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#41 – My 3 Biggest Regrets in Dog Breeding

by | May 1, 2022 | Business Management

We all have regrets. Times in our lives when we made decisions with limited knowledge or impulsively. Times in our lives where if we have only known a little more, we could’ve saved ourselves a lot of pain and suffering.

I recently heard that pain is the thing that tells you you’re not in alignment with your true self, where as suffering is knowing that you’re not in alignment and continuing to stay there. Sometimes you feel trapped or don’t know what you don’t know. You aren’t sure how to fix the situation. Well, that’s the best recipe for regret.

My First Big Regret

The first big regret I have is not having an ideal puppy buyer in the beginning of my program. All I knew was that I wanted to clone Buster, but that really wasn’t enough. I regret that I didn’t articulate his qualities individually and then, more importantly, understand why those particular qualities worked so well for my family. It was a lack of direction that had me down the rabbit hole of trying to make the ideal dog, but without having an idea of what the home for that dog was.

If this is confusing, think of it with vehicles, why vehicles are so helpful in explaining things with dogs, I don’t know, but it is helpful.

Say I told you to build the best vehicle. How helpful would that be? Would the best vehicle be leather seats? I don’t know, if it’s a convertible that might burn your legs off when the top is down. What about fuel mileage, should you go for great fuel economy? Or does that steer you in the wrong direction? You know the best way to get an answer to these vehicle design questions? You add the person who is going to buy and use that vehicle.

It’s the ideal customer, in our case the ideal puppy buyer, that makes it possible to decide what is the right decision for our program, in not only selecting breeding dogs, but also how to design our marketing. It’s how we know if someone will thrive with one of our dogs, or if they’ll be texting you every day with a new problem they need your help with.

So how did this play out as a major regret? Well, it wasted a ton of time, it was really hard on relationships with buyers, and it took away from my family. Not having this sorted out made things so difficult on my program. I didn’t have branding worked out well for my buyers, I was getting a lot of inquiries, but the vetting process was really hard.

Imagine sitting there, you can feel in your gut from the puppy application that these people aren’t a good fit for your dogs, but they are biting at the bit to give you a deposit. Turning them down is hard, it’s a hard conversation to have without sounding like a jerk. “I’m sorry, I don’t think you will do well with one of my dogs.” That goes over really well. Now the buyer is on the defensive, you seem rude, and you still have a puppy to sell. It’s exhausting being in that situation.

Not to mention the amount of times this conversation happened late in the evening, and those conversations are rarely short. My kids are looking at me like, “why isn’t dinner done?” My then husband was irritated I didn’t make the sale. My blood pressure was up. I was losing faith in the whole system.

If I’d only figured that part out sooner it would’ve been smooth sailing. It would have been blissful talking to buyers like it is for me today. But hey, that’s why they’re regrets, right?

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My second big regret

My second biggest regret in dog breeding was not building facilities consciously, intentionally, nor with a plan.

I had no idea what I was really getting into when I started breeding dogs. I didn’t have a goal in mind beyond sending little Buster clones to families so they could have what I had. I didn’t think about diseases, cleaning, I didn’t have a great way to separate dogs, and it was a big jumble of things going on, lots of chaos.

I just figured I’d have them outside in a pen, it was July here in Arizona, so the weather was certainly warm enough. That was a first mistake, puppies on dirt. Adult dogs on dirt are gross enough, I still deal with that all the time in Arizona, they’re always dusty, I have no white dogs, well I do have white dogs, they’re just always red/brown. I didn’t have any issues with my adult dogs getting sick, so I made the false assumption that there would be nothing in my dirt that would affect my puppies.

Just kidding. I had a puppy stung by a scorpion, I had an inability to clean and sanitize, and, worst of all, as you may have guessed, this is where the giardia came from.

The puppies on dirt meant their water was always dirty, the puppies were always dusty, and often smeared with poop. It was not something I was thrilled to show buyers. It was pretty embarrassing and took a lot of cleaning and prep to have somewhat presentable for buyers, but the clean puppies didn’t last long.

What I wish I would’ve done was find a way to keep my puppies off the dirt so I could clean daily. I wish I would’ve planned to take litter money and buy exercise pens, look toward getting a floor that I could clean and sanitize. I lost a lot of puppies to sickness and a few to chaos, as in, they got stuck in something and were injured or killed, or there were too many dogs there and they were caught in the mix.

