It happens. A litter is born, whether the market is a little wonky, you haven’t quite gotten your name out there like you wanted, or life happened and you plum forgot to really get out there with your advertising…and here you are, puppies are 6, 8, or maybe 10 or 12 weeks old, and you have some left to sell.
I could preach about how you need to build a waitlist, be diligent about social media, or work on your website, but the truth is, these things happen. Sometimes you have leftover puppies.
Buyers would sometimes ask me what I would do with leftover puppies. I think for most of them it was curiosity, just wondering, I think some were looking to get a deal on a second, but it’s a good question nonetheless. I used to tell these buyers that I had a good recipe for puppy stew…try it out sometime, it’s hilarious the facial expressions you’ll get.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little crude, I think it’s funny, I’ve been in a Halloween mood recently. The kids are pretty excited.
Really though, what do you do with puppies that haven’t sold? Well, it’s tough, but there isn’t a drop dead date you have to have them sold by, you just have to keep working on selling until they’re gone. I know there’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach the day they turn eight weeks and you still have puppies without a home, but just take a deep breath, it’s not too bad, we can get through this.
Should you reduce price?
When puppies haven’t sold, most people’s first inclination is to reduce the puppies’ price. In some instances this will work. Usually the price isn’t the problem, though, it’s more often you haven’t gotten in front of enough people, in essence, you don’t have a price problem, you have a marketing problem.
Before reducing price, see if you can get in front of more eyes. This helps if you have a social media account going, but that doesn’t always work, sometimes you have to go to them, instead of them coming to you.
So how do we find them? We look at our ideal puppy buyer, the person who would succeed with one of our puppies. I hope this point gets embedded in your brain where you get irritated when I say it because you’ve heard it so much. It really is the key to everything with your breeding program and the success of your puppies and their families.
Okay, so we have our ideal puppy buyer, now we need to look at where they’ll be looking for their puppy. This comes down to demographics a lot, for example if they’re on Facebook more, which is common for people around 45 and older, while you’ll see younger buyers on Instagram, and younger still in places like TikTok and Snapchat. Yet, again, these marketing locations are better for long-term waitlist building, as in building your waitlist all year round. One thing you should absolutely do when trying to sell older puppies, make sure that when they first click on your kennel name that you have a note that you have available puppies. On Instagram for example, write in your bio that you have available puppies or something like that and have the link in the bio lead right to the page with the adoptable dogs on your website.
When you have puppies that you need to move now, it’s best to opt for broker sites, places that let you list individual puppies, like Gooddog, AKC Marketplace, or specific sites for certain breeds. When I first started breeding, I built a lot of awareness around my dogs through a broker site, gundogbreeders.com, I was able to pay to put a listing either for a litter or individual dogs. I was also able to list my kennel as a breeder in Arizona, and in the blurb about my kennel I wrote that we had puppies and to contact for more information.
Another controversial suggestion, but that has been very successful, is to use Facebook Groups. Despite the fact that it’s against Facebook’s policies, there are many puppy searching groups. I have found that the ones that are large and not breed specific are generally a waste of time, the buyers on those haven’t been my favorite, often looking for a deal, not the right dog, BUT the groups that are specific to the breed are generally pretty good. I recommend that you are EXTREMELY careful about reading the group rules and following them, erring on the side of caution.
Another side note, these groups are often for an entire country, because they cover so much area they have a lot of buyers, BUT they won’t always be in a position to drive to you, it helps to have some plans for either delivery, flying, or hiring a nanny to get your dogs to other locations, as these questions will arise quickly once you have started communicating with someone from a Facebook group. The best thing is to encourage the conversation to move to Facebook messenger, as you can openly talk there, especially because often the comment chain will flag the post on Facebook.
Why Facebook, amongst many other companies, has decided to turn away all breeders because there are some bad apples, is a story for another day. I will say that since starting this podcast—not because of me, but the culture change I’ve seen—is that there are many more people open to dog breeders and they really do want dogs from honest dog breeders.
