Why and how do people become dog breeders?
May 20, 2012 3:32 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I want to become dog breeders (take a wild guess at which breed). We have some land. We both work at home. We both love dogs. How do people get started and why do they get started? Do they make an income from it or is it all about the love? What do they do when they're not breeding?
posted by vizsla to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not a dog breeder but I've read a good amount on dog forums. Apparently "good" breeders don't make a significant profit, if any off their pups. They're just very committed to the future welfare of the breed and maintaining breed standard. If they're not breeding, they're probably showing their dog, doing research and going to a day job.
posted by lovelygirl at 3:39 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

unless you are breeding dogs you are showing, and breeding to improve the breed by selecting dogs whose conformation and temperament are stellar examples of their breed, this would be called backyard breeding and it's irresponsible. why? because there are enough dogs out there who need homes without people adding needlessly to the population.

responsible breeders aren't breeding to generate income. in fact, when all the costs of showing, medical testing, and selection, and caretaking are taken in, they're pretty much barely breaking even. most of these breeders aren't whelping more than one or two litters a year—with most of the pups selected to go on to families (contractually) willing to show the dogs (either themselves, or co-owned with someone who does show) and with only 1-3 from each litter who are considered "pet quality" (vs "show quality") going to homes who aren't contracted to show. anyone who is breeding dogs to generate an income aren't doing it for the dogs or the welfare of the breed.

if you are really interested in dog breeding, i'd suggest you get to know some responsible breeders by going to vizsla breed shows near you (viszla club of america) and doing research on the breed and what is involved with breeding responsibly.
posted by violetk at 4:04 PM on May 20, 2012 [32 favorites]

Beautiful dogs! None of the purebred dog breeders I know make a profit off breeding (or showing). At best, they break even. At worst, one bad pregnancy can create enormous vet bills and prevent the bitch from carrying again. It is more something you do to improve the breed.
posted by saucysault at 4:18 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few of the breeders I know run kennels, is there a need in your community? Otherwise, they have boring jobs that give them weekends off for shows.
posted by saucysault at 4:21 PM on May 20, 2012

I'm sure you know, but Viszlas are not bred only for show. They make excellent hunting dogs. I know of several kennels who also train dogs and their handlers for hunting and competition, and while I wouldn't say they make money off of it, it seems that they can at least break even.

The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association might be a good place to start. Full Disclosure - my wife is heavily involved in that group, and I own a Viszla.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:41 PM on May 20, 2012

unless you are breeding dogs you are showing, and breeding to improve the breed by selecting dogs whose conformation and temperament are stellar examples of their breed, this would be called backyard breeding and it's irresponsible.

Actually, I sort of wish that fewer breeders were breeding for show and more were breeding for health. I don't dispute that backyard breeding can be a problem (because many don't pay attention to health), but I wonder if that's a fair label for all breeders who don't breed for show?
posted by Dasein at 4:41 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am a dog breeder, and I like to think an ethical one. The first thing you need to do if you want to do this right is find an ethical breeder to learn from (a mentor). "Ethical" includes, but is not limited to:

- proving your breeding stock via showing and trialing in a sport appropriate to the breed
- proving your breed has breed-appropriate temperament and instinct via formal testing (in your case, hunting testing)
- health testing your breeding stock for anything appropriate for your breed (OFA/PennHIP hips and CERF eyes at the absolute bare minimum for any and all breeds)
- in most cases, being a member of your national breed club
- breeding ONLY to improve your breed/lines and to produce dogs who are the best possible examples of their breed (which means you often choose NOT to breed certain dogs) - you don't breed just to produce puppies to sell
- taking responsibility for each and every dog you produce for its entire life (ethical breeders do not contribute to the shelter/rescue population), this means thoroughly vetting each home you sell to, selling each puppy on a detailed contract which includes a takeback requirement, and providing owners with plenty of information about the breed, and being on LIFETIME "technical support" for each and every dog you produce. This can also mean keeping a dog you didn't plan to keep because the right home didn't appear or fell through, or taking back a five year old dog with a serious temperament issue.

