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#30 – 3 Criteria for Selecting Your Breed

by | Jan 27, 2022 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management

If I had to start breeding all over again, I would change some things. Looking back, I’m not so sure I would’ve chosen German Shorthairs as my breed. But that’s all history now. It’s my main breed, and I will have them so long as I breed.

If I sound a little funny today, it’s because I wanted to take a few days off, so I got Covid so I could watch some Netflix, sorry if I sound like I’m underwater, I ate a bunch of Wasabi Peas, but hey, the show must go on!

Many of you who have expressed interest in breeding say you aren’t sure which breed to choose. Others of you say you’d like to add a second breed to your program. In today’s episode I want to discuss three things you should consider when selecting a breed.

The first thing to consider is the void. It’s great that you want to breed dogs. Doing so will often fill a void in your life, whether that’s the challenge, finances, or allowing flexibility in your schedule. But in the case of selecting a breed, I want you to think of the void you’ll fill for your puppy buyers. When they first get that desire to have a dog, what will cause them to want one? What is missing in their life that your dogs will provide?

I don’t want you to think something has to be missing or broken to be a void. This is why I refer to it as a “void” rather than a “problem.” Sometimes the void is just that their house is too quiet when they come home and they want something to love on.

For example, if you want to breed dogs to help farmers protect livestock, you’ve pretty much ruled out all toy and small breeds, as well as any of the hunting breeds. If you want a totable lap dog, a dog that can go anywhere with its owner, then that narrows down your choices based on size.

I want to put a disclaimer that for the most part, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this, but it will be important to figure out what your dogs provide for your buyers because this helps you narrow down which breeds will be able to fill that void. Although I think it might be questionable if you wanted to breed dogs to support the activities of the mafia. That might not exactly fall under honest.

If you aren’t sure what void you want to fill, imagine what you want people to say about your dogs five years from now…did they message you and say, “wow, my home feels alive now that I got Daisy, she brings a light to my life.” Or maybe they text you a picture of their freezer full of doves and say, “thanks, getting Duke has really improved the quality of our diet.” Or they thank you, because they haven’t lost a baby lamb since the livestock guardian dog they got from you turned a year old and has prevented the coyotes from getting at the sheep.

Again, there aren’t any particularly right or wrong voids, but you want one that makes you feel like you’re bringing more than just puppies to the world, that you’re creating dogs that improve the quality of life of their owners, so in return the owners will give them a high quality of life.

There are a lot of dark days in dog breeding and if you’re not filling a void that feels worthy to you, then in those moments the light at the end of the tunnel won’t shine as bright.

Now that you have identified that void, it’s time to figure out who has that void. This person will be your ideal puppy buyer.

Sometimes figuring this out will be easy. In the case of breeding a dog for the K9 Police Squad, it’s pretty obvious, your ideal puppy buyer will be the police force. It gets more complicated when you think of breeding companion animals.

Breeding companion animals gets a bad rap because it feels like you’re breeding without aim, without standard. If we aren’t breeding to succeed in show or at some agility event, then it’s assumed we don’t care about improving the breed, that we must just be in it for the money. People who want pets don’t have any real expectations, right? They just need a dog, any dog will do, the cuter the better, so where are the merles and dogs with blue eyes?

That isn’t really true though. We breeders know better. We know that how well a dog’s drives and temperament suit the lifestyle of the owner makes for the majority of the success between the pairing. This is why working herding dogs don’t always do well with small children because they are trying to corral them, often snipping them at the heels. This is why you don’t want to put a high-drive hunting dog into an apartment with gamers behind their computer. The drive of the dog will directly burden the family’s lifestyle and this is not good for anyone.

The thing about breeding with events and titles in mind is that often the same characteristics that cause the dogs to succeed in those events actually CREATE issues for the dogs and owners in a family companion home. If I bred my hunting dogs for field trials and not family homes, most of my buyers would lose their minds trying to manage that much drive in a dog. They need a dog who can calm down in the evening, when the family is tired, too.

