I received an email from a man who is starting out his journey in dog breeding. He had been given an exciting opportunity to start a breeding program, his uncle had a dog that had never been picked up, and he couldn’t get ahold of the owner. The dog was a great base for this new breeder’s program, his uncle set it up so he could have her, he was just waiting on her to come into heat. After months without communication, the previous owner contacted the uncle, the breeder. It turned out that he was in the hospital struggling with covid, near death for months. He had been completely unable to manage anything, including letting the breeder know he wanted to take his dog back.
With the dog already transferred to his name, this eager new breeder could’ve kept the dog, told the guy it sucks, but that’s life, that’s business. He didn’t though, he knew he had to give the guy the dog back. He knew he couldn’t keep the dog, couldn’t do it in good conscience. He had to act as an honest breeder before he even got to start.
I read the email and I had to pause and take a deep breath. That’s was hard, he had been planning for months, excited for this female and what she would be to start his program, something he had wanted to do for many years, but had been unable. How frustrating it is to be so close to starting, including moving to a new home so he could better accommodate breeding, then to have it taken away so quickly. Yet, not just taken away, but he had to release it, to give it back.
Doing the right thing really sucks sometimes, but much like building the right foundation for your home…or new kennel building… the integrity you use in your breeding decisions, will build the foundation of your program. What does it really mean to be an honest dog breeder? It sounds good, but really, what does it mean? You just don’t lie? Naw, that’s too simple.
Being an honest dog breeder is comprised of three areas of decision making and how you navigate the waters as unexpected things arise, which they always do, don’t they?
A quick note on the unexpected, many breeders are hard on themselves for things going wrong in their breeding program that they didn’t anticipate, I would say nearly nine out of ten times you wouldn’t have been able to anticipate that issue without first trying something. Just remember, it’s important to try it out, and then learn when it doesn’t work out, make it better, be better from it next time instead. Many people take a mistake as an opportunity to rewrite themselves as a failure. Don’t be that guy, you’re not a failure, you’re just wiser because you know more now.
The three components of running an honest dog breeding program are taking care of your dogs, taking care of your buyers, and taking care of your family and yourself.
Taking Care of Your Dogs
Let’s dive in to taking care of your dogs and how that plays into being an honest dog breeder.
First, it means you take care of the breeding dogs you have. You make sure their needs are met, you keep them warm, safe, fed, and you work to meet their drives and energy needs. They feel a part of their environment and it meets their needs. This one is much the same as we would hope for the home for any of our puppies, we want them to have quality of life. Sure, things will be different when you have the number of dogs that you need to run a full breeding program, but just because it looks different when you are running a kennel, doesn’t mean their needs aren’t being met, it just means how you meet those needs will probably be different.
In addition to giving your dogs quality of life through their environment…you need to give them quality of life in your breeding decisions. For example, when you make a breeding decision and you know there is potential for the dog to have a defect or less-than-desirable trait, you need to weigh out how that trait will impact the quality of life of the dog. If a trait is merely cosmetic, like goofy ears or an odd tail set, well that’s one thing, but if the dog is likely to suffer from a set of negative recessive traits, hip dysplasia, or something else that will prevent the dog from having the quality of life he deserves, that’s something we shouldn’t do, it wouldn’t be right.
Where do you draw the line? It’s difficult as dogs are living creatures and, much like humans, they have their quirks and imperfections, if we only bred perfect dogs we wouldn’t breed any dogs. I think you need to draw the line at how much quality of life will be affected. If the dog will be living in pain, require medication, or have a shortened life, those breedings need to be avoided or a better mate selected. If you find that about 10% or less of the dogs have issues in a breeding pair, then, if everything else is okay, continue to breed them, but if more than 10% of the pups have a defect, you should opt to change things up.
Of course, this 10% is a guide, it’s a slider that you can determine for yourself based on how the dogs are affected. If you know that say 25% of the dogs will be deaf, then you shouldn’t breed that litter.
You then take it upon yourself to make sure you’re putting your puppies in homes where they’ll be taken care and given the quality of life they deserve. This is where it really pays to understand your ideal puppy buyer, who they are, their needs, and the type of dog that fits into those needs with the least amount of friction.
On the flip side to that, another element of being an honest breeder in taking care of your dogs is taking them back when it doesn’t work out. I try and have a no-questions-asked policy, which more means I won’t ask about their relationship or what happened, I’ll just ask about the dog’s quirks, issues, or where he struggles. I never try and place blame in a situation with a returned dog, I’m just grateful they brought the dog to me and didn’t sell him on craigslist.
