I thought about titling this episode: How many people can Julie piss off in one episode…but I feel like I’d be doing you a disservice if I pretended this stuff wasn’t an issue.
Contracts are so much more than liability protection especially when it comes to your breeding program. You expect the contract to be long and annoying when you buy a house or a car, yes, but those things aren’t very personal. Buying a puppy is much more personal and your breeding program will thrive if it feels more personal.
In addition to setting liability protection, contracts also set expectations, they give processes, and create consequences so people know where they stand in a matter before they dive into in. Additionally, your contract can be your biggest asset in building trust with your buyers. So many breeders miss this opportunity to build trust with their buyers or bust the trust they’ve built with their contract.
Before I get started with the five things I want you to avoid like the plague, I wanted to let you know you can buy my contract here. Upon purchase it’ll be delivered in both a pdf and google doc for you to use as a template.
Oh and if you want help sorting it out, you can book a free business strategy session with me. I found so many people were needing a little one-on-one help, others weren’t sure which product was right for them, it all led to me offering these 30-minute sessions to help you get a little traction in your program.
Without further ado, here are five things I see in contracts that makes me cringe, primarily because they ruin the relationship with your buyers much more than they help and protect you.
THE CONTRACT ONLY BENEFITS THE BREEDER
First and foremost, the worst is a contract that only protects the breeder and not the buyer. I see this a lot actually. So many times breeders start their program without a contract and get burned or they have a weak contract that doesn’t have the required information and they get burned on that. They end up thinking, “I am NEVER going to have this happen again.” So they build a super robust contract and it heavily protects them and doesn’t do anything for the buyers.
I know Arizona is weird – for example, they have a puppy lemon law that states in the event of a puppy that’s a lemon in the first 14 days the law can force the breeder to refund up to the price of the puppy, to replace the puppy, OR to both refund and replace. See how in theory you could lose both the money AND another puppy? That’s a lot. It’s reasonable to have the total financial out-of-pocket of your liability to be the cost of the puppy. This way you aren’t subject to a weird double issue like is suggested in the law in Arizona. I’m not an attorney, as you know, so I can’t say for sure your contract would overturn the law, but a lot of times if the contract lists what will happen, then the buyer isn’t going to see what the law is, since you already have agreed upon boundaries to work within.
If I thought I was done with a puppy and then the lemon law was pulled, I could be out of pocket in a bad way. Think of how in a few days a puppy can come in contact with parvovirus, but if the buyer takes the dog somewhere they shouldn’t, gets Parvo, then is still within the 14 days, that’s kind of scary for the breeder to be responsible for something that we have no control over.
If you’ve been through a situation like this, you can see how a breeder would want to make an airtight contract that prevents the buyer from ever taking advantage. I get it. However, this comes again from that mindset of scarcity and a me-against-you mentality with buyers, instead of an abundance, we’re-in-this-together sort of perspective. We always want to be a team with our buyers, at least as much as possible, yes you need boundaries, but it’s a collaboration.
Imagine you work with a buyer and they are so excited to get one of your dogs. They enjoy speaking with you, appreciate the work you’ve done to make great puppies, and they’re ready to give a deposit. You have this wonderful start with them, you ask them to review your contract before placing a deposit. However, imagine that you have a contract that only protects you. Immediately the buyer thinks…”Wait a minute, was she actually telling the truth?” The contract would be in stark contrast to your program, your brand, and the conversation and impression they just had with you. When things feel disconnected, it creates the feeling of distrust in our minds.
Don’t ruin what you started so well by sending an All-About-Me contract.
YOU HAVE TO…
Another thing I see a lot is the requirement of the buyer to do certain things exactly as you say, with no room for mistakes, accommodations, or alternatives. For example, the line item of “you must feed this dog food.” If you’ve been listening a while, you know I always recommend a few brands of dog food, some are easier for people to get than others, some people like to subscribe to their dog food, while others will drive for the best deal, it’s about what’s best for your buyers that works for your dogs.
Remember, people see you as the authority since you’re the breeder, they don’t want to upset you or feel like they’ve failed to meet your expectations. This is generally a positive thing…but if you require something and they can’t provide it, they will feel embarrassed or will be worried you’ll get on their case about it. This means they may avoid talking with you when they have a problem. If we don’t learn about these problems, we can’t help them fix it, nor can we learn about it to make our program better. This is why we want to use suggestions and multiple suggestions over any one specific thing, it keeps the line of communication open so they never feel they can’t call you because they are worried you’ll be mad about the dog food they fed.
