The market has been difficult recently. There are less people looking for puppies than there were a year ago and a lot of the buyers think the market is saturated with inventory, so they think it’s a buyer’s market and they should get a deal. While I can see and appreciate their understanding of economics, we shouldn’t let the economics dictate our path.
Breeding programs are most successful when they are played as the long-game, not as a short-game. Simon Sinek calls this the infinite game as opposed to the finite game; the most successful companies play the infinite game. What does this mean? Simon Sinek summarizes it best off his website with these sentences:
In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified.
In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint.
Well, the finite game means it has an ending, there is some pinnacle that is reached and then it’s over. For example, in a finite game, winning the best breeder of the year in your state might be the seeming pinnacle, but then what about next year, is it ever over? The trophy changes hands each year, sometimes the same team wins, but it’s a whole new opportunity for someone else to win. Yet breeding is an infinite game, it’s never really over. The infinite game never ends, it’s always changing and evolving. I believe dog breeding is such an exciting business when looked at as an infinite game.
I wish new breeders knew dog breeding was an infinite game. One of the biggest struggles I see new breeders face is that there are a gazillion things they need to do when they start. Most of them get into overwhelm because they have a hard time knowing where to put their focus. How do you build an empire, which all breeding businesses kind of are? Well you can’t do it all instantly. You need to space it out. So therein lies the question of how to organize it so you are using your precious time in the most efficient way. How can you do things in an order that’ll get you results, not overwhelm you, and set you up for success on the long haul?
Just the same, I’ve seen a lot of seasoned breeders get stuck in a rut. They seem to lose traction and get frustrated with their programs. This is a very irritating feeling, losing momentum feels weighty and hard to get rolling again.
HOW DO YOU GAIN TRACTION AFTER YOU’VE LOST IT?
Well, surprise surprise, there’s no one-size-fits-all, but there are some general concepts and ways to implement them.
START WITH REFLECTION AND SOME GRATITUDE 🤮
First off, as a simple technique, start with gratitude. I know, everyone hears that all the time and you probably want to yawn right now. I’m not saying you need to grab out a notebook and write what you’re grateful for, although that does feel good. More so, I want you to reflect on your program, look at the progress you’ve made.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve built websites and I’ve showed my mother or a friend, neither of which have ever built websites and I had spent hours, I’m talking like 40-60 hours writing and creating my website, and when I showed them they were kind of hesitant and sort of had this look on their face like…”that’s it?” Almost as though they weren’t sure if it was joke that I was excited to show them.
It makes me laugh now, and a few time there were people who had given me that look, who later went on to build a website and came back and said, “I had no idea how much work that was.” It’s funny.
Look back at all the time you’ve invested. How many hours have you spent on Canva making sure your format for your puppy paperwork looked just right? How many hours have you put into your website? How much time have you spent researching your results off Embark? How many times have you read and reread your contract getting the wording just right, so it was clear and conveyed what you wanted in a manner that covered you, your buyer, and was precise? How many websites have you looked at searching for your next breeding dog?
It’s hard to really appreciate the time invested, but I will tell you, I get it. I see it. And, believe me, your program will be better for it.
Look at the improvements you’ve made. I know a lot of you found me while searching for a solution to giardia, since the chemical medications weren’t working. Look at how you’ve learned more and implemented changes and your dogs are now healthier.
Think back to your first litter. Remember the chaos it was? The mess? How much time you spent googling things, “oh jeez…I’ve never seen that, is that normal?” Remember how you spoke with your first buyers? How you didn’t know what to say? How you didn’t have answers to questions and now those questions are second nature for you to answer, you know them so well you could probably answer them without coffee.
You have come along way, I know, I’ve watched it with so many breeders. You improve this, then you improve that, then you build onto it, it just gets better and better.
Sometimes when things are hard we lose sight of everything we’ve built. We forget what we’ve created. We forget how far we’ve come.
