In short, looking like you care, matters. You can be the best breeder in the entire world, but you won't be successful if you don't have a basic understanding of marketing, advertising, and depreciation. Someone looking to buy a puppy is going to have a hard time if you can't communicate clearly, and they are less likely to buy a puppy if the only pictures you have are low quality, casual cell phone type photos of your dog just hanging out on the couch, or a litter of puppies in the dirt. Those that are looking to see the adult dogs, want clear photos from the front and side, stacked if you're able to do so, and at the dogs level. Now since most of the kennel operation is done by myself, I do my best, and I try to give a good variety of pictures, but adult dogs aren't always the most cooperative. Puppies are a bit easier. When taking pictures of puppies, don't be afraid to use a nice backdrop with the best natural light you can get in your house. It certainly looks a lot better than the classic, holding puppies up while someone else takes a picture, look a lot of breeders go for or again, my personal pet peeve, dirty puppies in the yard. If you can't be bothered to clean them up for a photo that you're trying to advertise with, I won't think you've ever bothered to do much of anything else with them, either.
In a perfect world, you have a home lined up for every single puppy before they are born, but life is rarely so perfect. Maybe you have an extra, maybe someone has to back out, maybe both! This is where advertisement comes into play. When making an ad, use those nice photos we mentioned. Nobody is really interested in candid shots at first, they want to know that the puppies are loved and well taken care of, not how cute they looked covered head to toe in puppy food from their first solid meal. State your price and what is included with the puppy; Some people think mine are expensive until they realize that they come with a lot more than the cheaper puppies do, and it evens the odds, so to speak. If you have no intention of selling breeding rights to anyone, say so up front. As a breeder, it's frustrating to go through someone else's interview process, only to be told they don't sell with breeding rights. Advertising puppies is a lot like a car dealership: Cars are detailed before being photographed or put on the show room, the show room itself is pristine, and they tend to put a good amount of time into getting good pictures that show the entire car. You wouldn't buy a vehicle that still had the old owners garbage piled up inside, and you'd probably try to work a free car wash into the deal if what you're looking at is covered in mud!
This brings me to depreciation, and yes, like a used car, this applies to puppies, too. The majority of buyers are looking for an 8 week old puppy, or something they can take home around that time frame. If you are unable to find your puppy a home by the ideal time frame, after about 10 weeks, it's time to consider lowering your price. Puppies have an open socialization window that closes after 16 weeks, and anything after that will be a harder adjustment on them. Maybe their new owner has someone in the home in a wheelchair, and your puppy probably won't be socialized to that. Sending them home at the appropriate timeline can make it an easy change, vs a puppy who will have to be gradually trained to accept the motion and sound that can come from something huge and scary like a wheelchair in the house! In short, don't be greedy. Don't lose sight of finding the ideal home for your puppy because you think it still deserves top dollar. This goes even more so for adult dogs. Unless you've put significant titles into your dogs, your adult dog really isn't worth more than 100-300 dollars, depending on breed, paperwork, vet records, and more. Nothing gives me a bigger eye roll than people who say things like, I paid 2,000 for her as a puppy three years ago, so now I only want 1,500. That's not how it works. You paid for a brand new car who lost value as soon as it was taken off the lot, so to speak, and an adult dog is a bigger risk and can require more training and/or rehabilitation than a puppy who hasn't yet learned bad habits.
I know it's easy to look at an ad for a litter of puppies; 5 puppies for 5 each, well that's 2,500 dollars in profit! Who wouldn't want to be a breeder with lucrative numbers like that? Well, I'm here to break down some of what actually goes into producing just one litter.
First, you need a pair of dogs. Most people start off with puppies, so we'll say you spend 500 each on 2 puppies. Puppies get 2-3 booster shots, rabies, and wormer in their first year, so about another 150 dollars per puppy. If you're feeding a moderately priced kibble, you're looking at about another 200 dollars. Congratulations, your puppies are now one year old, and you are currently -1,500 dollars, give or take, without buying anything like toys, leashes, dog runs, beds, flea/tick prevention, heartworm prevention, shampoo, nail clippers, treats, or brushes! Since dogs shouldn't be bred until 2 years of age, double that number. While adult dogs don't need as many shots as puppies, they also tend to eat more, and as your female will go through 2-3 heats before she's ever ready to breed, you'll probably be investing in some sturdy kennels! Two years old, and without producing a litter, you are now in the negatives for about 2,000, and this is just off ONE pair of dogs! In that time frame, there are many factors that can and should be grounds for elimination from the gene pool, and effectively ending your breeding plans for that dog; Injury, genetic health conditions, cryptorchidism in males or pyometra in females, poor temperament, and many other factors can put your breeding plans to a grinding hault before you ever get started. But, for the sake of this blog, lets assume everything goes right.
Now they are two years old and ready to go... right? Here at Nightside Nordics, we spend about 160 dollars per dog for health testing through Embark. If you choose to go that route, and we strongly recommend you do, there's another 300 in the negatives. With first time females, there's no guarante they'll stand still to be bred, or maybe your male doesn't quite know what he's doing, or maybe you as a new breeder, don't! In each of these cases, progesterone testing and artifical insemination may be required, another 200-300 dollar investment. For the best chances, all our dogs get various dietary supplements, which would cost about 100 dollars a year for just a pair of dogs. You made it this far, don't get cheap now!