One of the worst offenders of this particular style of thinking is a particular supplement “NuVet”. They act like they’re trying to help you out by getting you to sell their supplement with the puppy you sell. In exchange, you give the buyers a code they have to input to get the supplement, when they buy it, you, as the breeder get a kickback on the money.
The model is okay, if the supplement was something you loved and it worked, but whether or not it’s a good supplement is irrelevant because here is where they get it wrong. They insist that you put the verbiage of “If you don’t have your dog on this supplement then you void the health guarantee.” In fact, they give you the paragraph to add to your contract and you can google search some of the sentences in there and you’ll pull up a ton of breeder contracts online. Breeders will have these normal contracts with normal language and then, “BAM” this super legalese paragraph about the requirement to order this supplement.
I find this irritating much like the all-about-the-breeder contract because it again burns trust with the buyer, they feel taken advantage of padding your pocket continually after buying the dog.
The other thing that’s off about it is this: why would a dog need a supplement to guarantee his health? It would be similar to me looking at a parent and telling them their kid will only be healthy if he eats his Flintstone vitamin, it’s not about the healthy meals they cook.
The bigger impact to your breeding program – what impression does it give the buyer when you say you’ll cancel their health guarantee if they don’t supplement, that doesn’t give much confidence in the health of your dogs.
So to recap…if you have products that you like, recommend them, if you can get a coupon for buyers, do it, if you can get a kickback on the products that you like, use, and recommend, awesome, but don’t require it in a contract.
Get my Limited Registration Puppy Purchase Contract Template
YOU HAVE THREE DAYS TO TAKE THE DOG TO THE VET OR ELSE…
This one was always interesting, it sounds so casual that no one really thinks about it, but hey, I’m a questioner, so I do. There is very often this clause in a contract that says, “You have three days to take the dog to the vet or else you void your health guarantee.” It is at this time that you must then make the breeder aware of all issues with the dog.
This is a fancy work around that breeders use. They basically hand off liability to the vet, this way if there are any issues with the dog, the breeder can attempt to avoid liability because the buyer had the opportunity to notice something wrong when they went to the vet and the vet didn’t see anything.
To me this just comes across shady, it also feels like you’re trying to trap them into voiding their health guarantee since three days is hardly any time at all and it’s hard to get into the vet’s office these days on short notice without an emergency.
Regardless I think what I find most upsetting, is that it appears that you aren’t confident your dogs are healthy and worth guaranteeing. I this is the wrong impression to give buyers. I’m confident my dogs are healthy and structurally sound, so whether or not my buyer’s vet thinks there’s a problem, I know from my selection and breeding that the probability of issues is very low. I’m willing to put a two-year genetic health guarantee on my dogs knowing that there’s really nothing barring injury that would cause them to have issues and since my guarantee is for genetic issues from breeding and selection, not from injury, I’m not worried about much.
To me, it’s more important that the buyers feel comfortable calling me with an issue, even if they are thinking it’s a health guarantee issue they need me to pay out for, because I want to know about it, I want them to call me.
Another side note to this: many veterinarians aren’t huge fans of breeders, lots are, but many aren’t, and that’s fair, they often only see us when things go wrong. In the event the vet they use doesn’t like breeders, they may feel inclined to find something wrong with the dog or point out something that might not actually be flaw, this can really put a lot of strain on the relationship between the buyer and breeder because of how the buyer worries they may have bought a bad dog or got taken advantage of. This doesn’t always happen, but I’ve seen it enough.
Thankfully my buyers usually talk with me about those concerns and we discuss them, and they often stand up for me, which is nice, but regardless, it’s tough.
Lastly, a note on fecal tests at the vet early on: this is controversial, so please, do your own research and make your own decisions. Fecals are much more sensitive than they used to be, which means that a very low amount of giardia for example may be detected in a fecal. Many dogs who have giardia manage it well, without a need for medication. In my experience, vets will often see the positive and prescribe medication regardless of severity and regardless of symptoms. I saw time and time again that dogs would get chemically treated for giardia and then about two weeks later would come down with a bad infection of it again or something else. This was because the gut flora was disrupted from the medication, throwing the dog out of balance and making them more susceptible.
