When it comes to selling your puppies there are a few things to sort out first.
How much to charge for them:
Presumably you did your research right at the beginning on the going market value of your breed, and have built a firm foundation for the viability of your dog breeding venture by choosing a breed (and color) that is inherently sound, in demand, and not oversupplied.
However, a couple of years may have elapsed since then before you actually have puppies to sell. The market value of dogs is subject to fluctuation. Purebred dogs are basically a luxury item and, some may say, even a fashion accessory! People choose breeds and colors according to what is “fashionable” at the time, and this affects the price. So you will have to check the newspaper classifieds and call a few breeders to find out what the current going rate for puppies of your breed is.
The other determinant of price is competition. You may be lucky at the time you offer your pups to the market and be the only advertiser for that breed and thus the only source at the time. In this case you can charge the “full” market price for your puppies. However, sometimes you will find that after weeks of no ads, two other breeders have pups for sale at the same time as yours! In such cases (especially if you have a particularly large litter) you may have to drop your price slightly.
You may also find that the biggest demand is for female pups (a lot of people don’t like the habit of male dogs of peeing on everything, and some of course may want to breed). If this is the case in your breed, then you might want to consider asking more for female pups especially if you only have a few females and a lot of males in the litter.
I also sometimes offer a discount on pups that remain unsold past 8 weeks of age (this has only happened to me ONCE!), and to people who buy two pups at the same time.
Pups with a serious defect should not be sold. However, minor defects are not uncommon. Examples are a small umbilical hernia or imperfect bite. Pups with such minor issues sold as pets-only can be sold at full pet price. However for large hernias or other problematic defects a discount equivalent to the veterinary fees to fix the problem is justified.
In the event that you allow a pup to be sold registered, a premium price is warranted (usually around 50% higher than non-registered price – more for stock from show winning parents) that also helps offset the costs of registering the puppy and the litter it came from, that must be met by you as breeder.
When buyers have selected a pup they wish to purchase, it will often still be a few weeks too young for them to take home. It is thus appropriate to take a non-refundable deposit to hold the pup for the client and endorse their commitment to the purchase. This is especially important given that pups have a “use by date” of about 8 weeks, after which they rapidly lose both their appeal and value in the marketplace. Normally I insist on a $500 deposit. However, if holding pups for a week or more past 8 weeks of age (e.g. for clients awaiting vacation times and such) you must insist on full payment by 8 weeks of age. I also charge $10 a day boarding costs as a lone pup is quite a time-consuming boarder! It is also imperative that you explain how important socialisation with the new family is during the critical days from 8 to 12 weeks of age – delays in adoption eat into this time and can have negative effects on the lifelong psychological health of the dog. Explain this upfront and it is amazing how many clients manage to find a friend or family member to babysit the puppy for them!
Preparing puppies for sale
There are several mistakes breeders commonly make that reduce the appeal of their pups to the puppy buyer market. All are avoidable.
The first one is not adequately socializing their puppies. This is particularly common to larger breeders who churn out a puppy production line in factory farm-like conditions. The pups in this situation often only see humans for feeding, medications and hosing out of their run. There is little interaction, contact or socialization at all. The result is pups that are suspicious or fearful of humans. Poorly socialized pups will fail to respond in a friendly, appealing way to prospective buyers. Even if you do manage to sell them, they are likely to become maladjusted pets prone to behavioral problems, spoiling your chances of building a great reputation as a breeder. I don’t recommend that you become such a breeder!
I know that the bigger breeders out there love to malign the so-called “backyard breeder” and brainwash the public to avoid them at all costs. However, the truth is that the backyard has the highest potential of turning out the best quality pups for the pet market! So, keep your dog breeding business at a small, family scale. Only at this scale can you afford the time to handle each and every pup each and every day (where cute little puppies are concerned, it’s not hard to train and recruit your gentle children, friends, and relatives to help!).
Another big mistake is in not taking the trouble to observe and type your pups according to their personality. Buying a pup is a big decision, and it is also confusing – it’s very hard to tell in a short visit the kind of dog the puppy is likely to grow into, and since you will be stuck with your choice for years, it can be a very stressful and worrying decision! Instead, imagine yourself as a puppy buyer who goes along to a breeder who takes the time to find out the kind of dog that will suit their needs then matches you up with the exact pup with the right temperament and personality for you. How impressed would you be? How much more confident would you feel about choosing that pup? This is yet another way that you can outshine all your competitors in the dog breeding industry and deliver outstanding service! But such great “matching” is only possible if you get to know each puppy individually, and this, again, can only be achieved by operating at the “backyard” scale.