After a few litters I made a shift to some alternatives, but sanity in puppy cleaning took me a long time to figure out.

Another big facility issue was that my adult dogs didn’t get the quality of life they should have. My exterior fencing wasn’t solid enough for shorthairs and so I couldn’t leave them outside unattended, this meant they didn’t get outside as much or as long as would’ve been ideal. I really needed separated exercise pens where they could be safe, even when unattended, giving them better quality of life, while also giving me freedom.

I can feel the anxiety coming over me as I say this. I also know some of you are shaking your head thinking, holy cow, what an idiot. I hear you, I’ve said the same things.

Truth is, I always thought about it, I was always looking for a better solution, but I didn’t invest enough finances, not enough puppy money, into my program to make it better. I had too many bandaids, when my facilities needed surgery.

When you don’t have facilities, you have to rely on management, which is the conscious moving and juggling of dogs in order to give them quality of life, health, and safety. Management fails because it manages live animals and is run by humans. Since we can’t really change that part, our next best option is to build facilities that make management that much easier.

So, you might be thinking, if I reflected on all this and knew I had management problems and knew what I was doing wasn’t working, what gives? Why was it like that?

My third big regret

Well, enter my final biggest regret: not having my family onboard. I mean, my kids were little, I was pregnant with Hunter and Dakotah was only 18-months old when my first few litters were born. I was a little in over my head. I felt guilty because I wasn’t spending enough time with my kids because I was trying to keep dogs somewhat organized and doing my best to keep them healthy. When puppies got sick, I had to give the pup my full attention at the cost of my family time.

The kids didn’t really have a choice, nor did they know what life without dog breeding was. But my ex, who I was still married to at the time, just wasn’t really onboard with the whole dog thing.

It was a silent tension between my ex and I. The puppies created a lot of chaos, I would whelp them in our master bedroom, and while I could sleep through the puppy noises, my ex couldn’t, he was always irritated about it, but there wasn’t a good alternative. Because he was so irritated he wasn’t very excited about taking the money, the only real positive in his eyes, and using it for the dogs.

These weren’t direct conversations, a lot of it happened in between the lines. I felt guilty, I felt like a failure, and I felt lonely and isolated in my breeding journey. My buyers were my relief, they were the joy for me, they’re what gave me the strength and they were my reason to continue forward.

I don’t know that the dogs created our divorce, we had other communication issues and a different goal for the future, but I know the dogs didn’t help the situation.

In contrast, when Bill saw the chaos on my porch, his brain worked to find a solution, ironically he knew that taking the puppy money to build the facilities would reduce the chaos to his comfort level, while also making my life easier.

There’s a difference though: sure Bill and my ex think differently, BUT, the dogs were already an established part of my life when I met Bill, whereas with my ex, it came a few years into the relationship. In my ex’s eyes this wasn’t always the case, where with Bill, this was who I was, it was part of my package, part of being with me, just like my kids.

I guess it makes you realize that having fewer options, while often frustrating, can lead you to great creative solutions. Sometimes you need a few constraints to actually design the right thing. Bill needed to figure a solution for the dogs, because the option wasn’t there to get rid of them. Whereas with my ex, he saw getting rid of the dogs as a viable option.

This concept of non-negotiable boundaries, i.e. not getting rid of the dogs, and having them as a problem to solve, not something you can change, is exactly how the ideal puppy buyer concept works: by placing boundaries around what will work or not for your ideal puppy buyers, it makes a lot of breeding decisions super simple, since only a narrow group of options will work.

Good news is over time, with reflection, focus, and perseverance, I was able to slowly work to fix all these things. I really took time to get to know my buyers in and out. I changed my marketing just to speak to them. It made the whole process of selling dogs a pleasure, not a pain.

It took a gentle slap from Bill to put things in focus for me, paired with his knowledge of building, that really helped me to focus on what I needed to give my program a flow so that it wasn’t taking over my life. His emotional support gave me the confidence to go though with my plans and to make it all happen.

Every storm has a silver lining. All these regrets don’t plague me, they just show my growth, like an old tree, I have some scars, I have some gnarly branches, but each year I get better, stronger, and less prone to swaying in the storm. I know that these moments in my history have made me and my program what they are today, and I really like what they are today. After all this podcast, Dog Breeding 101, nor the Dog Breeder Society wouldn’t have been here if I hadn’t gone through my gauntlet. Best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many of you honest breeders, to share some time on your journey with you, and I look forward to working with you each and every day.

Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

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!