If my dogs show symptoms, I treat it, if they don’t, then I don’t treat it, that’s how I now manage giardia. I only use chemicals to treat it if I am on the verge of losing a puppy, which hasn’t happened in many years. MOOM works great and doesn’t disrupt the gut flora like the chemicals do.
Imagine now, your buyer takes their puppy, who has nice stools to the vet, they do the fecal, say “OH NO! Your dog has giardia,” and then they want to give them medication for it, well now you’re definitely going to have stool problems, this starts a downward spiral, not to mention how upset the buyers will be feeling deceived about the health of their dog.
To hedge this off, a lot of breeder put a clause that even if the puppy has parasites that it’s normal and not a problem and all the buyer’s responsibility, just like getting the vaccinations and dog food. However, that doesn’t feel right either, obviously other breeders have experienced the fecal debacle like I just described above and this probably is the root of that clause in the contract, BUT look at how that feels to the buyer, who doesn’t even have their puppy yet and reads it in the contract.
It sort of sounds like, “Even if I am fully irresponsible as a breeder and I give you the dogs with a terrible infestation, it’s your problem and I need you to sign that you won’t come after me for creating problems for you.”
So what do you do? Well, three things: first, educated them. Tell your buyers that low-grade infestation is common and that the dogs manage it on their own, explain that fecals are more sensitive than they used to be and so they detect things that probably don’t need to be treated. Explain that treatment comes with risks to the delicate gut flora of the puppy and should be avoided if possible, especially if they have normal stool.
Second, give them an alternative treatment, like a natural remedy such as MOOM or an Herbal Dewomer. Send them home with it and have them use it as part of the transition to the new home.
Lastly, tell them ultimately it’s their decision, and if they’re more comfortable with the chemical route, you understand. This last one needs to be genuine, too, none of that condescending tone with it please. This will maintain the trust in the relationship while also passing the responsibility off to them, which is good, you want to empower them to take responsibility and own their decisions.
Oh, man, can you feel I’m a little charged on that one?
PENALTY FOR BREEDING
I often see this penalty for breeding. Something like “YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BREED OR ELSE I GET YOUR FIRST BORN CHILD.” Okay, well it’s not usually that extreme, but I’ve seen crazy ones where it was like $1800 per puppy born and it didn’t discriminate if that was an oops litter with the neighbor’s dog or if it was intentional breeding. Which essentially means, IF they accidentally get their dog bred by the neighbor’s dog, not only are they going to be stressed out worrying about how to handle the gestation and whelping, then raising puppies and finding them homes, BUT they’re going to be super scared to tell you about it because they may be on the hook for about $18,000.
I don’t know about you, BUT I might be inclined to not tell MY breeder if something like that happened, and I certainly couldn’t blame my buyers for wanting to not tell me if that were in my contract.
You know what happens with clauses like that? Nothing. Nothing ever happens with them because most of the time the law will recognize the dog as the buyer’s property and they’ll be able to do with it what they like. You know what else doesn’t happen? They don’t talk to you, they don’t tell you they need your help with the puppy stuff, and another set of puppies has a high probability of landing in the shelter.
Now I know a few of you are out there, your blood pressure is rising and you’re saying, “Yeah, well Julie, a lot of people are going to breed my dog if I don’t have some form of penalty in the contract.” The truth is, people are going to do what people are going to do, nothing in your contract will stop them. You don’t have much leverage with buyers after you send them home with the puppy. Now, if you have AKC dogs for example, then you can sell with limited registration, which won’t allow them to register any offspring from the dog, but that doesn’t work with UKC, I’m sorry I don’t know more about international registries, so please check with them on how that works and if it gives you leverage. A key to note is that it doesn’t actually prevent them from breeding the dog, merely registering the puppies.
The most complicated part of this is doodles, I honestly see this a lot in the doodle world. People want to charge a lot for breeding rights with doodles, and they don’t have any registry, so there is no leverage. The leverage then becomes reputation and the destruction of the reputation of the breeder who bought the dog, bred it without being given permission, and honestly, that feels scummy, too.