After you find a breeder who meets these requirements, you ask them what it would take for them to agree to mentor you, you explain that you are interested in breeding but want to learn to do things the right way. Ethical breeders do not place breeding prospects in just any home, and most are very reluctant to place dogs in homes on full registration (AKC) or without a non-breeding contract (CKC) without also co-owning the dog so that they maintain some control over what happens to it.

I was involved with my breed for seven years before I bred my first litter, and my involvement included serving on my national breed club's board of directors, and assisting my breed mentor with breeding and whelping and puppy raising. I finished my first dog's championship and then neutered him without ever breeding him (despite the fact that he is gorgeous and I had several people asking to breed to him) because his temperament is not correct, this is a heartbreaking decision that you ABSOLUTELY must be prepared to make.

I breed very rarely (every 2 years or so), and I spend months researching pedigrees, traveling to meet prospective studs and their offspring, and running Coefficient of Inbreeding numbers before I decide on a breeding. I stay in touch with all my puppy buyers and help with any problems or questions that may crop up. The idea of making money off a litter is laughable - I am doing well if I break even on JUST the costs of actually breeding, whelping and raising the litter, never mind the costs of proving the dog was worth breeding, health testing, everything else involved before the breeding took place and my time involved. Your dog can die, puppies can die, horrible, messy, frightening things can happen, emergency c-sections can cost over $2000, and you may end up with no live puppies AND a dead dog at the end. It can also be fantastically rewarding to see a dog you bred, happy in a great home, a shining example of its breed and your hard work. But financially rewarding it ain't.

Ethical dog breeding is a huge responsibility - you are bringing lives into the world which would otherwise not be here, and you need to take that responsibility seriously. Plenty of people think "they're just dogs" and "no big deal" and "cute PUPPIEZ!!!", those are the people who give dog breeding a bad name, and those are the people who help produce the thousands of unwanted dogs in the shelter/rescue system, please don't be one of them.
posted by biscotti at 4:48 PM on May 20, 2012 [61 favorites]

I was coming in here to say basically what violetk said (and on preview, biscotti nailed it). I just want to add that you can show your love for dogs in other ways like fostering or by training assistance dogs.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:53 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

And yes, I have a full-time day job (working at a vet clinic earning far less than I have earned in non-veterinary jobs, but the employee discount means I get to care for my dogs very well) and a part-time job (teaching agility, which I do in exchange for my own lessons and use of the facility to train my own dogs), and when I have a litter, I have two full-time jobs and a part-time job. You can't earn a living breeding dogs unless you are already independently wealthy, or unless you are prepared to be a puppy miller. Breaking even or having your keeper puppy paid for are about as good as it gets most of the time, if you do things properly.
posted by biscotti at 4:54 PM on May 20, 2012

I know somebody who breeds cats, and despite charging prices for kittens that may seem high to first-time customers (~$800), I'm pretty sure she actually loses money. She's absolutely dedicated to the health and wellbeing of the cat breed and she gives the cats top-notch medical care and all the best in terms of diet and environment. Plus, she shows her cats all the time, which is extremely costly - entrance fees, travel fees, hotel fees, etc. All you have to do is spend 10 minutes with her, and you'd know right away that she breeds cats because she absolutely ADORES them. There's really no other reason. It's expensive, lots of work, stressful when the cats get sick, takes over her house, etc. There's absolutely no "practical" reward - just the love and affection of a lot of amazing cats!

When I got my kittens from her, they came with a contract stating that if I ever had to give up my cats, for any reason whatsoever, they would be returned to her, and NEVER passed to another person or a shelter. (Also that the cats would never be outdoors unattended, that the cats would have checkups at least yearly, etc. - all kinds of things to protect the health of the animals.) She guarantees that she will cover the cost of any autopsy, so she can keep tabs on the health of her lines. She explained both of my cats' pedigrees carefully so that we could see that there was no in-breeding. She had my husband and I meet each of our cats for an hour before we decided on them, so she could see if it was a good match. She has provided advice of every kind over the phone and email.

I imagine these guidelines would apply to any good dog breeder, too.
posted by Cygnet at 7:17 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Those are really gorgeous dogs. The couple people I knew who bred dogs were torn up about the fraction of their broods they had to put down.