These moments are great for us as breeders, while they hurt your heart in the moment…and that feeling of being a failure can try and weasel its way in…it really is a good thing, it means they trust you to take the dog back and find a new home. It’s also an EXCELLENT learning opportunity. Most of the time, a returned dog is the result of a poor fit of lifestyle and drive of the dog…which you probably already know by now.
This means it’s a great opportunity to see where your marketing and buyer assessment combined with your puppy personality and drive created a mismatch? Take the time to learn from it.
Is anyone else feeling how much breeding is making you do personal self-development?
Then you take what you figure out and you adjust. Sometimes that means you adjust what you’re doing with your dogs, as in you change up breeding pairs, sometimes it means you change up your ideal puppy buyer or work to more accurately advertise what your dogs are, where people struggle with them.
Which brings us to our second pillar of running an honest breeding program: taking care of your buyers.
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Taking care of your buyers
Taking care of your buyers seems like an obvious thing, but to really do it honestly you need to hit certain criteria, when you do, you’ll set yourself apart from your fellow breeders.
Of course, one of the simplest things is to be available. Your buyers should be able to contact you with questions both before they get their puppy and after they have their dog. It doesn’t mean you have to be on-call 24-hours per day, but they should be able to get to talk with you within a reasonable amount of time. Whether they send a text that they need to chat or they ask you questions on email. Being available allows you to learn about them, their needs, their struggles, and how your pups actually turn out with the people who took them home.
Not only is it important to be a part of the support network for your buyers, but it helps to give them the confidence to take care of their dog in the best possible way. They’re never alone in the care of their dog.
Don’t freak out, you’ll still have boundaries, but it’s kinda like being able to call mom from your college dorm room.
The most important thing when it comes to taking care of your buyers is knowing who they are. Who is your ideal puppy buyer? What is their life like? Why do they want this type of dog? And, most importantly, what do they expect the life with the dog to be like?
So many breeders don’t think about the person the puppy will go with when they breed their dogs, they’re trying to hit a structure, a look, or a drive, but they fail to put the other half of the puzzle together, forgetting the person who will be buying that dog and hoping for an exciting and enriching life with that dog.
Honest breeders have to consider the buyer because the buyer’s success will define the success of the breeding program in many respects. This often means we have to turn down buyers who won’t be a good fit for the dog, they may not be a good fit for the breed or they may not be a good fit for your particular dogs. Either way, it doesn’t do anyone a service to sell a puppy to a family who will struggle with it.
Thinking back to the dogs who were returned to me, there was nothing wrong with the dog, but it was the wrong environment. It also wasn’t the owners’ faults. It was merely a bad fit. My ex husband isn’t a bad guy, he’s just not the guy for me. Bill, he’s a much better fit…he embraces my crazy, and dare I say…might even enjoy it a little?
Dogs and buyers are like dating pairs. The buyers are looking for a puppy that matches their expectations for what a dog should provide, much like we look for certain expectations to be met in our significant other. Knowing that this isn’t a blame game, it’s just not a good fit, removes the heavy emotions that come with getting a dog back, but also helps you not feel like a failure as a breeder, instead you’re just getting better at your matchmaking skills.
As an honest breeder, when you see a failure in the alignment of the buyers with your pups, again, work to break that down. What expectations of the dog did the buyer have that weren’t right? Did they expect the puppy to want to sleep on their lap for eight hours while they worked on their computer? Did they expect the dog to be fully potty trained? Did they expect that it wouldn’t shed?
Sometimes people will have the right lifestyle and your dogs will be a good match, but they have inappropriate expectations, not because they aren’t a good fit, but because they aren’t yet educated. It then becomes our job as honest breeders to see these buyers, see where they may have misunderstood and then educate them, providing information and resources in a format they want to consume…you know if you have blog readers or YouTubers as your ideal puppy buyer. 😉
When an honest dog breeder detects a mismatch of things, we look for the bridge, whether that’s education, an adjustment in marketing, or even a change in breeding decisions. We are always looking to hone the relationship of buyer and puppy, so they can give each other the high quality of life they both deserve.
In addition to better understanding and educating your buyers. You can step up your game as an honest breeder by developing your people skills. I’m not saying go on reading about Zig Ziglar and his sales techniques, that’s not what I mean. More it’s about being able to listen, learn, and teach. When you improve your love and compassion for your buyers, which naturally happens as you deepen your skills and better see things through their eyes, you’ll remove many of your defenses.
I used to be abrasive a lot when I felt threatened, I would be irritated, frustrated, and I put off that energy. I was looking to defend my decisions or the puppies I raised, but what I was missing is that, no matter what I felt I did right or wrong, it didn’t change the fact that people were struggling or had a question. Simply put: it wasn’t about me. I was acting like I had to prove something, but I didn’t need to prove anything, I just needed to help, to serve.