Your pups should be healthy, vermin-free and attractive – a credit to you as a breeder. Give them a bath and groom before presenting them to prospective buyers. If they are of a breed that is customarily clipped, then clip them as well. I like to buy cheap colorful collars to put on the pups (first remove bells and things that might choke your pups). This is a finishing touch that renders them irresistible, and also makes it easier for clients to choose a favorite. It also makes it easier for you to identify the chosen pup and match it up with the correct owner later on. However, the puppies will try and pull each other’s collars off, so it is prudent to back up your ID system with nailpolish inside an earflap. Don’t give them a big meal just before people arrive as they will more than likely be sleepy and dull when you want them to be active, playful and alert.
Before you advertise, check your list of people waiting for your pups, check if they still need a pup, and let them know what you have. As your reputation and time in the industry grows, you will find that an increasing proportion of your litters are sold without advertising at all.
When to advertise
Pups are most appealing when they are small, between the ages of 4 and 8 weeks. Your goal should be to have them all sold by the time they are ready to leave you. If the litter is large, start your advertising early to give you time to meet this deadline. Given that your pups will not be ready to go to their new owners until they are 8 weeks old, you then potentially have several weeks to secure committed buyers for them.
So if you haven’t got a long waiting list yet (very soon you will, if you follow the guidelines I’ve given you) you should begin advertising your puppies when they are 3 to 4 weeks old to give buyers ample time to find you. However I would recommend that you explain to clients that they will not be able to reliably choose the right puppy for them until they are 5 to 6 weeks old when their personality emerges. Then, on a first-come-first-served basis, allow them to choose their pups. People buying fully registered pups should be given the pick of the litter and be prepared to follow your advice on this.
Where to advertise
Some breeders maintain an advertising listing with their local kennel club/canine organization. For large breeders this may be a good strategy. Another effective avenue is dog sales websites that will often offer breeders a free webpage of their own. You could also use classified newspaper advertisements.
The best time to advertise is on the weekends, and the best place is in the most popular weekend newspapers. Saturday and Sunday are equally good. A lot of people will refer to them during the week and call you then.
How to advertise
Your ads need not be elaborate nor expensive – short, simple classified advertisements work fine. If people are looking they will find you! The format I use (abbreviated) is this:
My Breed purebred pups, male and female,
Ready X/Y/ZZ (date at 8 weeks of age).
Registered breeder. Phone 1234 5678.
Sometimes I put in the colors of the pups (abbreviated), or even something special about the breed – for schnauzers this would be “low allergy”. Notice that I do not include the price! People must call for that so you don’t lose the opportunity to show what great value your puppies really are!
Your own stud website
The best and easiest way to promote yourself is to create a Facebook page. It only takes minutes and once you have asked all your friends to like it and encouraged your owners to post photos and updates, it will grow rapidly.
These days it is also relatively easy and cheap to establish and maintain a professional looking website that will sell puppies for you 24/7. If you (or someone who is willing to help you) have reasonable word-processing skills then you will have no trouble building your own website. Modern website building tools have made it easy. If you are capable of putting a basic brochure or poster advert together on a computer then you can quickly create a great looking site – you don’t even have to learn special languages like html. I recommend Wix for an easy to use and cheap to run site. It will only cost you a couple of dollars a week. There may be others you know about – ask around.
To divert buyers to your site you can advertise with Google Adwords. The advert will show up when people search on Google using specific keywords that match those you have bid on with Adwords, such as “dog breeder” and “labrador” (or whatever your breed is). You can also set up your campaign with Adwords to only show advertisements to people living in the region that you are willing to sell to (this can be city, state, nation-wide or even cover selected countries).
Prepare your marketing spiel
All marketing is based on presenting the benefits of your product to prospects. If you have been following the advice in this manual you will have a lot to say to prospective buyers on the advantages of buying from you:
- Superiority of the breed – since you have been so careful to choose a well-built, intrinsically sound breed, let buyers know about it and the years of trouble-free dog ownership that it offers them.
- Outbred dogs – alert buyers to the risks inherent in pups that are inbred, how common it is, and your strict policy of outbreeding.
- Health screens (if any) you have had done on the parents to reduce the risk of genetic disease in your pups.
- Guarantee – Offer a full money-back promise good for the first 2 years of the pups’ life guaranteeing that it is free of serious genetic defects.
- Socialization – Explain to people that your pups are better because they are raised as part of your family. Tell them how important early puppy socialization is to the temperament and personality of the dogs they become, and the overall quality of the dog owning experience for them, the buyer. Also explain the dangers of buying from large breeders where this is not possible.