If you were rescuing instead of breeding it might be a painless alternative. You might not get a lot of opportunity to rescue vizslas in your zip code but rescuing labs & retrievers might be a wide-open niche.
posted by bukvich at 9:59 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Actually I sort of wish that fewer breeders were breeding for show and more were breeding for health. I don't dispute that backyard breeding can be a problem (because many don't pay attention to health), but I wonder if that's a fair label for all breeders who don't breed for show?

Ethical breeders breeding for show and or hunt trials are breeding for health, along with temperament and conformation. That is the point of improving the breed. Ethical breeders have their dogs regularly checked, especially for breed-specific medical issues and do not breed dogs who exhibit those issues. biscotti outlines the process of every responsible breeder I know. Everyone else is a backyard breeder—whether you like that term or not—because they are either breeding for profit or breeding bc "oh my god my dog is amazing!!" without regard to whether doing so is ethical or responsible to their dogs, the breed, and the general dog population.
posted by violetk at 11:34 PM on May 20, 2012

Most people become dog breeders to either improve the breed or make money. I don't think someone needs to necessarily show their dogs to be considered a good breeder, nor do I think someone who shows their dogs is necessarily good either. Breeders that are doing so for profit, however, are never good. Breeding stock should always be evaluated for health and standard adherence before being allowed to produce puppies. This means getting proper certification to ensure the puppies are less likely to suffer hereditary problems that may affect their health--if you fail to do this, at the very least you are directly responsible for the poor health of the puppies you've produced. At most, you will knowingly hurt others--humans and dogs alike. So don't be one of those people...be a -good- breeder.

A good breeder always strives to produce the ideal next generation; they want to create something -better- than the one before it. The goal is to improve upon, to match the standard--the ideal example of the breed, so that the breed is healthier, and capable of doing the task it was originally created to do (even if it no longer provides that function now). I am not necessarily talking AKC conformation---though most of those show dogs cannot perform the tasks they were bred to do and there is a clear distinction between breeders that show their dogs, and breeders that use their dogs for the purpose for which they were bred.

But I digress...A good breeder provides lifelong support to the people who purchase their puppies. Most sold pet quality puppies on a spay/neuter contract and either co-owned the show quality puppies, or had them under similar contract. Most were pretty thorough about screening prospective buyers. There is certainly a lot of time invest. I think more importantly though, being a good breeder is a lot of responsibility. It means having to make choices--sometimes very difficult ones, sometimes very expensive ones, sometimes ones that will make you mad and sometimes ones that will make you cry.

For most breeders...good ones anyway, the joy of creating a new life, of winning the show and creating the next winner, or lighting up the lives of someone else make it worth it.

As for how... Use the internet. Search for dog shows in your area. Attend one and introduce yourself to breeders, especially with those whose dogs you really like. Establish the foundations for some friendships. You want to make friends with other breeders--and again, especially those who are striving for the same goal as you and with whom you share philosophies with. Friends with other breeders often means the ability to infuse new stock into your bloodlines, refer customers to one another, and gain a helping hand into the showing world (if that's the route you are going). If showing is not your thing--check out field dog trials or various other dog-sport shows. There are usually breeders there too and they're dogs may have a slightly different look (type) compared to the show dogs, but the advice about making friends is still true here as well.

Some breeders have kennels and are a more professional environment, while others are far more informal--sometimes their dogs are simply 'pets' in the home too. You mentioned having land, so it sounds like you are leaning more towards a professional kennel. You could generate income by providing boarding or other services, though it would require initial investment to construct a proper kennel facility. I would not expect to make any profit or livable income if you want to be a good breeder. Most breeders I know made no profit...and the few that did invested it right back into their kennels.

For how to actually construct a kennel facility, you may want to check out your library or amazon. You can find books on how to establish and build a kennel facility. You can also find boarding certification licenses, ect. to ensure your kennel is more likely to be taken seriously and get a customer base.
posted by stubbehtail at 3:17 AM on May 21, 2012

Also, I wanted to add that you shouldn't expect breeders to necessarily be very friendly at first. Most are going to be somewhat skeptical until you've earned their trust. Simply be honest with them; you're so passionate about vizsla that you want to be a breeder (which I hope is the case).
posted by stubbehtail at 3:31 AM on May 21, 2012

When my wife and I got our first vizsla, we were between two breeders.

