You know what’s one of the worst feelings in dog breeding? Selling a dog to the wrong family. And what makes that worse? Knowing that it’s okay enough they’ll keep the dog and take care of him, but it’s not a good enough fit where the dog brings them joy. It’s just sort of ‘meh.’
Think about it from the silently disappointed buyer’s perspective: a 15-year commitment to something that’s just there. Not awful enough you can complain or justify returning the dog to the breeder, but not good enough you overflow your phone with photos. You won’t miss him on vacation, so you find him a nice boarding facility. You have done the basic manners and training, but it isn’t rewarding to take him with you for errands in town, nor trips to the dog park, those places silently remind you of the relationship you wish you had with your dog. You wish you had a dog that just fit in with your life, one who wanted to ride shotgun and wasn’t jumping back and forth between the backseat and front seat. You wish you had a dog that wasn’t so pingy, one that actually wanted to play with you in the backyard instead of pacing and running circles. You had this idea of what the dog was going to be like, but he’s just not like that. You wrestle with yourself, “Is this the dog? No, it can’t be, it has to be me, I’m a failure at training, what made me think I could handle this dog? I’m doing him such a disservice.”
Your buyer is left confused and ashamed.
The truth is, it’s not your buyer’s fault, and it’s probably not the dog’s fault. It’s just not a good fit. While some would argue that the breeders are at fault, I don’t agree. I have yet to meet an honest breeder who didn’t want to do the right thing, sell their pups to the right homes, make their buyers wildly happy.
It’s just not a simple thing: each new relationship with breeder and buyer starts as a dance of impressing the other, while also trying to see if they’ll meet each other’s expectations.
Here are 6 red flags you might see when talking with buyers and how to handle them.
#1 – Starts Out By Asking About Price
The first red flag is they start the conversation out asking for price, sometimes they’ll ask if your price is negotiable, and other times they’ll ask if the price is negotiable before you even give them the price. Those last people are negotiating-type people, they come across really abrasive at the beginning and might put you on the defensive, but that’s actually their personality, they just like getting deals, it’s a game to them.
So what do we do about them asking for price right off the rip? Well, it depends. I know a lot of breeders who simply don’t respond to these inquiries, but I think you should. I do think it’s valuable to speak with each person when you can. Try and get them talking about what they want in a dog.
By the way, I made you a cheat sheet of questions to ask buyer to vet them, in hopes to avoid these type of red flags, you can get it below.
Most of the time, but not always, when you get people asking about price first, it is because they don’t understand that there is a difference in dogs within a breed. They think that as long as they get a dog from the breed, that it’ll do what they think it’s supposed to do. Now we know that’s hardly the case, but this misunderstanding is pretty ubiquitous in the buyer community. It’s everywhere.
Our job in this instance is to determine if these people are educable on the difference in dogs within the breed or if they will be the type of people who are more interested in checking off the box that they got a dog from the breed.
A way to respond to the price inquiry is to say, “our price is this, I want to make sure we get you a dog that fits your needs, what are you looking for in a dog?” Make it in one sentence. If they are merely the type of people who want to get a dog now, they are looking for a deal, or the cheapest dog, they won’t respond. Having to explain what they are looking for will be too much work for most people who are trying to get cheap.
Sometimes they’ll come back with color or size or something physical that tells me they aren’t really thinking about life with the dog…like the many people who say, I want a liver roan female, Lordy, if I only had a nickel for every one of those…if you can get that color, size or whatever they say, then you can say that. Something like, “yes, we can get that pattern” but then follow up with “I want to make sure you get the right temperament and drive for your needs, what lifestyle do you see yourself having with this dog.”
Usually these questions will get the lazy, deal-seeking buyer to go away.
The great thing is, when you respond with an answer to their question, you aren’t sarcastic, and you then follow up with an in-depth question, you save your reputation, because they can’t say that you never responded, nor can they say you were rude (whether or not they deserved rude is not the point).
Occasionally, and this is why it’s important to answer these questions, people are truly interested in YOUR breeding program, BUT they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to afford one of your dogs, and the price is a legitimate concern for many people.
It’s for this reason (and to reduce the number of “how much” inquiries) that I recommend listing your price on your website in plain sight.
#2 – Trying to Buy Their Dead Dog’s Clone
The next red flag is they are trying to find their lost dog’s clone. As in their dog died and they are looking to replace that dog. These phone calls often come with crying, a discussion about how no dog could ever be as amazing as the dog they lost, or a conversation about the exact pattern and patch placement of the spots.