Oh, and another thing, understand that all the wonderful branding, marketing, and personality you’ve put into your breeding program may be lost on a broker page or Facebook. You may get people price shopping and not understanding the quality they’re getting. Try not to beat yourself up about this and try to stay calm, I know my blood pressure has gone up many times when the conversation started with “How much are your puppies?” However, this is the nature of these sort of sites and the buyers that are on them. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor bad dog owners, they just aren’t educated yet, but that gives you a great opportunity to show them how wonderful your dogs really are, they can turn into some of your best buyers.
On these sites you can sometimes see where your price aligns against others. It’s not a bad idea to be a little cheaper than the others. This will invariably bring you a few more buyers inquiring. If nothing else, it’ll give you a little practice talking with them. I wouldn’t say you want to be drastically lower in price, but about 10-20% cheaper depending on the price, so if the dogs are generally $2000, then list yours at $1700-$1800 on the site. If the general price is $1000, be $800, if the general price is $4000, be $3600.
When you drop price, please never use any of the real estate or retail marketing phrases like “priced to move” these are live animals and that will come across like they’re not worth caring about. You want to give them every bit as much value and care as you did for the puppies that are already sold. The mindset is that you haven’t found the right fit yet, not that something is wrong with the dog.
Occasionally you get buyers that you really like, but your price is just out of their budget, but you know they’d take excellent care of the dog. I used to keep a list of these buyers. With these buyers you can reach out and say something along the lines of, “we have this puppy and the buyers backed out, they forfeited their deposit, so I can sell the puppy at a lower price, would you like him?”
You may notice that this is a bit of a white lie, technically there was no deposit on this puppy, so why Julie, the so-called Honest Dog Breeder, might we use such a tactic? Because it retains the value of the puppy in their eyes. If you sell a dog for cheaper and you wouldn’t sell it at that price before, you have to explain why that was okay this time. Most people will assume something is wrong with the dog, so we have to explain that the dog is fine, and this tactic does that.
I have also been super honest with people and told them I simply failed to market them and so that’s why I have them. That the leftover puppies are totally my fault as I got wrapped up in managing my life.
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Offer the Dog as a Guardian Home or Co-Own Opportunity
Another option is to reduce the price under the guise of a co-own or guardian home opportunity. This, yet again, retains value in the puppy, potentially even increasing value, while allowing you to reduce the price. The situation would work like this: you offer the dog as a discounted rate in exchange for being able to breed the dog at a later date.
Remember, the difference between guardian homes and co-own is if the person is on the papers, as in, if the owner is on the paper with the breeder, this would technically be a co-own. If you are the only person on the papers, then it would be a guardian home. The concept of a co-own verse a guardian home is that a co-own has interest in the offspring of the dog, while the guardian home doesn’t.
I’ve often found that it goes over better if I write my guardian home contracts as co-owns, so the buyer is on the papers with me. This helps them take ownership and responsibility for the dog. In this instance, they have no interest in breeding themselves, so it falls under the concept of a guardian home, where essentially it’s their dog, but you have the breeding rights. However, in some guardian homes, the dog is only in the breeder’s name until they’re done breeding.
Essentially with this selling tactic it often works best if you offer it to people who have previously purchased a dog from you, the ones who would gladly take a second, but they don’t want to pay the full price for the second one. It’s also nice because you’ll know if you can trust them in this situation.
Last note on this situation, don’t feel you’re obligated to take the dog and actually breed it. Most of the time it is an inconvenience for the buyers to take the dog away and breed it and do all the things, so they won’t be upset if you never ask to breed the dog, well not most of the time. With females, often they get excited to see the puppies, so you may need to contend with this. Regardless, if the dog has any major defect that would obviously make it so you wouldn’t want to breed the dog, then don’t offer this option.
Reach Out to Other Breeders in Your Breed Community
A last tactic is to reach out to other breeders in your community and see if they have buyers you can offer puppies to. This idea came from a breeder in our society, it was a fantastic solution, she had lots of puppies, and a fellow breeder in the breed had been very short on puppies. She was able to sell her puppies to the other breeder’s waitlist, while giving that breeder a kickback for sending the buyers.
