Updated: Feb 29, 2020
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These are some hard truths that new breeders don’t want to hear. But there are too many puppies going unsold and that’s not fair to the puppies. The last thing we need as a breed is for rescues to start getting inundated with puppies.
Before I even start, as a new breeder you need to EXPECT to have puppies unsold at 8 weeks, especially if you have had a decent sized litter. If you are able to sell them, then you have done a good job and are on track. But I advise against having that expectation because it’s simply not realistic for most new breeders, regardless of puppy quality.
1. The market is glutted with lower-end puppies from backyard breeders (BYBs). This means that people are selling puppies for $500, $600, or sometimes even $300. You will definitely add value with things like health clearances, titles/accomplishments, and Puppy Culture (PC) or Avidog, but when you start as a new breeder, regardless of your quality, BYBs are your competition.
My puppies go home trained, and we were previously established breeders and trainers in other breeds. Even sending them home with training my first couple of years and with an established reputation I charged less than half my current price. It took me YEARS to reach my current price. Don’t look at established breeders and think you can charge what they do. You can’t. Unless you can market like Tony Robbins, you are dead wrong and your puppies will be the ones who suffer for it.
2. Quality sells, but even with the best puppies you need to be established or no one will pay premium prices. Please also see #3.
3. This is NOT an “if you build it they will come” business. You can be the absolute best breeder on the planet, but you will not get top dollar until you are established.
Established doesn’t just mean having a web page and social media presence (all of which you need).
It means having a web page for enough time and with enough content to show well in searches. (Think 1-2 years if you do some basic SEO, longer or never otherwise.)
It means having had enough litters so that you have double digit excellent reviews and a ton of photos or previous puppies.
It means having had a social media presence long enough to have four-digit likes/follows.
It means being an active member of a breed group that provides health standards and ratings for breeders.
It means being on 3rd party sites like gooddog that review and rate their breeders. (It does NOT mean being on Puppy Spot or Puppy Finder.)
It means having gone to conferences and taken classes to keep learning.
It means knowing all about a huge range of products so you can get families set up properly.
It means knowing enough yourself to properly educate puppy parents prior to the puppy going home (and it means actually doing that).
It means having a huge library of resources for your puppy parents. You can’t just send home a puppy and think that’s enough. You need to teach them EVERYTHING they need to know. Even families who have had dogs before are not often prepared for a puppy or for a puppy with grooming requirements, certain temperament types, etc. you need to have videos, handouts, etc that help them get started properly. Crate training, potty training, basic obedience training, impulse control, grooming, vet visits, car sickness—this list is so long we send home a 175 page book we wrote simply from compiling answers to all of the questions that come up.
It means knowing enough about potential puppy problems to support the families after their puppies go home. Zoomies, puppy panting, all sorts of training issues, introducing pups to kids and other pets, socialization. Again, this is so comprehensive we have actually written a book. If you can’t answer these things and haven’t yet encountered at least half of them, you are not yet an established breeder and you shouldn’t expect premium prices.
You don’t need to meet all of these criteria to be a responsible, established breeder, but you need to meet at least half if you want to get good prices for your puppies.
4. Start off lower on price, find good homes, and start establishing enough of a business and reputation to have a waiting list.
If you think your puppies are worth $2000 based on your market and quality, then your best starting price is probably somewhere close to $1000.
I started off on the lower end and raised my prices only when my waiting list hit 40+ people or 6+ months. THAT is the justification for higher prices—people waiting at your door for puppies. Businesses take time to establish. This is certainly no exception. You will not get rich quickly selling puppies. You will also not even get rich slowly. My goal some years is to just get less poor more slowly!
5. Be prepared to keep puppies past 8 weeks. Even the best and busiest breeders have slow seasons. Just a year ago we had several that we kept until they were a few months old, even though we had a waiting list at the time. Not every family is ready for their puppy just because it’s available. Be prepared to train those puppies for the weeks/months you have them. Older puppies need to keep having value added or they lose value and lose valuable time needed for training and socialization.
6. Be prepared to take back puppies if there’s a problem, whether you are responsible for the problem or the family is. We have an iron contract, but we have taken back puppies because that was in the best interest of the PUPPY, not of us. We have had to rehab them emotionally and/or physically at times and then re-home them. This is a hallmark of a responsible breeder and if you aren’t prepared to do this you need to start selling stuffed toys on amazon and get away from working with living animals.
7. Take QUALITY photos. If you put crusty looking puppies in bad lighting and held by someone in a torn t-shirt with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, you aren’t going to sell puppies. Clean them up. Get a good camera. Use good lighting. Keep props and visual distractions to a minimum. Think school photos or baby portraits.
8. When puppies aren’t presold on an existing waiting list, then you usually won’t sell them until they are about 5 weeks old or older and starting to look ready to go home. This is where using Puppy Culture or other training really shines. Take videos of your puppies learning things. Sitting, walking on a leash, etc. Cute photos attract interest, but training can really close the deal.
PS. A waiting list isn’t really a waiting list if there aren’t paid deposits. Even your best friend will back out without a deposit. Never count on unpaid deposits and count on about 10% of paid deposits backing out.
9. If you can, find a good mentor whose program is pretty much what you want yours to be. People mentor for free most of the time as a way of giving back to the breed, so you need to show them that you are earnest and have thought things out.
For Pete’s sake, don’t act like an entitled ass and don’t act like you know everything. You don’t. Even your mentor doesn’t know everything, but she most certainly knows more than you do, so please respect that.
You are asking someone to share years of valuable experience. Find a way to give them something in return, even if that’s just a kind word. Hari has been mentoring someone and she has been wonderfully gracious on social media. I know Hari never would ask anyone to do this, but it’s been a lovely gift and a very thoughtful effort on the part of the person she is mentoring. And, sadly, very unusual.
When you are ready to mentor others, and others are coming to you for guidance, then you are likely an established breeder at that point.
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