I’m still working on the best solution for that. So far I think doodle breeders should be able to charge more for a dog that’s destined to be a breeder, but how can we make that extra cost a benefit the buyer? Maybe give them first pick and a little support in their breeding program or something similar, this way there is benefit for them being open about breeding and also for warranting the extra money. Seems to help both people.
MUST RETURN DOG TO ME
The last of the five I see in so many contracts, the “You must return the dog to me if you don’t want it anymore or can’t take care of it.” Now this one makes sense, right? We want to prevent our dogs from going to shelters, from being sold on craigslist, we want to vet the buyers who are going to own our dogs, and surely we want to ensure the care of the puppies we brought into the world.
Again, this clause’s idea makes sense, BUT, it doesn’t work. Not only is this generally unenforceable because the law sees dogs as property, but it, again, creates a lot of tension for the breeder-buyer relationship.
Have you ever bought something and it didn’t work out for you, but it was perfect for your sister or your friend? I know things like a shirt or shoes come to mind, but in fairness, this happens with dogs, too.
I’ve had a few situations while breeding where the buyer who originally purchased the puppy had a life change and someone in their life ended up taking the dog. Usually I don’t find out about this when it happens, but sometimes I hear about it later.
Here are a few situations where this happened: one guy had a dog for a few weeks, but because he got complaints from his neighbors, he was forced to put the dog at a friend’s house temporarily. Over time his situation didn’t improve as he expected, but his friends fell in love with the dog.
Another time a guy was living with his parents, he got the dog and it never really worked out with the parents’ dog. His friend was in love with his dog, so he ended up taking him and keeping him.
Once I got a phone call from a shelter outside a national forest, this particular one is about six hours away from me. They said, “We have your dog,” and of course I was like, well, I’m a breeder, can you send a picture…they did send me a picture and I remember it was a dog named Rooster, loved the name and couldn’t forget that one. I had sold him years earlier. I was able to look through my records and found his owner’s phone number in about 15 minutes. I called him. He said he no longer had the dog, but had given him to his niece. He called her and we were able to get her reunited with Rooster, she had been camping and he had gotten lost in the forest, as GSPs tend to be explorers.
That one was interesting because it was from my first two litters when I was an idiot and not only didn’t have a contract, but I didn’t buy the prepaid microchips and register them for my buyers, like I do now. This dog’s microchip was never registered, which often happens, so, amazingly, the microchip company was able to look up who had purchased that microchip—me—and call me. This is exactly why I use AKC Reunite, they’re really on top of things. Oh and don’t let the name fool you, the dogs (or even cats) don’t have to be AKC to use the microchips, you can use them on whatever, I don’t recommend using them on your kids though, seems in poor taste.
All I’m saying about requiring the buyers to return the dog to you is that there’s a good chance they found a good home for their pup when they could no longer take care of him. If we have a clause in our contract that requires that they return the dog to us, then when they find him a good home where he’s happy, they just won’t tell you.
We have to get back to the core reason we want our dogs brought back to us, which is, we want to make sure all our puppies are safe and okay, we want to make sure they don’t end up in a shelter or rescue when we would gladly take them back. We want the worst scenario for the dog to be that the poor guy has to come back to our crazy house, never go to a dog orphanage.
That’s why writing that the dog MUST be returned to us, actually works against us. It tells our buyers that they’ll need to lie to us about it if they rehome their dog to a friend or family member or else suffer the consequences.
It also shows you have zero faith in their ability to know a good home for their dog, especially if they’ve had the dog for two years or similar. This goes back to being the Wizard of Oz with your buyers, all scare tactics, you don’t want to be that guy.
You have to have some faith in your ideal puppy buyer, if you don’t, well then you should probably find a new ideal puppy buyer. In all my years of breeding, I’ve yet to meet a buyer who didn’t want to do right by their dog.
Were they often misinformed, yes, but their intent was never malicious, so if we can find a way to work together, it’ll always work out better for everyone—especially the dog.
Okay, well that completes my rant on five things not to do in your contracts. If you want to purchase my contract, don’t forget to go to click the button below and if you want help or just to say hi, please feel free to book a business strategy session with me.
Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, I am so grateful you’re able to take a little bit of time out of your precious day to spend with me. I hope you’re not too mad at me, I’d still take you out to coffee. Thanks again, and I’ll see you in the next episode.