Finding a dog that fits well into a family’s lifestyle creates success for that family and therefore for the dog. It’ll make it easier for their normal day-to-day activities to actually create the mental stimulation the dog needs to be emotionally balanced. The dog that is stimulated watching you make dinner, cleaning up the floor if you make a mess of things like me, is probably not the same dog that will be the top star at the field trials. That dog would probably be neurotic in the kitchen while dinner is cooking, quite possibly putting its paws on the counter, trying to help.

Want to Get the Criteria for Selecting Your Breed Focus Worksheet?

Companion animals are by far the largest market in the dog breeding world. So many people are interested in dogs solely for companionship. To not acknowledge this market makes no sense from a business perspective. It is probably—and I have no specific data on this—but probably near 95% of the entire dog market.

When you look from an owner/dog success perspective, breeding for a dog who will work as a companion is a wonderful goal, because it means those dogs will thrive in the owner’s lifestyle, increasing the likelihood of a successful relationship. The traits are different from working dogs and therefore should be purposefully selected.

I could even go as far as to argue that the needs of companion dogs are more dynamic than working dogs. This is because the working dogs generally do their jobs and then they’re sort of put away when they’re done, but dogs we live with as companions day and night, well they have to be adaptable to more situations and will carry different expectations in each venue; they’ll be different at the dog park than the dinner table, when camping than during a family party at the house.

To complicate it further, many people looking for a companion animal don’t fully understand what they need. This isn’t a jab at family dog owners but rather an acknowledgement that they often haven’t articulated for themselves their specific companion dog needs. I would wager the majority of people have an idea of the energy level and size they want to manage, and sometimes the coat type and color. Beyond that, they usually don’t understand why any two dogs in a particular breed would be different. This is also the main reason people get so stuck on a color or pattern in a litter. They simply don’t understand that the puppies might actually be greatly different in temperament and drive, and that this should be the more important factor in their decision-making.

This is why it is so important to not just breed generically for family companions, but for a specific type of person, a person with the void your dogs fill, and whose lifestyle aligns with your dogs’ temperaments and drives and overall composition.

When breeding for companion animals, you, the breeder, have a lot more work in matchmaking to do. You have to recognize the needs of your buyers, but also how the dog will fit into them. What traits in a dog would actually drive them crazy? Do they think they want a high energy dog because they are a runner? I don’t know about you, but I run 8-minute miles on my good days and a 12-week-old German Shorthair can keep up with me. By 16-weeks, I’m getting schooled. So while many people THINK they need a high-energy dog to go running with, they forget that a little Rat Terrier can probably outrun them.

So it’s our job as breeders to gently point out this misalignment in their thinking, help them find solutions, and explain things in a way that builds a better relationship with them and sets them up for success.

A final note on selecting your ideal puppy buyer – and this one took me a long time to figure out – you have to respect your ideal puppy buyer. Seems weird right? Like how would respecting your ideal puppy buyer matter if you bred a good dog for them regardless?

The biggest reason you want to respect them is so that you can work with them on a continual basis. So what might it look like? Well, in the beginning, a lot of people interested in my dogs had a tendency to fuss over every little thing. With their dog, every scratch was a big deal. They weren’t bad owners, they really cared about their dog, but I had a hard time handling those phone calls about their dog getting a bug bite that was a little welt or a dog who sliced his leg while running mach 10 through the brush. They were irritating to me because in my head I’m thinking, “does the dog even care? Has he even noticed he’s bleeding? Probably not, my dogs have extreme pain tolerance, but what’s more, they do this sort of stuff ALL THE TIME…we live in the desert where everything is literally trying to kill you. The blistering sun, the need for water, rocks EVERYWHERE, rattlesnakes, cacti, etc.” I don’t take my dogs to the vet for every injury because we’d literally be there multiple times per week. I have a decent first aid kit, but if a dog rips off a toenail, there’s not much you can do except wait for it to grow back.

