It’s that moment when you start to feel your blood boil, the frustration coming over you in a wave of heat. You want to scream, punch something, run away from it all. But you can’t, this is your mess, and you need to deal with it. You take a deep breath…maybe a few…make a drink…ahem, I meant like coffee…and let yourself relax as best you can.
Dog breeding has moments like this. Things are great, then bam, two seconds later something crazy can happen, whether that’s obnoxious barking when you’re trying to sleep in, puppy mess that never seems to end, parasites, irritating puppy buyers, and the list could go on and on. Sometimes the worse is when the problem sneaks up on you, and it’s big before you even notice. This is so frustrating, no joke, but we know it can be better. We HAVE to make it better. It’s the only way to maintain—or regain—our sanity.
How do we get from frustrating and maddening to calm and relaxed?
If you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of being calm and relaxed, hang in there, I have a plan for you. I’ve broken the process of “fixing” your breeding program into 5 steps. Honestly, you can use these steps for nearly any area in your life, but today, we’ll, of course, be discussing it through the lens of dog breeding.
Before I forget, I made you a checklist that helps you go through this whole process. You can grab it using the form below.
1. Reflect on what isn’t working
The first step is to reflect on what isn’t working. Sometimes this is hard to recognize, so you can start with pain points. What things are creating pain points? Are the dogs too loud? Too messy? Maybe you’re spending a lot of time on them and it feels like they aren’t worth the trouble. I’ve been there, I’ve felt all this and more.
The best way to do this, at least for me, is to make a cup of coffee, sit without distractions, which is usually early morning, and write down everything that comes to mind. It’s like a full brain dump. Don’t be surprised if your list makes it look like nothing is going right…these sort of brain dumps can be like that.
Sometimes it helps to focus on the emotions it evokes in you.
Your list might look like:
I am tired of cleaning upI can’t relax in the evening and enjoy myselfI am irritated with my buyers, they are so needy!I’m so tired of dealing with giardia
This list can be really helpful because not only will it help you sort out what is driving you crazy, but it feels good to acknowledge all those issues and get them off your chest. Sometimes we feel like we have to act like everything is perfect in our breeding programs—we’re professionals, right?—yet, as I’ve said before, breeding is complicated because of all the decisions and variables. It would be ridiculous to have it all figured out, especially in the beginning, and there’s always room for improvement, I could make a list of a dozen things I’d like to improve in my program.
2. Articulate the Actual Problem
The next step is articulating the problem. Did you have an English teacher in school who was obsessed with being articulate like I did? They can be a pain, but they’re right. When you’re articulate you clearly understand and break down exactly what is happening, what the issue is. It is clearly drilling down and understanding the actual problem at hand.
While it’s helpful to acknowledge the emotions that we are feeling, they guide us to what aligns with what we want in life and where are going astray, but often they don’t really come with an executable plan. For example, feeling irritated with your buyers isn’t exactly an action plan. Just like noting you’re exhausted from dealing with giardia really isn’t helpful in creating a way to treat and prevent giardia. We need to articulate what is actually creating this problem.
In the case of buyers being irritating, is that because you have the wrong buyers, buyers who don’t align with your dogs? Is that because you failed to set proper expectations? Is it because they are calling you at all hours of the day and don’t seem to have respect for your time? Can you see how articulating the actual problem starts to make the issue more tangible? Something you can mold and work with?
I have an embarrassing story to tell you. Bill came in one day and he was pissed, he said “when are you going to put that shovel away?” To which I replied, “What shovel?” “The shovel you’ve been stepping over on your way inside for four days.” I honestly didn’t notice I had been stepping over a shovel for four days. I had to think about where he was even talking about. I definitely felt lame; Bill is really great at being organized, he has a system, follows it, and he’s great at keeping so many things how they should be. Me, well, I have struggled with that level of organization. I don’t consider myself messy, I do like things clean, but I have a hard time staying on top of it, especially when there isn’t a system.
The “shovel incident” was eye opening for Bill and I. I don’t like the idea of him thinking I don’t care about my stuff, but I didn’t even notice and that was alarming in and of itself. It’s one thing to notice something and CHOOSE not to put it away, but it’s a whole other animal when you don’t even notice. How could I fix something I didn’t know was happening?