You might think this one feels a little icky, but it can work really well. It can be hard in the breeder world to have the mindset of abundance, especially with other breeders, it seems like so much of breeder-to-breeder interaction is competitive and judgmental. Like you feel the second you ask if they have slots on their waitlist you could sell to they’ll say, “Oh? Looks like you screwed up? Why isn’t your program selling puppies? What’s wrong with your stuff?” Yet, I think breeders are actually more forgiving and understanding than we often think. We’ve ALL been in the position of trying to sell puppies that are past their go-home date, so you might be surprised at them being open to the idea, especially if they get a commission for the sale.
It’s generally easiest to do this when working with a breeder who you know and who knows your dogs and is confident in what you’re producing. Often this would be the breeder you got one of your breeders from, but it can also be a breeder you share a stud with or just a fellow breeder in the breed that you chat with.
I know for me, I had two people who bought dogs from me and wanted to breed their females to my studs. I was more than happy to work out a deal with them selling some of those puppies to buyers on my waitlist. It was particularly helpful that I knew the type of puppies that would be produced and I was confident in them. I also needed the help with extra puppies because I was in the middle of retiring and replacing females and I didn’t get the timing right and was short on puppies.
This happens sometimes, more seasoned breeders get short on puppies and then they feel like they’re leaving their buyers hanging, waiting too long for puppies. It ends up being a good solution for both parties. Just remember, the right answer would be to give a bit of a kickback to the other breeder, somewhere between 10-20% of the final sale price.
Regardless, it’s worth the ask.
What to do with the puppies that are still home?
You still have to manage the puppies that are leftover as they get older, which as they do only get messier, crazier, and more skilled at escaping. If you only have one or two leftover, it helps if you can start to integrate them into the flow of a home, so they start crate training, they start getting fully house broken, not just litter box trained.
If you can add some socialization, take them with you to the store or in car rides, all of this will help the transition to their new home. I know this is hard, so give yourself a little grace with it. For some of you with little kids, a job, a husband who works an intense job, or if you already have a lot of dogs or other litters on the ground, this simply may not be possible. The goal is to do the best you can. For every “yes” we say to something, we give a silent “no” to something else. You have to pick and choose your battles and consider the payoff. If doing the extra training with your puppies would take away the precious and limited family time you have, it isn’t worth it.
However, if you have time to socialize, train, and housebreak your puppies, this can retain their value as they age since they come with training. Again, look at what will work for your situation. You might be better off spending 30 minutes a day advertising the puppy instead of training him. Those puppy days are precious for buyers, so we want them to have the opportunity to share those moments with their puppy and build that bond, but of course, we have to help the puppy and buyer find each other.
A final thought.
It is common for breeders to be hard on ourselves. When you have leftover puppies you often run the line in your head that you’re a failure, that you suck at breeding, and you may question if it was all worth it to do this breeding thing. Believe me, I hear you, I had those conversations with myself a lot, and even more so when I have leftover puppies. Yet, I realized that these things happen, sometimes, well most of the time, I’m to blame, but it isn’t a terrible thing, it just means I didn’t put as much time into advertising as I should’ve. Maybe life got in the way, or my son needed more help with reading that semester. It doesn’t mean the decisions you made were bad, but it does shed light on where you can improve.
So, as always, with everything breeding, reflect back on what worked, what didn’t work, and how you can fix it next time. It’s a much better use of your time than wondering if you’re a failure. I don’t think anything that’s worth it comes failure free, part of the journey is failing and growing. After all, I could only write you this podcast because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, many times. You could probably build a quilt with the t-shirts at this point.
Remember, when you have leftover puppies, it’s almost always a failure to market rather than a quality issue. The failure in marketing comes from two things: failure to market in general, as in you simply didn’t put it out there that you had puppies, or only put it on your website, but you don’t have traffic to it, OR you don’t know your ideal puppy buyer well enough, so your marketing is falling flat when it lands in front of people.
I know that so much of breeding is business, that’s why the Dog Breeder Society doesn’t just tackle dog and facility management, it tackles the business and marketing side of things. If you want more information on these topics, please jump on our waitlist, we’ll let you know when the doors open. We’d love to have you a part of our community of honest breeders.