I get this question asked a LOT…everyone wants to use guardian homes because it seems like a great way to grow your program without having all the extra work that comes with managing more dogs, it also seems like it would give the breeding dog a higher quality of life because of the one-on-one time with the family, more like a pet than a breeder.
For all these points, I completely understand why breeders are looking to this way of building their program. However, I want to explore this concept a second before I tell you how to go about it.
Many people who are asking me this question are new breeders, I’ve been asked where to find guardian homes in the same email as where to find a first breeding dog.
As you all know…breeding is complex and dynamic. It’s an amazing intellectual challenge that will grow you as a person. Here’s one more way it’s more dynamic than some other endeavors: breeding drops you into the role of an authority figure. When you breed dogs you’re automatically dropped into the role of subject matter expert–at least that’s how you’ll be seen by your buyers…and in the case of guardian homes, your guardians.
Yet, when you first start out, you’re usually not the expert with your dogs and there’s a lot you aren’t going to know about breeding. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but more to acknowledge that breeding is a journey. I had a lot of false confidence when I started and, for better or worse, it wasn’t until I had been breeding a while that I really became that expert buyers think you’re supposed to be.
When you place a dog in a guardian home, you’re acting as the subject matter expert, the authority of the dogs in your program, yet, if you do this when you’re new, then there’s a good chance you aren’t going to be able to support your guardian owner the way they need. This is no reflection of your intelligence or how well you can learn and read, it’s merely a reflection of your experience.
It’s unfair to take on a guardian home owner and tell them you’ll be there to support them and help them, when you, yourself, aren’t in a position to do that as you would like.
So what do we do about that? When is it a good time to start add a guardianship to your program?
Well, it depends, I think, experience-wise that you should look to add a guardian homes when you have had at least 6-10 litters and you’re comfortable with your dogs, the whelping process, what they are producing, and you understand your ideal puppy buyer well. This experience will allow you to have the experience and understanding of the hands-on part of breeding, you’ll know it in a way that isn’t something you can explain in books, even in video. It’s the combination of all the things that come from being in the thick of it, good or bad.
It’s knowing in a way that a cattle rancher knows his cows, he can be sitting there on his horse and see a cow 100 yards away and know something isn’t right. He wouldn’t be able to tell you from there what exactly isn’t right, but he just knows and then he can go and investigate.
When you have a little experience with your own dogs and you are no longer in anxiety over breeding and worrying about things, but you’re doing them, you know what you’re doing, and you’re comfortable with the process, that’s when you can start to entertain guardian homes, any sooner and it’ll be a lot more stressful than it is beneficial.
Want to Get the 4 Places to Find Guardian Homes Cheatsheet?
When looking into a guardian home consider: is this a single point of failure?
I truly feel that you should have the dogs you need to sustain your program, or at least your financial needs, in your own home. This would mean that all the dogs you NEED are under your control, under your own roof. When you add guardians you are adding more variables, things you can’t control, and when you give up control, you increase the likelihood that you’ll have complications and issues that arise from people, who aren’t as experienced as you, managing your dogs.
We have to look at the impact that your guardian home making a mistake or failing to provide the dog will bring to your program. The guardian home misses her coming into heat and tells you too late, they’re unable to bring the female to you, and so you miss that heat cycle. Imagine if you had 3 females at home and 1 female in a guardian home. This would reduce your litters by 25% this season. Is that acceptable? Will running a program with only 3 females sustain your needs and goals?
What if you had all your females in guardian homes and planned to breed back-to-back, averaging two heat cycles in a year…what if ALL your guardian homes missed one of those two cycles, you’d be down 50%. As much as you try to control the situation, you’ve just put all your eggs in a basket that you don’t have control of. No matter how good your systems and contracts are, you can’t control other people, you can’t guarantee anything.
I’ve also seen people choose to put studs in guardian homes. A common complaint I hear from breeders is, “it’s too hard to manage a stud or multiple studs” so to take the stress of managing a stud or studs away, they want to place a stud in a guardian home.
I have a few concerns with this idea of placing your studs in another home. First, this comes down to the single-point-of-failure concept again. If you have no stud at your home, then you are relying on someone else to make the stud available. Sometimes guardian homes go poorly, they don’t feed the dog a good food, he’s overweight and can’t get the job done, or they simply don’t want to follow through with the contract and they take the dog and stop returning your calls. All of a sudden you don’t have a stud. You can collapse your entire program by placing your stud in another home.
Another issue is not knowing your stud well enough. It’s important to know the dogs you are producing, not just know their structure, but their temperament, their personality, their drives, and their quirks. It’s an essential component of working with your buyers and being able to determine if the puppies you’re producing are a good fit for them. These qualities are so genetic and not living with your stud will prevent you from knowing him in a way that you can honestly answer these questions. This is especially critical for new blood that you’ve brought into your program, you can change the entire path your kennel is on in one generation by changing the stud you’re using. This can be wonderful or it can be a nightmare. If you don’t know the quirks of this dog, how can you assure you’re setting your kennel up for success? You really can’t.