I did a lot of journaling about this, thinking about it and contemplating what was actually happening. It occurred to me that the shovel didn’t actually have a home. I had no place to return it to, no pegs to hang it on, no open space that says, “hey the shovel is missing.” The way my brain organizes things, it didn’t register the shovel as being out of place, because it had no place. Without a home my brain simply didn’t see the shovel as an item needing to be returned to its place.
Realizing this, articulating the true problem behind me not putting some things away, opened a can of worms. For one, Bill thought this was some elaborate defense mechanism I concocted, it’s simply such a foreign way of thinking for him, it took him a while to wrap his head around it and embrace it as a real issue. And two, I learned I need a home for everything or I won’t see that it’s out of place, and that meant a lot of things now needed official homes.
If you’re curious how it ended, well it’s still something I’m working on. I realized that I am a Crickett Organizer (here’s the link to the YouTube Video from Cas with the Clutterbug) it helped me see that I will struggle with organization until I make a full plan for everything—did I mention it takes a while? Needless to say, the shovel has a home. 😉
This articulation of the actual problem can take a while. You really need to dig to the bottom of the issue. Here are some things that you should ask yourself about your pain point:
Is it a management issue for you?
Maybe you’re like me and you have an issue with how you manage things, as in your system doesn’t work for you.
Do you need more structure?
I often feel resistance to the word “structure” it feels rigid and inflexible, but it helps to ask yourself if you don’t have a system in place to manage things, then it can always feel like you’re in crisis mode because you aren’t doing the required maintenance to keep it out of crisis mode. An example of this was my pen latches, they’d get loose from the dogs jumping up on them. When I didn’t have a system for checking them, preventing the problem, I would only fix them when a dog would get out, which could lead to a fight, the risk of the wrong breeding pair, or a dog getting out of the yard. It was ALWAYS stressful, but with some structure—or a system—I can check that each weak and prevent the stress and irritation.
Do you need different or better facilities?
It’s easy to confuse a facility problem for a dog problem. For example, giardia was something that seemed like a dog issue, they weren’t healthy and it was an issue. Ultimately, it came down to having better facilities that no longer exposed my dogs to reinfection with giardia.
Do you need different dogs?
Sometimes we just have the wrong dogs. I had a mom who was super messy, most of my moms poop in the same spot in the kennels, but this dog would go anywhere, run through it, no concept of staying clean. Her puppies learned this and they were messy, too, it was a nightmare. I kept thinking I had a facility problem, but the truth was, she was a messy mom and became more problems than she was worth.
Often we feel irritated by a problem because we don’t fully understand what is happening. We run into a contract issue because we didn’t know what we really needed in our contract, or we spread an infection through our kennels because we didn’t know how it was transmitted. If you find yourself at a loss in an area, consider spending some time researching it to make it better. I have so many resources inside the Dog Breeder Society, it’s what it was made for.
Do you need more help?
As in hiring someone or asking the family for assistance? Maybe we are spread too thin. For a while, when I was helping Bill with construction, I wasn’t able to clean my kennels with the pressure washer every week, we were just so busy. I felt so irritated they were always messy, then it was a lot to clean when I did get the chance since the timing in between deep cleans. I decided to hire one of our guys to pressure wash the kennels each week. He was awesome, it was always done, I wasn’t stressed, and it made things so much better.
Do you need more YOU time?
A common problem I see dog breeders struggle with is having time for themselves and their families. You might feel like the dogs are driving you crazy, but really it’s the fact that you don’t have any time to yourself, you never get to step away from breeding, even in the evening. This can happen if your dogs are in your home, especially in the center of the living room, or if you don’t have a system for cleaning or your facilities are difficult to clean, this can take away the time you’d have available. It’s really hard to feel in balance when you don’t have time for yourself. It’s a quick path to resentment…and I’m not just taking about you resenting your dogs, but your family—who wants to spend time with you—may resent you for being unavailable.
WHAT IS FAILING?
The whole goal of the articulation part of the process is to see what is failing, what link is broken. When you have figured that out, or those things out…chances are there will be a few items on the list…or a lot…then you’re ready to move to step 3.
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3. Brainstorm Solutions
Now that you know WHAT isn’t working, you can complete step 3, brainstorming solutions. You want to look at all the ways things could be better. For example, me hiring the guy to pressure wash my kennels weekly. Maybe you need to get the dogs out of your house. Maybe you need to build facilities or exercise pens to better maintain the dogs.
