make you fat and unhealthy, but if you decide to indulge in ice cream every day as your dinner, you’re headed down an unhealthy path. Just the same, if you workout at the gym today, you won’t be healthy, but if you workout every week for months, you’ll reap the benefits.
Breeding pair decisions accumulate. If you select for a similar structure, temperament, and drive in your breeding pairs, generation after generation, you’ll build stability in those characteristics, in your lines. This is how you get integrity in your lines and how you build a bloodline.
As you touch base with your buyers from time to time, you can see where they struggle or what they weren’t prepared for. Use this information to make it better for your next buyers.
You might find that your buyers really have a hard time wearing their dog out, they simply cannot get the dog to settle down. In the case of my Shorthairs, many years ago, the bird drive in the dogs was so strong that people could not engage it enough and the dogs were strung out, often destructive.
It put me at a decision spot. It was unacceptable that the drive was not fitting the families who owned them. I could reduce the drive to a more manageable level or I could change my ideal puppy buyers to families who needed more drive. Since I really like my ideal puppy buyer, I like working with them, I like breeding a dog for them, so I opted to adjust my drive.
There are thousands of decisions to make in dog breeding. Your ability to navigate these decisions and the situations that cause you to make those decisions is what will create integrity in your program overall.
When you find yourself in a place where you need to decide what to do, when you’re figuring out what is the right answer, you can guide yourself with these questions:
1. What is best for the dogs? – If you have a mama dog who is struggling with puppies, but she makes great dogs that buyers love. What do you do? Do you retire her? Keep breeding her? Maybe the best solution is to replace her with one of her daughters.
2. What is best for the buyers long term? – If your buyers are struggling, that’s never good. The quality of life of the puppies you sell is dependent on ability of the people who own them to give them that quality of life. But the people who own them is dependent on you marketing to them, supporting them, and aligning them with a good puppy for their lifestyle. If the family is struggling something went wrong, either they aren’t a good fit, they need more education, or the dog has issues that need to be adjusted in breeding, for example, hip dysplasia.
3. What is best for you and your family? – You can’t forget yourself when making breeding decisions. For example, I lived with dogs in my master bedroom for a long time. Not only did it put a strain on my relationship, I literally didn’t even have a break from my dogs when I was sleeping, and I felt overwhelmed all the time. I was irritated because I couldn’t just get up quietly and enjoy a cup of coffee and my journal without having to deal with puppy barking, feeding, cleaning, etc. It felt like I didn’t have any me time and that’s important for everyone. Isn’t self-care all the rage these days? I get it, it’s really helpful when you have it. It gives you time to be yourself, renew yourself, and gives you more energy you can pour into what you love, which probably is more than just your dogs, even if they are pretty high on the list.
You may love the pups a particular breeder you have throws, but managing the dog is just a lot of work. Maybe he’s an escape artist and you’re constantly having to work to manage that dog, way more than the others. Maybe they make great puppies in just the right color, but they are messy and you’re doing so much more cleaning than you do with other litters. It’s okay to move these dogs on from your breeding program. If you aren’t feeling good, it’s no good for anyone. Maybe you need a break and want to skip a heat cycle, that’s okay, too.
Remember that the beauty and curse of dog breeding is that there is no one-size-fits-all, you have to carve your own path out, find what works for your dogs, your buyers, and yourself. When you consider all three of those criteria, you’ll always be on the right track to maintaining integrity and building a successful bloodline.
Thank you, again, and I can’t wait to chat with you in the next episode!