When I was in my first year of breeding and lost eight puppies to giardia, I questioned if I should quit breeding, if I was worthy of being a dog breeder. It’s natural to go through the thoughts of quitting, to reflect and ask yourself if this is what you really want to do anymore. In all fairness, while I don’t think we should be jumping from thing to thing, quitting whenever something is getting a little hard, I do think it’s important to stop and reflect on our life and question things. Are we being the best breeder we can be? Can we be better? What would make this process smoother?
First though, you have to ask yourself, if quitting dog breeding is on your mind, why is that?
Sometimes you go though a horrible litter, like losing the litter to Parvo or having an unexpected genetic defect that affected half your litter, not just disappointing your buyers, but breaking your heart. Then your family is upset that the money didn’t come through. Other times, it works, the puppies get great homes, you did an amazing job, but it took so much time away from your family that they miss you, and are asking when they get to “have you back” so they can have more of your time.
I would say the first reason breeders often question if they should stop breeding is if it isn’t making any money or barely making money. I know there’s that old adage in the breeding world that if you’re making money you’re doing it wrong, but, since you’re here, I know you know that doesn’t make much sense. Dog breeding should make money. At least within a few years of starting, but it should cover its own expenses once the puppies start going home.
If you’re not making money then you need to figure out the cause. There’s always two sides to business finances: income and expenses.
Let’s first discuss income. Try and dial in if you are making enough money on your dogs, what is reasonable and are you falling short? Some common missteps are failing to advertise all your puppies, so they get too old and you start to drop the price to sell them. Others start too high with price, have them too long, and then end up reducing them in the end. Sometimes you’re not making enough money because your dogs aren’t having enough puppies, so you’ll need to diagnose if that’s a management issue, as in are your moms healthy, so they drop enough eggs? Are they getting the care they need in gestation and are they having healthy puppies?
On the other hand, your pups might be super healthy, but you might not be marketing them to the right person, which is a good sign your ideal puppy buyer is not dialed in correctly. Other times I see breeders try to price their puppies around the same price they bought their breeding dogs, but that’s often a poor choice because the breeder you bought from is probably more seasoned, with more honed lines, a bigger program, and, in fairness, has a more established system to put buyers through, warranting a higher price. I’d rather sell the puppies a little cheaper and have them all go home at eight weeks than keep them longer, eventually reducing their price just to get them homed.
On the other side you might be spending too much money. Of course we want our breeding dogs to be treated like royalty, with the very best of everything, but there is a point where we reach diminishing returns. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, diminishing returns is where you’re not getting more gain for the extra money you spend. You’ll see this a lot with dog food for example: feeding a cheap dog food is pretty bad, but once you get on a good food you’ll see that you’ll get less and less gain from going to more and more expensive dog food. There is less gain for each additional dollar you spend, this is diminishing returns.
Many new breeders don’t know any better, how would you? They don’t know that your dogs don’t need to be on a ton of supplements to have healthy litters, they don’t know they don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on the setup for that first litter. Many new breeders spend so much money getting ready for the first litter that after all the pups go home, they haven’t covered their expenses yet.
Other new breeders spend so much money on puppy packs that they won’t recover that cost from the sale of the puppies. Buyers are excited to spend money on their puppy, let them do that, don’t do it for them and take that experience away from them.
Another overlooked expense is your time. The time you spend on your dogs is also subject to diminishing returns, as well as irritating your family. There has to be an end to it. Which leads us to the next part of the discussion as to whether you should quit breeding or not…is breeding working for your family?
Is your family wanting you to quit?
Family is important, in many ways I think it’s one of the most important parts of life, if not the most important. In an ideal world, the time and money you put into your dog breeding should give you back more time or money. For me it was the best way for me to be at home with my kids after the divorce, while still being able to support us, so we didn’t need to go on government subsistence.
As my kids grew older and were ready for school, I was able to do homeschool with them, while also running the dog breeding business. It also gave me the ability to do something challenging with my brain, when the kids were still little and we weren’t really having deep conversations. I love my kids, of course, and I’ve enjoyed them at all ages, but when they’re that little there can be that feeling of loneliness and isolation despite being surrounded by the littles. It’s just a different kind of need, the need for communication with other like-minded people. I think it freed my mind when I realized that I wasn’t a bad mom for wanting to have adult time. Dog breeding gave me opportunity for that adult conversation and adult things to work on.
Maybe you’re luckier than me and you have an awesome spouse who wants to support you, but they also really like having you around. I have this sort of relationship with Bill, he’s all about me breeding and making money with it, having the freedom of schedule it can provide, but he also likes to spend time with me, especially in the evening.