I’ll be honest, these phone calls can be irritating. You don’t want to be rude and it is helpful to listen to them, you learn a lot about people and their relationship with their dog. Yet, they aren’t all that much fun.
If they give you an opportunity to get a word in, notice how they respond to what you say about your dogs. If they seem intrigued or interested, that’s a good sign, if they seem irritated or less-than-impressed, then realize it’s not you, they just aren’t in a good mindset for another dog, they’re still grieving.
Sometimes the best way to handle these buyers is to tell them you won’t have a good fit for them for about 4-6 months (if that’s the case, you can bump them out a few litters if you need to, to allow for grieving time). This way if they are hell bent on getting a dog immediately, which probably isn’t a good idea for them, then you aren’t going to be the breeder they blame for not creating a clone of their deceased dog.
I did a pretty deep dive on the different types of grieving buyers in the last episode, episode #39, so definitely check that out to learn more.
Know that as much as you want to help these grieving buyers, as much as you want to take away their pain, there’s a good chance that nothing will work, and adding a puppy to the mix may only make them more stressed. All of which, they’ll make your fault. I don’t want that for you.
Want to Get the “Questions to Vet Your Buyers” Cheatsheet?
#3 – Changing Their Story a Lot OR Telling You What You Want to Hear
The third red flag is a buyer changing their story a lot. This seems weird, but it’s pretty common. The reason they are usually changing their story is that they are trying to tell you want you want to hear so you’ll approve them to get a dog. While it’s flattering that they are treating you like Wizard of Oz, it’s not super helpful.
These buyers, much like the price-requesting buyers, often don’t know the difference between your dogs and dogs within the breed. They think they’re all the same. This is where we need to educate them, but do it from their perspective. Tell them that you really want them to have a good fit, but then say, “there are no right or wrong answers, it’s all about what works for you.” That’s the key phrase to work with those buyers. Once you tell them there is no right or wrong answer, that it’s dependent on them, they’ll be able to relax a little, they’ll hopefully stop trying to impress you, and they’ll be more likely to focus on their needs.
I’ll be honest, some will have no idea what they are actually looking for in a dog. So you may need to make some suggestions. With these yes-man buyers, you need to give them options, like, “do you want this or that?” And make it apples or bananas, so they have to pick.
Sometimes an option you give them may not be something you can provide. Say they want a family dog that sleeps on the couch and your dogs are working line, that’s okay, it helps them see what they need AND it helps to prevent one of your high-drive dogs from going to the wrong home.
These people really mean well, but often haven’t thought through it all, so walk them through it when you talk to them. And be sure to make them comfortable saying, “this isn’t a good fit for me.” That way they don’t feel guilty NOT getting a dog from you once they realize it wouldn’t work out.
#4 – They Don’t See Past the Cute Puppy
The fourth red flag is, they don’t see past the cute puppy, like they are looking at getting a dog through rose-colored glasses.
I know you know this, but dogs are disgusting, they eat nasty stuff, they make messes, those little baby teeth are like playing with sharks, and they go and go and go, with very little concern for your time, your work schedule, nor your sleep. Many people fall in love with puppies on Instagram. They fall in love with the idea of sitting on a mountain cliff watching the sunset. You know the picture, their hair is glowing as the sunset light makes their outline glisten. They’ve just scaled a mountain, but their makeup looks amazing. The dog is perfectly trained, has some fancy harness that carries his treats and water, and they seem to have no concern that their dog will be running around mach 10 and launch himself over the edge of the cliff.
People, who think this is what a puppy is, are living in a fantasy. So we need to be careful here. We, in essence, have to give them a gentle slap of reality. We have to remind them how disgusting dogs are, how much work they are, how much chaos they bring to life. While also assuring them it usually worth it, once you get through to that stage, but never tell them it is easy. It’s anything but easy, raising a puppy is work, and certainly not always fun. The key concept is “rewarding” not “easy.”
So how do you crush their perception without crushing their soul? Well, this is where you focus on the struggles people have with your dogs. For example, the gorgeous Australian Shepherd, whose hair is glowing in the sunset in those photos, well that dog is smart, and if you can’t find an outlet for that intelligence, he will find his own way to entertain himself. Maybe he’ll teach himself how to break out of the kennel. Maybe he’ll learn how to open doors in your home. He may figure out how to scale your fence to find entertainment with the neighbor, and did I forget to mention that his coat doesn’t just stay pretty when walking through sticks, thorns, and leaves?