Imagine a situation where the stud has submissive urination…you won’t know if the stud is doing this because he has anxiety, he’s been harmed by the guardian owner, or if his temperament is a little softer than you’d like and so it’s genetic. In fact, you might not even know he has the issue at all, so when your buyers call you with struggles, you don’t even know where that came from or how to help them with it when they ask.
I also think it’s very important to understand HOW to manage two studs. I think, if you want to breed and build a bloodline, you’re going to want to keep generations and actually build lines with dogs you’ve bred, for example, keeping females and bringing in new blood with studs. Just by doing this you’ll find that you are going to be in a place where you’ll need a second stud for your next generation. You’ll want to have this stud at your home as well, since he becomes the single-point-of-failure for your second generation.
It’s also important to learn to manage two studs because it’s near inevitable that you’ll need to breed two females to different studs at the same time. Even if they didn’t always live with you, or the second one didn’t live with you, chances are you’ll have them bring the stud to you when you go to breed so you can monitor the situation and make sure it gets done. Having two studs does get a little trickier with management, so I understand the drive to avoid it, but there’s no better way to get a good flow with management than to have two studs in your home and figure out a plan that works.
This also benefits your buyers. So many buyers will have a second male dog at home and they’ll need to know how to make it work between the two and your experience will be so helpful in supporting them in making a plan. You might be thinking about the dogs being neutered, but given the benefits of delayed neuter, there will be a point where two male dogs would easily be in a pet home at the same time.
I also see many new breeders talk about an intact male dog as something that’s horrible to manage, a pain in the butt, and some even act like they’re a little scared of intact males.
I think some of this stems from the heavy push on spay and neuter that has caused many new breeders to have never really encountered an intact stud. If you’ve never experienced them, they’re like any other dog. They are sweet, attentive, playful, and trainable, whatever the traits in your breed are, they have them. The only difference is that when a female is in heat, he gets excited. The more he’s used as a stud, the less crazy and more efficient he will become. Don’t let this fear of stud dogs hurt your program by placing them in another home, often times a good stud will be your best heat detector and progesterone tester.
When does it make sense to add guardian homes from a business perspective?
A good use of guardian homes is to expand your program once you have built a bloodline and you’ve got a long waitlist. This allows you to place more females in guardian homes and if those litters happen, great, but if they don’t, it doesn’t tank your program.
Another instance is if you’re at a point where you want to tie your lines back together or keep your options open. For example, you may have bred a stud whose genetics you want in your program, but not on a regular basis, just once or twice to get a female you want to retain for breeding. This is a good opportunity to use a guardian home, place that stud in a guardian home and use him once. The difference is that if that contract goes awry it doesn’t tank your program, it puts a monkey in your plans, but doesn’t capsize them.
Keeping studs as “options” for a few years is nice, because it would be great if it works, but regardless of how it goes, your program will go on.
You may entertain going into guardian homes sooner if you’ve exhausted your opportunities for growth in your own home. Meaning, you may live in a place where you’re only allowed to have four dogs and you have four dogs and moving isn’t feasible for a year or so.
A Few Cautions to Consider
Guardian homes can do a lot for your program, but they shouldn’t be thought of as a way to get out the work in a breeding program. The work doesn’t disappear, it just changes…instead of maintaining a dog in your home or facility, your work is now managing and being the supportive person for your guardian home and coordinating all that entails with using that dog when the time comes. Further, the ability to be that supportive, knowledgeable person will get easier as your experience grows.
If you’ve tried guardian homes before and it was a mess, consider reviewing and reflecting on what went wrong in the situation and see what could be done next time to make it better. Often a better understanding of expectations and a few systems are what is needed. While we want to say that business isn’t personal, it is personal to have a breeding dog in your home that feels like your pet, so try and keep that in mind when working with your guardian homes.
Interestingly, when your program doesn’t rest on a dog in a guardian home, you’ll find that it’s easier to see things from the perspective of the guardian owner, since your investment isn’t so intertwined in their actions—this can really improve how you handle issues that arise with your guardian home.
Sometimes the best thing for everyone is to cancel the guardian home. If you’ve tried it and it didn’t work, it doesn’t make you a failure, it’s just one more stepping stone in the journey of building the breeding program you want.
In the end, using guardian homes shouldn’t be the backbone of your program. Your core breeders should be with you, this way, if a guardianship falls through, you have options and your success is not determined by the actions of someone else.
Thank you for listening to another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a review, it helps people find our community. And if it sounds like guardian homes might be a good fit for you, download the “4 Places to Find Guardian Homes Cheat Sheet” below. I’m so grateful we can spend this precious time together. Thank you again, and I’ll see you in the next episode!