Now your girl is pregnant... Or so you hope! There are two reliable ways to test for pregnancy, and you can do this through ultrasound or blood test after about 30 days into her pregnancy. That's not too expensive of a vet visit, and maybe 100 dollars later, you have your result! Again, for the sake of this blog, we'll assume everything went well and she has 5 puppies in there. Now comes some more expenses! First, you'll need a whelping box for her to have her puppies in; This will run you about 200 dollars for a medium or large sized dog. You'll also need a scale to weigh the newborn puppies, identification collars, wormer, thermometer, suction bulb, clamps, calcium supplements, and emergency supplies like puppy formula, heat pads, and bottles should your first time mother not be so keen on the idea of motherhood. Before your puppies are ever born, you've spent another 100 in just these basic supplies! For those that have lost track, you are now 2,820 dollars in the negatives, unless you needed the progesterone testing and AI, in which case you're closer to 3,070!
Finally time to see those sweet puppy faces! Most people have to take off work for this grand event, and sometimes, your female goes over or under those days you've requested off, resulting in more time off! Sometimes they need a shot of hormones to kick them into labor, or may need an emergency c-section if a puppy gets stuck at some point, or she exhibits signs of an emergency condition. But again, in this scenario everything goes right and she delivers 5 healthy, happy puppies. Now the real work begins, especially with first time moms who might accidentally step on and crush their new puppies, or just aren't sure how to care for them and need lots of assistance and reassurance. The first two weeks go by quietly enough, but the older the puppies get, the more mess they make! Time to buy new collars, a second bottle of wormer, and all of the fun extras that go in their puppy kits. Don't forget to set aside money for their first vet visit! From birth to 8 weeks, I spend about 100 dollars on each puppy; But don't worry, hopefully you were able to get some deposits on those puppies to offset the costs, because now you're down another 500 dollars because remember, you had 5 puppies!
Since you're a new breeder, you don't have word of mouth or a firm repuation to back up your puppies so the first litter you ever sell will probably go a little cheaper than the baseline price similar puppies go for. We'll say 500 per puppy, so, there's that 2,500 dollars you were so envious of that started your path in breeding. Of course, you're down about 3,300-3,500 dollars! So, on your first ever litter, you lost about a thousand dollars.
Now, the major factor that most people don't consider in their calculations is TIME. No matter what profession you choose in life, you will almost certainly be paid for your time, your labor, your effort on the job! Even if you spend one hour a day with your dogs and resulting puppies from birth until the puppies go home, about 2 and a half years, that's 912.5 hours of your time that you have spent losing money while cleaning puppy poop and hearing puppies crying. More realistically, you'll be spending about 3 hours a day on your puppies from the age of about 3-8 weeks because puppies are messy while requiring training and socialization through that critical period! This doesn't count the hours spent advertising your litter, maintaining and updating a website, responding to messages, planning vet visits and puppy drop offs, and trying to maintain your sanity!
In short, dog breeding is a labor of love, not a money making venture, and as long as you go into it with that mentality, it's difficult to be disappointed. It's not for everyone, but watching customers take home that new bundle of fur makes it worth the weeks of lost sleep, missed family events, and forgetting you have friends. You devote your life to these little furballs, and hope their new family does the same.
I'm often asked how someone can get started breeding dogs. I started my journey showing Chinese Cresteds, believe it or not! While I don't agree with everything in the conformation show dog world, going to conformation classes did help give me a basic understanding of canine structure, and how that structure impacts the way they look and move; It's not about putting two dogs together and making something cute. You can find a breed mentor, read books, read club standards, attend shows, but the first step is deciding on the type of dog you'd ideally like to create. I've since moved away from small dogs and into the northern breeds and wolfdogs, and had to adjust my goals accordingly. I want a moderate to large sized dog, of sound mind and hardy body. For the wolfdogs, they don't tend to have as many structural problems, but many breeders out there are making dogs with genetic health issues, like malocclusion, while others just breed ill tempered wolfdogs, with any amount of wolf content as the excuse. In my opinion, there is no excuse to breed a dog with defects or an unpredictable, or aggressive nature. You can have reasonable expectations of your northern breed or wolfdog of course, I never guarantee that they won't try to eat small animals, or will stay in your yard, but breeding a good pet isn't as easy as it sounds. It also isn't as lucrative as it may seem.
So, you've purchased your male and female dog, you've done the testing you intended to do, their temperament has been evaluated, they reach 2 years of age, and you're good to go! After all that, are you prepared to possibly lose your female during pregnancy, labor, or shortly after? Are you prepared to lose an entire litter of puppies? Do you have the funds for an emergency c-section, should it become necessary? Can you bottlefeed puppies every 2 hours for 2 weeks? Can you even miss that much work without losing your job? Can you afford wormer, first shots, puppy packs, and vet visits for the puppies? Are you prepared to listen to your male pace, howl, and attempt to destroy anything in his path for the 3-5 heats she may go through before she's ready to be bred, and any time afterwards you aren't ready for more puppies? Are you prepared to have puppy poop in your hair, under your nails, and forever embedded in your carpet? Are you prepared to miss holidays, vacations, family functions, and nights out with friends? At the end of those 8 weeks, will it break your heart to send those puppies off to their new families? Are you okay with the idea that you might never make ANY money off breeding?
If you've answered no to any of these, you might just be better off buying your puppy from another breeder and enjoying the more fun aspects of owning a puppy, and there is definitely no shame in that. Honestly, there are days where I've just had enough of puppies barking, adults howling, shredded toys, dumped water bowls, annoyed husband and upset children that I'm just plain ready to throw in the towel. But then, someone sends me a picture of their puppy from me growing up, and I dust myself off, scrub the floor, feed the puppies, and get ready for another day of being a breeder. Happy puppies and happy owners make it all worthwhile, it puts it back into perspective for me, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel again.
So, if you've read all this and I haven't completely deterred you, the next post will be about the almighty dollar. Stay tuned!