You hear the terms tossed around all the time: guardian homes and co-owns, but what are they really? What’s the difference? More importantly, WHEN should you use them in your program?
First let’s do a brief breakdown of the differences between guardian homes and co-owns. The difference is essentially whether or not both parties have an interest in the offspring of the dog or not. In a guardian home, the guardian home does not have interest in the offspring of the dog, they wanted a pet and have agreed to let the breeder use the dog for breeding in some capacity. I had a breeder once say she wrote her guardian home contracts as the owner owed the dog, but she, the breeder, owned its reproductive organs. I’ll be honest, it gave me a odd visual of reproductive organs floating separated in midair, but hey, I’m weird like that.
In a co-own, on the other hand, both owners have an interest in the offspring of the dog. Co-owns include a lot of different options and scenarios, which we will discuss shortly.
One thing to remember as we’re discussing: in both instances, these relationships should be guided by a good contract that is written to the benefit of each party involved.
Let’s dive in to some instances for using a guardian home.
The most common use for a guardian home is to keep genetics available that you don’t need frequently or that you need just one puppy from. I have a guardian home relationship with a buyer right now. He has a brother to one of my breeding females. He is out of one of my most dynamite breeding pairs who I recently retired. I knew that I would want to keep the genetics available, but I only had one female I could breed him to, and I plan on breeding her to another stud that I have, so he would only be used once a year at best. Having an additional stud at my home, just so I could use him once a year, felt like a lot of management for not a lot of benefit for me, but especially not for the dog. As you know, managing studs can be heavy, it’s a lot. The more studs I have, the more exercise pens I need, the more careful I have to be with management when there are females in heat, and they do eat a lot more than the ladies.
My goal is to use this stud once, maybe twice, with this one female so that I can keep a daughter to further my breeding program. Which is the perfect use of a guardian home. It allows me the ability to retain the genetics without having to maintain a dog.
The buyer that I selected for this situation is amazing. He’s bought a dog from me before and he’s not only fun, but most importantly I trust him. The dog is in great hands, will have a high quality of life, and he’s understanding of my need for the genetics.
Another use for a guardian home would be to help you expand the number of dogs in your program because you can’t keep them at your home. This could be based on the municipality where you live and a limit on dogs, for example you’re only allowed to have 4 or 6 dogs in your household based on the city ordinance. It could also be because you’re renting a place and they have limits in the leasing contract.
Some breeders feel that guardian homes are better ways to ensure the dog will have high quality of life and a good home for the entirety of its life through a guardian home. For example, when a breeder retires one of their breeding dogs, they usually want to find them a home, this can be a little hard when the dog is older, so by using a guardian home, the dog already has a forever home, you just got to borrow them for a few litters.
A last thought is that guardian homes can serve as a backup for your genetics. A few years ago I bought an old RV. The RV was parked next to my dog shed, where I keep supplies and such. I needed an adapter to use it with my existing RV plug, which I grabbed in town. I was pleasantly surprised when both AC units kicked on and were blowing icy air. My daughter’s little Rat Terrier, Rosie, didn’t know she was a dog and enjoyed a lot of special treatment. I needed to run to the store, so I thought it would be nice if she was able to relax in the RV by herself for a few hours while we were gone. Just as we stepped out the RV door I looked back at her and thought, “She’s still young, I don’t want an accident on this carpet.” With that thought I called her out of the RV and left her outside to run the yard with the other dogs.
A few hours later, as I came down the long road, about 5 miles, that took me from the main road to my street, I saw black smoke close to where my home was. I was nervous. As I made the turn onto my street there were 6 sheriff’s vehicles, ambulance, and firetruck. The RV had had a fire. It occurred to me later that the breaker panel in the RV had had two 50 AMP breakers. If you aren’t familiar, breakers are designed to be the weakest link in an electrical system, this way if there is a power surge it’ll force the breaker to “pop” and that breaks the circuit so no more power can get through the lines. This is a great way to prevent a fire. The breakers were too large compared with the wire that was used. The previous owner had replaced them, probably to prevent them from popping, ignoring the safety aspect. This meant that the breaker was no longer the weakest link in the wire and so when it overheated, it caused a fire in the walls of the RV.
We are very lucky we were not in the RV when this occurred, I can’t even think how scary that would’ve been for the kids, but I’m also beyond grateful that I kicked Rosie out before we left for town. Not only would that’ve hurt our breeding program, but my daughter would’ve been so heartbroken.
We don’t always know what’s going to happen, we don’t have control of everything, despite our best efforts. If you had a house fire and lost your dogs or had a tragic accident and lost one of your breeders, would your breeding program collapse? Using a few guardian homes is a decent back up plan to retain your genetics in the event of a tragedy. It’s a way to avoid putting “all your eggs in one basket.”
Should the anticipation of your home burning to the ground be the reason you use guardian homes? Probably not, but it is good to have backup plans. Another thing that’s helpful is requesting that buyers don’t spay or neuter their dogs for at least a year from their birthdate. This way, not only is it better for their joint health, muscle mass, and metabolism, but you’ll always have a year’s worth of dogs you’ve breed that should still be intact in the event you need to replace genetics you’ve lost. Most of my buyers would be very accommodating if I had a situation like I did and lost breeding dogs.