You don’t have to limit it to your breeding business either, think of how far you’ve come in other areas of your life. Embarrassingly, a little over five years ago, right around when I met Bill and we’d been dating for a little bit, I was doing his laundry and I was beyond impressed that when I was folding his clothes all his socks had a match, there were no orphans. I remember thinking, “Crap, this guy is way out of my league, all his socks have matches.” It always seemed there was a sock-eating monster somewhere between my washer and dryer, where they just didn’t all make it out alive.
Now, I can say, I successfully keep a pair of socks in harmony on the regular. Even the ones that are one-off and not the giant bag of matching black ones…because seriously, what dog breeder is bold enough to buy WHITE socks. Not me, I’m not that daring.
So to summarize, remind yourself where you’ve come. I know you’ve put the time in, you care, so let’s not forget that. When we remember where we’ve come from, we can see progress, progress reminds us that we have the power to change, grow, and improve, and that can carry us with motivation to make further improvements and pivots.
Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?
GET A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE
You ever hear that expression to come up for a little air? The idea being you were underwater surrounded by things and you need a break, you need to catch your breath and come up for air.
You ever watch a scary movie or an intense movie? I am getting a few new gray hairs, but at the risk of giving my age away, remember the show 24? How the entire 24 episodes were the show minute for minute? I think I held my breath for half that show, scared of what would happen next, how much worse could it get? How is he going to get out of this one?! You know that tense feeling, where after an hour your shoulders are sore because you clenched them the whole time unknowingly? Sometimes that’s how your breeding program feels. It feels like it’s out of control, you don’t have traction, you’re either feeling like your drowning in tasks or you’re lost trying to find a pathway out. It can be very consuming.
While I have sort of learned to love the all-consuming nature of life as an entrepreneur–the phrase “I’m bored” was taken out of my vocabulary about 18 years ago–it hasn’t been without those intense moments that throw you into a cave and make you forget what’s on the outside.
We have to step out of it to get fresh air. Now, I know, for those of you who have that fiery passion oozing out of you, I feel you, it sounds boring. Sitting on a beach, when I have podcasts I want to write is a total struggle. Now, I do love my computer enough that I won’t be taking her onto the beach, but I’ll definitely have my notebook and a pen I stole from the bank counter.
The thing is, we foster creativity, we expand our minds, and we grow when we see new things, get exposed to new ideas, new people and their perspectives. We need the input of new stuff, to create new stuff. If any of you think you aren’t creative, you’re lying to yourself. Breeding is so much creativity, everything from branding, to developing your ideal puppy buyer, to the way you take pictures and videos of the dogs, to, of course and obviously, creating the dogs. It’s all creativity. Creativity needs sparks and that’s why we need to step back and away. It gives us perspective.
You ever notice that if your spouse is gone for a week on a trip for work and you have the kids all to yourself that they start to grate on your nerves? You start thinking of ways to sell them, how much money you could get, and then what type of deal you could make for two? Yet, then grandma can take the kids for a few hours and all of a sudden you love them again and wouldn’t consider selling them…at least not right now?
Getting that break reminds us of what we love about them, it allows us to zoom out, past the slime that’s caked into the couch, and lets us remember how incredible it is that the kids actually figured out how to make slime, how to troubleshoot it. Getting a break from your dogs allows you to get out of the narrow focus of what’s frustrating and reminds you what you love. It can help you see how the current frustration is really just a small part of the whole. Yet, amazingly, I’ve found that stepping away from the dogs can also give me fresh ideas on what I’d like to improve or adjust in my program.
Talking with breeders nearly every day is always challenging me to think of new ideas and solutions, customizing things for each program to the best benefit of the program.
Some of you might be thinking, “Yup, sure thing Julie, let me just take some lavish vacation and it’ll fix all my problems…” I can feel the sarcasm slipping off your thoughts. While, yes, getting away on a week long vacation can be great, it can give you the much-needed perspective that we all seek, however, it’s not the only way. Getting away certainly wasn’t in the cards for me when I was first breeding, mostly because I lived in chaos and was broke…but, I mean, other than that…
Here are few ideas to get away. Start as big or as small as feels right. You could start with a weekend away, doesn’t need to be a long weekend, book an AirBnb that’s an hour away. We happen to live near Bisbee and Tombstone, both are haunted and have lots of fun little side attractions. This fall I’m planning to book the haunted room at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee and take the kids, see if we encounter any ghosts. If I need to, I can feed the dogs and check on them each day, even while staying there, it’s only 25 min away from the house.