I look at when Bill has been irritated with the breeding business and realize it’s usually when it’s been stressing me out and therefore causing him stress, since he doesn’t like for me to be stressed. Sometimes this is when the money didn’t work out, so it felt like a I did a lot of work for nothing, other times it’s because it’s taking so much of my time that he feels like he’s not getting enough of me.
I realized that money smoothes a lot of this over. Not that making money is everything, but no one questions dad going to work to pay the bills, it just sort of makes sense, we all acknowledge that dad will go to work and that we lose that time with him in exchange for the money he brings in, the home he provides, etcetera. I know this is old-school traditional, but it’s something that we all seem to understand: the trade-off of dad’s time for the resources he can provide. If we make money with our dogs it does tend to justify some of the time the family loses with us.
If your family is irritated because it doesn’t make money, nor look like it will in a reasonable time frame, then again dial it in and see where it’s going wrong, what tweaks can be made to bring your books back into the black, ideally the surplus black.
If it doesn’t make money, then essentially we have a very furry hobby that causes a lot of chaos for the family and not a lot of benefit in their eyes. Breeding brings enough chaos to a home that it should benefit our families beyond merely keeping mom entertained.
If money is less of an issue, say you have other sources of incomes that are making enough, then what does your family want from you that they aren’t getting that’s frustrating them? Maybe you forgot to cook a few nights during the week or you’ve ordered pizza a little too much because you’ve been busy doing dog stuff. Maybe the family hasn’t been able to take a vacation because you’ve been unable to leave the dogs. Whatever the cause, the truth is they probably really enjoy the time they spend with you, so don’t let the dogs get in the way of that, you can find a balance, often it’s facilities and a little planning. Remember, they want to spend time with you, and that’s a beautiful thing.
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Why Do You Breed?
This brings me to my real determining factor as to whether or not you should quit breeding…is it still aligning with your WHY?
Simon Sinek is brilliant, I love watching him, he’s very inspiring. He discusses the concept of your WHY and the importance of finding it and letting it guide your life.
While I can’t do his speeches justice, I’ll give you a little break down of the idea if you aren’t familiar. The idea is that we all have a why that drives us, the reason behind the reason of why we do things. Why is dog breeding an engaging drive for you? Why do you want to breed dogs?
For me, my WHY is my kids, especially when I was going through the divorce, they were the only WHY. They were why I got up in the morning and why I needed to make money, and why I needed to be home.
For me, breeding dogs was the answer to a question, the question of how can I support my kids both financially and emotionally after this divorce? Dog breeding allowed me to be home with them, to be there for them emotionally and literally be with them, so they didn’t have to get tossed around to multiple daycare facilities and houses during the week. It was a way I could make money from home.
The why goes deeper though, while the core of it began for the kids, it also was something in my life that was really important to me during the divorce. Of all the things that were falling apart in my life, dog breeding, sending puppies home with people and that beautiful moment when they got to take their puppy home, those moments were blissful little moments in the middle of a pretty stormy time in my life. Moments that gave me hope and renewed my faith in humanity.
I clung to that idea of giving people the best puppy for their family and the smile it brought to their face, especially the little kids. That’s where my why of taking care of my kids and my why of my bird dogs came into play. For me, it’s also why selling police dogs isn’t really in the cards for me, while it would be rewarding for me to breed the dogs that support our law enforcement—I’m a huge fan of law enforcement and the heart they put into their jobs—but I think I would be a bit too worried about my dogs and the danger they’d find themselves in and I’d miss the little kids when they came to pick up the puppies.
Of course if you breed dogs for law enforcement, you’re amazing. Dogs who work in law enforcement may as well be superheroes. It’s just all about what works for you and your program, what meets your why. I needed the fun, happy-go-lucky that the bird dogs bring into my life.
Understanding Your Why
If you’re a little confused being like, “Okay, well is my WHY the reason I breed dogs? Or the reason I have picked this breed?” I hear you, it’s not exactly simple. Rather it’s the combination of it all, which is where another guy that I follow brings together some more of this picture for us, that man is Jay Shetty.
Jay put together this great Venn diagram…you remember those, the overlapping circles? Jay talks about what the sweet spot in life is – where you do what you’re passionate about, you’re good at it, you get paid for it, and it helps people. That last one, helping people, really sustains you in dark times, like those little kid smiles sustained me when I was depressed and going through the divorce, figuring out what road I was on after my life took that turn.
The other parts are important, too. If you don’t enjoy something, have a passion for it, then you won’t want to think about it and you won’t want to endure the struggles. If you aren’t good at it, then you’ll always feel like you’re falling behind, BUT I will say, no one is good at all parts of dog breeding when they start, they aren’t, without exception, there is ALWAYS something you still need to learn, there are still things I need to learn! Lots of them. Dog breeding business is not in and of itself always the single passion, for me it was the culmination of several passions: dogs, biology, genetics, business, and my desire to be a good mom and be there for my kids.