So much of our ego is riding on our breeding decisions, yet if we really look at those situations with buyers it has nothing to do with us, it’s all about them and their needs. When we take ourselves out of the tug-of-war that we often get mentally and emotionally trapped in, we can see how we can better serve. That insight is where honest breeders shine, they take the hard phone calls, they take responsibility where it’s due, and instead of trying to explain why it was okay things weren’t right, they don’t fuss over the mistake, they move forward, educate, serve, and be better next time.
Again with the pain of the personal development right? It’s like it’s never ending and only shines brighter when you’re running a business.
Taking care of your family and yourself
Lastly, honest breeders take care of their families and themselves.
There’s that silly line you hear: “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.” Now, I don’t really agree with that, the world shouldn’t revolve around mama and keeping her happy, although it does sound kinda nice, and coffee in bed does sound pretty tantalizing. Nevertheless, the undercurrent of the quote is that mama is the foundation of the family, she takes care of everyone, so if she’s not happy, she can’t take care of those around her.
Now, of course, you can’t actually make anyone happy, you can be considerate and caring, understanding and give them resources to be happy, but they have to decide to be happy themselves. I have to choose to be happy myself, Bill can’t make me happy, but he sure facilitates a lot of things that allow me to feel that happiness, my big red truck anyone?
It doesn’t just apply to mama though, it applies to all of us, we all need to be okay ourselves in order for us to be the people we want to be for the loved ones in our lives. That’s the whole idea of putting your own mask on in an airplane before you help your child with one. When we take responsibility for those people in our lives, we first have to take responsibility for our own happiness, or, instead, of the ridiculous idea of being happy all the time, I’ll settle for taking care of myself.
Regardless, I’ve learned that what makes us happy is being in alignment with ourselves. Well what does that mean? Ghandi put it best when he said, “Happiness is when what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.” Sounds good, right? But what does it mean?
Imagine I get asked to go to dinner with a friend, but I really need to get some stuff done for my breeding program. I might say yes to going out, but then think I shouldn’t, knowing I’ll be frustrated later, when I do go out. I won’t feel great when I’m out with the friend because I’ll feel pulled to do things with the dogs that I was supposed to do.
Imagine if it were my daughter who needed more time from me. I feel pulled to help her, I tell her I will help her, that we’ll have a girls night, but, while I want to be there, present with her, I am not because my facilities aren’t where they need to be and so I have to delay or shorten our time together because of the dogs.
In both instances, the words I say, what I think, and what I do are not in alignment, they conflict with one other. Being pulled in different directions takes it toll, usually in resentment.
This is the main reason breeders need to make money, there are many, but making money, making a profit, allows you to get a benefit that keeps you in alignment, it facilitates a way for you to do what you do as a benefit to your family, as a sort of compensation for the time you’ve dedicated.
When I was going through a bad time in my marriage with my ex, I remember waking up hating the dogs, hating my life, and realizing that I was not a very good mom. I wasn’t present for my kids. I was unable to be the mom I wanted to be, I was unable to be the wife I wanted to be, and I wasn’t the dog breeder I wanted to be, what I knew I could be. My resentment, hurt, and depression caused me to be out of alignment with myself, and I felt like a failure in just about every area of my life.
Every day we make decisions, we say yes to something, invariably saying no to something else. The goal is to know your intention with your breeding program. Know how that intention aligns with your life, such that your breeding program facilitates you being IN alignment, not the cause of you to be out of alignment.
You might wonder how dog breeding can help you be in alignment. One of my struggles, which has been voiced by many breeders, is that they wish they had more time with their family, many women would prefer to be stay-at-home moms to be present for their children, do homeschool, or even just to keep the family centered, facilitated, and organized, but they feel guilty not bringing in any income. They feel the family needs them at home, but it’s a burden to give up on any income from mom. Some, me included, feel like being a mom is wonderful, but there’s still a level of intellectual stimulation that I don’t get from Cookie Monster. It’s love, but my brain still needs an external challenge to work on.
Dog breeding creates such a unique situation for those wanting more quality time with their families who are also looking to bring in some money and have the intellectual stimulation they seek.
My hope is for you to be in alignment. I want you to be the happy man Ghandi speaks of, one who has harmony in their thoughts, words, and actions. I can’t release it yet, but I’m working on a little something for you that will help you get in alignment with your breeding program, so it isn’t taking away from your family and yourself. Make sure you’re on our email list (sign up for the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program below to get on the list) so you can get notified when it releases. Society members…of course you’ll have first access.