We need to discuss these things with these buyers. The goal is to bring them to the reality of what it will take to have those gorgeous moments in the sunset at the top of a mountain with their dog.
Sometimes they’ll realize that it is a lot more work than they want to put in or handle–and this is okay! Again, we have to keep the conversation dynamic open, so they feel they can say, “Thank you, I don’t think this dog is right for me.” Many times they’ll say, “Oh, okay, wow, that’s a lot to think about.” Usually the conversation will end there, they may or may not call you back, either is fine. If they do call you back, they’ll usually have a lot of questions, which I love. I love prepared buyers.
#5 – They Have the Wrong Expectations for the Breed
The fifth red flag is they have the wrong expectations for the breed or dogs in general. For example, hair does not exactly mean non shedding, nor does it mean 100% allergen free or maintenance free. Other times they expect that dogs understand English, and will miraculously know how to behave in a home or on a leash. Sometimes they think that in order to get a dog that will bark when someone knocks on the door they need a working-line dog, yet instead a working line would be way more work than they can handle.
Sometimes these things seem silly to us breeders. We are so involved with our breed that we forget that other people don’t know what we know. A lot of times people find your breed because some internet quiz said it was the right breed for them. For example, with my shorthairs, people who take internet quizzes that ask if they are looking for a running companion often get shorthair as a recommendation. Have you ever tried to run and keep up with any dog? Let alone a shorthair who can clock 6 miles in 24 minutes? If I take them running with me, they give me a look the whole time that says, “When are we going to start running?” It’s a joke.
This is where we have to be kind, but talk to them frankly about what they think the breed is and what it actually is. I have found that humor makes this go over easier. For example, they may love the idea of an athletic dog, seriously, though, who would say their criteria for a dog is a dog who has no athletic potential, so they think they want an athlete, but what they aren’t stringing together is how high the dog can jump. So bring that up, mention how the dogs are very athletic, but that means they need better, taller fencing, that they can jump on counters when your back is turned, that sort of thing. Let them know what they’re really like and then see if the truth of the breed works for them. These buyers are a lot like the puppy-blind buyers mentioned in red flag #4. They need education.
Again, it’s not their fault, they just happened to get recommended this breed in some way or another and they don’t have the full picture. We can give them that full picture and let them decide if it’ll work for them.
#6 – Overly High-Maintenance or Destructive Buyers
The last type of red flag with a potential buyer is the overly high-maintenance or destructive buyer. They usually come across really confident and feel like they know exactly what they want, BUT they’re actually a giant liability OR they’ll be a ton of work for you. These people are hard to satisfy and when they are dissatisfied, they are looking to take it out on someone. In the case of an issue with their dog, it’s you, the breeder, who they’ll blame.
So what might they say to let you know they’ll be one of those buyers? They’ll often expose themselves through their ego, which probably needs to be carried in a one-ton truck. They will talk about stories of how they put people in their place, demanded a refund, or called someone out on poor customer service. They’ll brag about getting someone fired, or worse, how they sued someone.
You’ll notice that these people will tell these stories as a way to impress you. It’s a good thing people can’t see my face when they’re telling me these things over the phone, I find my facial expression is blank, it reflects how I’m completely unimpressed. I find myself placing my hand over my mouth and biting my tongue.
These people—no matter how much their lifestyle aligns—are not worth your time, not worth your energy, and not worth the stress they’ll near invariably place on your family.
So how do you get rid of them after your marketing sold them on your dogs? Well, you tell them that your dogs aren’t a good fit for them. You make it all your fault first, to spare them the opportunity to get one of your dogs and be disappointed with him—and you. Make it seem like you’re doing them the favor by sparing them the frustration that your dogs will undoubtably be.
It sucks to lose a sale, but it sucks a whole lot more to sell a dog to a family like this, they’ll be the people who when their name pings your phone, your stomach drops.
If you’re worried about these red flags and noticing them, I feel you, it’s a little scary. Know that it gets easier the more you deal with people, it’ll be easier to read them.
I will also tell you that I have never once regretted turning down a buyer, so feel free to err on the side of caution. You may also notice that you’ll get more or less of these buyers based on your price, meaning as your price is lower you’ll get some the pricing question red flags, and as your price gets higher, you’ll get the higher-maintenance buyers. To learn more about the pricing and how it affects the types of buyers and their expectations, check out Episode #16 – Is Your Price Point Attracting the Wrong Buyers?
Don’t forget, I made you a cheat sheet for questions to ask your buyers to see if they’re a good fit for your dogs, you can get it below in the show notes.