It paid also, better than any other options I had that were available to me that would also allow me to stay at home with my kids. This paying part is a hard one for many breeders, there are a lot of stories around dog breeding not only culturally, but in our minds, things we’ve been taught that aren’t necessarily true, that we also don’t know we believe…that fun subconscious dance is a good topic for another podcast…don’t want to get too long-winded on you.
Lastly, dog breeding was something I was good at because of my passion for biology, genetics, my understanding of structure from the animal world, and my love for business…oh yeah and that college degree in business…do you need a college degree in business? No, you don’t, I can share lots of tips and tricks to get you where you want to go, helping you figure out where to work on things, plus, business is one of those things where there are a million books on it, for anything you want to learn.
You can see how dog breeding worked for me, it met the criteria that was needed to make things sustainable using Jay Shetty’s diagram, helping my work to give me purpose, beyond providing for me to be a stay-at-home mom.
How does this relate to whether or not you should quit dog breeding? Well, it’s all about if dog breeding meets your why. What if my why was to travel the world? Well, it wouldn’t be the best choice for me, too much coordination with dog sitters in the beginning for it to meet my travel needs. If I had had a better way to make money while being at home with my kids, well I’m not sure that breeding would’ve been the answer for me.
Dog breeding has to contribute to your WHY, it has to support it, since chances are it isn’t itself your WHY.
If dog breeding is taking away from your WHY, and we could say it was no longer in alignment with your life, causing you more stress and pain than it helps, then maybe it is time to quit. Of course, you have to give yourself the buffer of the middle ground of learning and building, I wouldn’t imagine that dog breeding would ever just be easy the first go-around, but it shouldn’t make you hate your life, despite causing you troubles and…shall we call them challenges?
Is This Just Growing Pains?
You can ask yourself, if I got though this challenge, would it then be a net positive? Something that makes things better for me? Something that contributes to my WHY?
For example, maybe we really enjoy the dog breeding and the process of whelping and raising puppies, love talking to buyers, but we aren’t making a whole bunch of money from it. You have to ask yourself is it something that working on it and fixing that issue will make it better, such that when it is bringing in money to the tune of a certain amount per month it’ll be worth it for you? Or are the numbers just not worth the work or maybe they aren’t enough compared with another options you have, like a different job that pays better and is less work or less struggle. Then you have to ask if there’s a way to make the breeding better as a whole for you or if it’s just not the answer.
I see a lot of breeders who just need a few tweaks in their programs and they’d have it all figured out, yet I’ve also seen many breeders who have lost sight of their WHY in their program, they’ve gotten so far into the weeds of building their breeding business that they forgot WHY they’re breeding dogs.
For example, I’ve seen many moms who want to have more time with their kids, but find themselves not keeping up with the family and house tasks when they have puppies, putting strain on the family. Will puppies cause some strain on the family? Yes, they’re messy and a bit time consuming, but they shouldn’t take over your life. When I have a litter on the ground, I spend around 30-60 minutes per day managing it. That’s cleaning, feeding, checking on them, etc. My adult dogs take similar time. Of course the heavy cleaning of the kennels takes about two hours on the weekend, but it does provide me ample time to be available for my kids. Facilities has made this time commitment easier and faster. Buyers are a bit of wild cards, they can be long conversations or short, but a lot of that has been managed with marketing and my website, leading to shorter calls.
Again, when building up the business and learning, these things take longer, BUT there is a cumulative effect on these things, once you build the website, then you just need to update it. Once you get a puppy pen working that you like, you don’t have to spend time figuring it out again, these things come together and build on themselves.
You can figure it all out, you absolutely can, BUT you don’t want to get too far off from your WHY. If your kids are your WHY, then find a way for the dog breeding business to complement the kids, not take away from them.
Just like your puppies have to enhance your buyers’ lives, your dog breeding business has to contribute to your WHY, not take away from it.
I hope this gave you a little insight into if quitting dog breeding is in the cards for you or if your business is just a little off track and you need to make some pivots. If you still aren’t sure, get the Is It Time To Quit Cheat Sheet using the form below.
I want you to have a life that you love, one that’s fulfilling and rewarding, one that you look back on on your deathbed and you can smile because it was a good one, you feel satisfied. If dog breeding is a part of that, awesome, if it’s not, that’s okay, too. It’s also okay if dog breeding is a part of a season of your life and not a life-long thing. Only you can know where dog breeding falls into your life.