Lastly, a lot of breeders give away guardian dogs for free in exchange for the dog being in the breeding program. I don’t like this idea, people don’t value that which they don’t pay for. I believe you should charge for a dog in a guardian home, but you can always discount the price, give them a kickback after puppies, or refund them after they’ve completed their term with you.
Speaking of term. I do recommend you limit the amount of time they’ll be guardians for your program. There should be a date that they have full ownership of the dog and you are no longer someone they have to confer with. For me, that’s four years of age or four litters. But that’s up to you how you want to work it. Just remember that they should get something out of the deal. So make it worth their while.
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Let’s discuss co-owns.
Co-owns can be a bit more complicated because they can be executed in many different ways and further because both people have vested interest in the offspring of the co-own. For example with a guardian home, you don’t have to convince the guardian owner about the dog you want to breed his dog with, you have full control. In a co-own, it’s often a joint decision. If it isn’t a joint decision, that can cause tension in the relationship, while of course they’ll be tension if you don’t agree and it’s a joint decision.
Yet, there are many reasons to use co-owns. Let’s discuss some.
First, sharing a stud can be a really affordable way to have a stud. For example, say your fellow breeder friend and you want to go in on importing a dog. Often the travel expense to get the dog to your home will be as much as the purchase price of the dog. This makes it more affordable to get a better dog for your program. This could be really beneficial in a doodle breeding program where a Poodle stud is shared. It would work even if the other breeds the breeders had weren’t the same. However, you still want to make sure that the Poodle would be a good match for both breeding programs. All dogs are different and we want to make sure we aren’t doing our dogs and buyers a disservice by just using any Poodle.
As a bonus, when sharing a stud you can bounce him back and forth between both homes throughout the year and this reduces his food burden and management. These contracts work best when people live close to your home, generally no more than an hour apart. This way you can get him if you need to to breed a female. You’ll need to address things in your contract about what happens when you both need him at the same time. Will one owner be willing to have him and the other breeder’s female at the same time, so they can both use him? These are things you’ll want to sort out.
Alternatively, you could co-own a female. You’ll often see this in show prospect pups, where one puppy has show potential and is placed in a home where the co-owner will show her. The co-owner where the dog resides will want to breed her after a few titles, while the breeder, the other co-owner, may want to guarantee that the show owner is going to follow through with showing or may want to benefit from the offspring of a titled dog that she bred without having to do the actual showing. There are many situations in this sort of relationship. The key, again, will be to have a good contract, and ideally a way for the contract to end, either after a certain amount of time or after a certain milestone has been reached.
Some breeders use co-owns to retain control of those who buy their dogs to be breeders. They want the ability to approve or disapprove the breeding decisions of the other breeder. They say this is an in effort to protect their bloodlines. I guess I’m not a big fan of this one. I think it’s a little bit of baloney. You see, if I’m going to sell you a breeding dog, I want you to do well with it, but I want to keep the lines of communication open and I want you to feel like you can talk to me. I want to support you in your journey. If I was acting like the Wizard of Oz breathing over your shoulder while you’re trying to breed, you’ll just resent me. I don’t like that. I recommend that if people want to breed a dog they bought from you, you should take it as a compliment, talk with them, see if you can trust them in this sort of thing. If you feel comfortable, offer to help mentor if they need it, but I wouldn’t be on their case the whole time like a gate keeper. Just my thoughts.
This leads me to another situation for co-owns: new breeders mentored by seasoned breeders. What’s nice is getting in a situation where the new breeder can have mentorship through the seasoned breeder. The seasoned breeder can benefit from having some say in how the breeding turns out, while the new breeder can have guidance and gets some reassurance that the seasoned breeder will help because their name is on the paperwork. It can be a win-win. Of course it can be really complicated if you have very different ideas on how to raise a litter. For example, if one is all about the book and chemical dewormers, lots of vaccines, and the other wants to take a more natural approach using herbal dewormers and going sparingly on vaccines. These are philosophical differences that are hard to work together on. This can also be a complication if you share a stud when you make decisions on his health care.
However, I don’t believe you should ever put yourself in a place where a co-own nor a guardian home can ruin your breeding program. What I mean is that I fully believe you should have the dogs you need to keep your breeding program sustainable under your roof. It’s the only way you have control over them. To me, co-owns and guardian homes are bonuses, they’re ways to expand your program, keep more genetics available, and stay legal in your area.
A good rule of thumb is that if the loss of a dog would ruin or seriously setback your breeding program, then you should solely own him. If you can afford to lose the genetics, then it is okay to place him in a guardian home or co-own.
All co-owns and guardian homes are more complicated than merely owning the dogs because they come with the variable of another person—people can be so complicated 😉. A good contract will prevent a lot of issues that are derived from these sort of complications, they’ll also serve as a way to cover all the possible situations that can arise before they happen and before your emotions are getting tugged.
Ultimately, you have to weigh out the benefits with the complications and see what works the best for you.