One was in it for the love and promotion of the breed. He and his wife lived on a farm, welcomed us to tromp around at our hearts content, let us meet 'the parents' of our breed, let us play with all the puppies, explained why they raised vizslas and how they got started breeding, as well as gave us references of people all across the United States who had their dogs. Their dogs were their family, and it showed.

The other breeder, a couple of miles away, had a very efficient operation, and a very clean, organized building on their farm where he raised his vizslas. But it was a little too efficient, a little too big...seemed like the vizslas were there for income, especially considering that they slept in the barn while the family pet, a beagle, slept inside.

Guess which breeder we chose? Be like that one. Don't use the dogs for income, rather use them to advance the breed.

A final anecdote: because we live in Iowa, which is small and full of amazing people, when our first Vizsla, Reagan, died at 22 months from canine osteosarcoma, we got a sympathetic call from our breeder that night. The groomer that we take our dogs to happened to be the niece of the breeder, and kept him in the loop, even though we live on opposite sides of the state. Our next (current) Vizsla came from him, too.
posted by tkerugger at 5:19 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My MIL used to breed shih tzus. She is rehoming her older dogs after deciding now to breed them anymore. This has been a long process because she wants them to have the right home. At her peak, I think she had about 12 or so breeding dogs. Double that when there were puppes. That's a lot of shih tzus!

How do people get started and why do they get started?

I believe she started as a way of meeting people and being involved with the breed that she loved. She used to travel all over to meet other shih tzus breeders and showed. She had five or so dogs when she started over a dozen years ago.

Do they make an income from it or is it all about the love?

I think it's all about the love. I'm not really sure how an ethical breeder could make money with vet bills, food bills, housing and more. I'm pretty sure my MIL has not made a penny off the dogs.

What do they do when they're not breeding?

She was a foster parent and now she works with special needs adults.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:09 AM on May 21, 2012

Agree with all the others saying that responsible breeders don't make much money (if any) from puppy sales. Our purebred puppy had already been DNA tested, had a heart scan, and had his eyes examined by veterinary specialists BEFORE we bought him. These were all, I'm sure, very expensive procedures. I doubt very much that the price we paid for our puppy was significantly more than the cost of all the tests and other miscellanous expenses associated with his first few weeks of life.
posted by rhartong at 7:40 AM on May 21, 2012

Do you show your dogs? Most legitimate breeders do. If you want to promote and improve the breed you need to start with champions. Do some research about how to find a good breeder, so you can find out what kind of breeders NOT to be.

I'd recommend newfpups.org. Obviously they are talking about Newfoundlands, but their advice about choosing the right breeder applies to any breed. Also read the story about the Thanksgiving pups. It gives you an idea about how much work having puppies can be, and also showcases a really disreputable breeder. Good, ethical breeders do not make money off their dogs.
posted by catatethebird at 9:07 AM on May 21, 2012

This article is about bulldogs, not vizslas, but it's a good look at the dangers caused when dog breeders prioritize (extreme) looks over all else.

Health and temperament must be the most important features of purebred dogs, with appearance a significant but distant third. Health because it is cruel and unsustainable to perpetuate a line of ill, suffering animals, and healthy pups from known healthy ancestors are less likely to get sick later. Temperament because thousands of years of animal domestication have favored animals including dogs that are easygoing, predictable, and human-friendly, and that go on to have calmer, friendlier, and more steadfast puppies. Any dog who isn't these things is little removed from a charming, beautiful, and dangerously unpredictable wild wolf in your house. You will spend more time training dogs than you will breeding them. The AKC has a Canine Good Citizen training program; ideally, every pet purebred or mutt would be able to pass it.

Try googling "(your area) vizsla
rescue" and see how you can help those organizations. You'll get experience with the dogs and make connections with fellow vizsla enthusiasts. And if there is an abundance of abandoned and neglected vizslas around, it may be more valuable to the breed right now for you to foster needy dogs than to produce more puppies.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:04 AM on May 22, 2012

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