If you can visit a friend you haven’t seen in a while, crash at their house for a weekend, get the kids together, whatever you can do to get a quick break. Sometimes going back to where we came from allows us to reflect and see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve grown. Sometimes people from our past remind us about parts of ourselves that have been hidden, other times parts of us we’ve outgrown. It’s also interesting when we realize that we don’t fit into that life or world anymore. I don’t mind so much recognizing that, but it is interesting to cross reference and see if we’ve lost our way or made a new way.
Maybe leaving is simply out of the cards, whether that’s because of the cost of leaving or the inability to have someone else take care of your dogs for a few days. I get it, been there. You’re not just out of luck, there are other things we can do.
One of my all-time favorite escapes to gain perspective is journaling. I’ve always journaled about my life, since I could write, I have all sorts of notebooks documenting my moments in my life, most of them explored my truest feelings about life and what was happening. I have always been able to be the truest version of myself in my journal. Writing there, my hopes and dreams, my fears and pain, my struggles and working out solutions, probably saved my life a time or two.
If you haven’t been much of a journaler before, you can try morning pages. The idea comes from Julia Cameron, she’s a wonderful writer. Morning Pages are her suggestion to handwrite three pages each morning. Ideally use stream of consciousness, which is essentially the practice of writing down what’s on your mind, exactly what you’re thinking. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this practice.
If writing isn’t your thing, then opt for giving yourself a little alone time to enjoy a break. I like sitting on the bench on my front porch and stare at the mountain. Just a few minutes a day to sit and think can do wonders. I’ll warn you though, if you haven’t had that time much, then it’s going to feel weird at first and might fill you with some anxiety.
Getting perspective is a critical part of improving your dog breeding program
The way to get around all of this is to remember that gaining perspective and taking care of yourself is a part of the process of improving your breeding program. You know those people who are in the same chaotic place they were three years ago? Five years ago? The ones who are stressed and always busy busy, they never give themselves time to get out of crisis management and into planning. They never get to improve.
Imagine for a second that you tell yourself you don’t have twenty minutes to work on your website because you have to much to do, too much puppy poop to clean up, you feel guilty taking care of your website when your adult dogs need a walk. The truth is, you never take your dogs out for a walk, you think you should, you want to, but you don’t, and you use that excuse to also not do your website. What if you reprioritized and saw that the website built a better program for you, helped you find better buyers, and ultimately moved your program forward.
Don’t let a better breeding business slip away because you feel guilty spending 20 minutes on your website. Make that the new priority, no matter what, today I’m spending 20 minutes on my website. You’ll be amazed how you’ll still manage to get the puppy pens cleaned up. So spend time getting done what you want to get done.
It also helps to know that you are the key to success in your breeding program, without you, the program will flounder, so you have to take care of yourself. Not taking care of yourself is like expecting your mama dog to have a nice healthy litter, but not letting her get enough sleep or not allowing her to have enough food.
You wouldn’t do that to her, so don’t do it to yourself.
When you take care of yourself, you can regain traction.
Steps to take when you feel you’ve lost traction in your breeding program
So to recap, when you feel you’re losing traction in your breeding program, you can try the following ideas:
- a little reflection and gratitude, remember how far you’ve come
- step away and get a little perspective
- give yourself a little priority
And, because you would consider pampering your dogs as part of your business needs, don’t forget that taking care of you is also part of business expenses and planning.
I’m excited for you to get that momentum again. We are still taking applicants for the Ideal Puppy Buyer Cohort. We have both options, the multiple-week option, where we get together once each week and the option for the weekend conference style. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, well at least to see your beautiful face through chatting on video.
Thank you for listening to another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. I know your time is precious and limited, but I appreciate that you’ve found a way to squeeze a little time with me into your day. Thank you again and I’ll see you in the next episode!