I found myself often rolling my eyes, trying to find something other than, “it’s fine, I wouldn’t worry about it” to say to these buyers when they called. I sometimes forgot to message back because I felt it wasn’t important, and worse, sometimes I was a little short with them on the phone. It didn’t make them feel better. After all, they really were worried about their dog. It hurt our relationship and ultimately I wasn’t the supportive breeder I could’ve been for them.

You, on the other hand, may be thrilled to have buyers like this. They tell you every little detail, they keep you posted on basic vet appointments, you know every scratch, every bug bite, and you can track exactly where they are struggling and succeeding. You may greatly appreciate all the care and effort they put into their dogs, and be so glad they can call you and you can save them from an expensive vet visit.

It depends on you and what you feel what works for you. As I get older I find I’m, let’s say, mostly a good person, but I have my limits in certain areas, so to spare people from my shortcomings I can be proactive—and preventative—by choosing people that think a little more like me. Which for me happens to be busy, outdoorsy people, who embrace the chaos of life with a little bit of humor.

Once you know your ideal puppy buyer, you can select a breed that will really work for them and then make breeding decisions that will directly benefit them.

The third consideration is the actual characteristics of the breed and how they work for you.

When I set out on a journey that ultimately lead to selecting Rat Terriers, I was looking for a smaller dog that would pair with my shorthairs fairly easily. I knew I needed a dog that was smaller than the shorthairs, but not so small that it would be coyote bait, as we have a lot of coyotes where I live. I also wanted a dog that had a similar build to my shorthairs because I didn’t want any limo dogs coming out of my breedings, I wanted to keep the proportion the same. I also am a huge fan of color genetics, so I wanted a dog with lots of color and pattern variety.

Lastly, I needed a dog with shorthair not just to keep the coats similar and repeatable, but frankly I am terrible with grooming. I am lucky to have straight hair and I’m exited that the messy bun has come into style. In fact, one time I couldn’t get my son in for a haircut for a week and so he was going crazy because he had bangs in his eyes. I figured I’d save him the irritation and cut them for him, I didn’t know what I was doing. Later that day we had dinner with my mom and she asked if he, at 4 years old, had gotten ahold of the scissors…needless to say, I quickly changed the conversation topic.

When looking for breeds, think about what works for you and your family personally. Does your husband hate slobber? Do you want to start throwing things when that short pokey hair gets embedded in your bra and you can’t find it? Do you hate the idea of people getting picky about color and just want dogs that are all the same?

What about the size?

I’m pretty short, as you may have gathered from my Napoleon syndrome, which is good for having a low center of gravity, but I just don’t have a lot of weight to me, despite Bill once affectionately calling me thick—I decided we had to go with dense as a better adjective. Anyways, the idea of me splitting up a dog fight between two 100 lb plus dogs, like mastiffs, well that’s just too much for me, I get neck pain just thinking about it. I am not comfortable with breeding dogs that large, but that’s just me and my preferences.

This part of selecting a breed you should be a little selfish, really be honest with yourself and what you want to deal with, what you want to work with. My dogs can do a standing jump at a 5’ fence, I don’t know that I would’ve selected that level of athleticism, it’s a lot to manage. Small dogs are really delicate, maybe you don’t want to deal with something so delicate.

Ultimately review the dogs in your life that you loved, hated, and analyze what you liked and didn’t like and why. Use this information to sort through breeds and see what breeds align with your goals.

Well there you have it, three criteria for helping you sort out and narrow which dog breeds will be best for you to breed. First look at the void, then figure out the ideal puppy buyer you want to work with who has that void, and then find a breed falls within the style of dog you want to work with.

I made a worksheet you can download that will help you sort out these three things and assess what your ideal dog breed is, check it out below!

Show Notes

Referenced Links
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Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!