You can put together the individual solutions for each problem you’re working with. Part of that will be analyzing when you’ll see the return on your investment, or ROI. For example, implementing exercise pens may give you 15 minutes back on your day every day. While getting the puppies litter box trained may give you some cleaning time back. You’ll need to review how beneficial the solution will be, while also considering what it will cost in time or money to fix it. For example, exercise pens may be expensive, but learning how to litter box train could be a really quick investment of your time with a big return in getting your time back.
You also want to consider how long it’ll be before you get some return on the investment. With the above examples, you’ll get time back quickly, and less stress, but how long will it take to recoup the finances involved? Is it worth it? If a facility will take years to pay off, does it justify the expense? Is there a better use of those funds?
I also think you have to look at your quality of life when making these decisions. It’s very easy to just look at things from a business perspective and what will bring more profit, but don’t forget yourself in that equation. If I only ever did things for my kids, never took time for myself, never read a book I wanted to read (okay, let’s be honest, I listen to nearly everything, I hardly read), then I would end up resenting my kids. I would be shorter fused with them because it would feel like they were taking away from me. Obviously, they’re kids, have no control over this and certainly aren’t vindictive, but this little war would play out in my head. I owe it to my kids to be balanced emotionally for them, same for our dogs, and the only way we can do this stuff is to consider our quality of life, too. If I’m not in a good place, I’m no good to anyone, not my kids, not Bill, not my buyers, and not my dogs. It isn’t selfish, it’s just realistic, I simply don’t have the energy to put into things if I’m not in a good place myself.
To summarize, when brainstorming solutions, consider the return on investment, but remember that can be paid in money, time, and sometimes it pays in peace of mind.
4. Make a Plan and Execute
Step 4 is where it all comes together, you now have your various brainstormed solutions, an idea of the ROI, and now the goal is to put it all together into a plan and then execute the plan.
First, I want you to look at what will give you the most ROI. Sometimes it seems like it’s ideal to buy something that makes whelping and puppy rearing easier, but we have only four litters a year, so we only need that stuff a few months. If we took that money and spent it on something that saved us time with our adult dogs, like exercise pens, well the time we get back may be a little less per day, BUT it’s something we would use EVERY DAY, all year round. Which would bring you less stress and more peace of mind?
We can take our solutions and rank them, see what’s the best choice or options for us.
Now, don’t forget the cumulative improvement that can happen. What if you are struggling because your dogs have giardia? By putting up some exercise pens that are easier to clean or that prevent exposure, you will not only save time and money in treating giardia, but you might also save time managing dogs. What could you do with the extra time and money you saved? Could you spend an extra hour or two on your kennel website during the week? That might help you narrow buyers so the ones who are calling you are more aligned with your idea puppy buyer, so you’re now managing fewer calls and the calls are more productive. These cumulative gains are why established programs are much easier to manage, so many things are already in place, things that simply make running a breeding program easier.
5. Review and Pivot
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” a translation of Robert Burns’s quote, reminds us that despite our best attempts at planning, things won’t always go as we hoped.
Step 5 is all about reviewing your plan, its execution, and the results you’re getting. You may find that your exercise pens don’t prevent barking and now that’s a new problem or your first attempt at litter box training pups might be really frustrating and take some more brain power and time. It’s at these moments we need to again review the process, analyze the problem and see if we can pivot or tweak what we’re doing so that we can make it better.
Don’t expect perfection, expect progress. Sometimes that progress is learning of a new issue to deal with and that’s okay, too. The more we know, good or bad, the more we have to work with to make it better. So we try some things, change them, try again, and through that learning and trial it gets better.
I made you a checklist that gives you all the steps for this process and some things to think about. You can grab it in the show notes below.
If you’re at a complete loss on where to start, why not try my quiz? It helps you diagnose where you should put your focus in your breeding program, the quiz has different sets of questions based on where you’re at in your breeding journey, so even if you haven’t bred a litter, there’s help for you. After the quiz, you’ll get an email with the option to take a free mini course on the specific breeding pillar you scored. People are loving the mini courses. Check it out at honestdogbreeder.com/quiz.
Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host Julie Swan. If you found this episode helpful, please leave a review, it helps other honest breeders find our amazing community. Thank you again and I’ll see you in the next episode!