- Personalization – Let them know that you are so close to your pups that you get to know the personality of each and every one, and can help them find the pup that is perfect for their situation.
- Price – If people baulk at the price, let them know that it is the current norm for the breed, and that over the long life of the puppy is quite negligible compared to getting the dog that they really want.
Some breeders are in the habit of putting prospective owners of their puppies through the third degree ostensibly to see if they “qualify” as fitting owners. Since the buyers of your puppies will pay handsomely for them, in a sense they have already proven that they place a lot of value on them and so are very likely to take good care of their investment. The information pack I give to clients also helps make up for any ignorance on their part that might otherwise preclude them from providing a good life for their dog.
So, the main criterion that I maintain in screening buyers is based on how happy I believe puppy is likely to be in their household. Dogs are very social animals. To be happy they need company and social interaction. To this end there are really only two types of homes that I do not knowingly send puppies to:
- Large breeding kennels – where the puppy will be raised in a compound of wire and concrete along with other hysterically confined inmates and used primarily as a breeder in a puppy factory.
- Lonely homes – where the puppy is destined to spend most of its days alone in someone’s yard. If prospective owners come from households where both parents work I insist that their only way of getting one of my pups is to buy two so at least the dogs will have each other to be with when their owners are not at home.
- Homes where the owner is inactive – it has been my sad duty many times to decline the sale of my pup to older or physically disabled people who are not fit enough to exercise them every day. In such cases I suggest they get an older dog of an exercise intolerant breed such as the peke, pug and shitzu.
Gently question the client about the kind of home they will be offering the puppy and advise them accordingly.
If you can’t help them this time
Some clients may be set on a particular color or sex that you are unable to offer them at the time. Inform them of other litters that you are likely to have in the near future, and offer to notify them exclusively of newly available pups in advance of advertising. Assure them that you do not mind if they manage to get a pup from elsewhere in the meantime – you will be happy to call them anyway. Keep a careful record of the date, name, preferences and contact details of all such enquiries.
Handling visits by prospective clients
Here’s a sweeping generalization for you – people who are big on animals have a tendency to be small on housekeeping and general hygiene. If you are like me, you are not the most fastidious housekeeper in your street. However, presentation is a big part of marketing any product and applies to you and your pups as much as it does to anything else! The idea is to instill confidence. So, on the days that you are letting clients into your abode to view your pups you may need to make a special effort.
- You: Present yourself as someone who looks trustworthy and reputable! You don’t have to don your Sunday best to look the part. Neat, clean casual clothes will do. Brush your hair, your teeth, tidy your nails, use deodorant, and wear shoes. A little lipstick and subdued makeup wouldn’t go astray (unless you are a fella!). If you smoke, refrain while customers are around.
- Environment: Make sure everywhere in your home and yard that clients will be exposed to is clean and tidy. Manage your enterprise and your dogs so that your home doesn’t develop that “doggy” smell and general untidiness that so often characterizes the dog breeder! Ensure the puppy run is freshly mucked out and the food and water bowls are clean. Pick up and dispose of any feces in the yard. Mow the lawns, straighten the cushions, empty and hide the ashtray, and tuck away anything else that might detract from a good impression.
- Litter Parents: I am continually amazed by the number of puppy clients who report the refusal of breeders to allow them to view the pup’s parents. What are they trying to hide? Don’t be like them! Let people interact with all your dogs, including the parents if both are available. Of course they will be clean, neat and tidy, and not scratching with fleas or pivoting on their bottoms from worms! You should be proud of your beautifully socialized, healthy, well presented dogs and eager to share them with clients. To be otherwise is to foster suspicion and mistrust in your clients.
Too often I hear of clients being virtually interrogated by aggressive breeders who don’t seem to know how to make someone feel welcome or comfortable. Such breeders sabotage themselves!
Your objective as a successful dog breeder must be to have your clients bond with a puppy enough to commit to buying it. So create an atmosphere conducive to this objective! Have comfortable seating available where they can interact with the pups, and offer your clients a cup of coffee. Show them the information pack they will be given when they place their deposit on a pup, leave them a copy to peruse, and answer any questions they may have. Then tell them you will be back in a short while to answer any more questions, and leave them alone for 5 to 10 minutes to talk amongst themselves and interact with the pups and your other dogs.
If you turn out a quality product, a lot of your business over the long haul will be word-of-mouth and repeat customers. You will build a long waiting list of people who have shopped around enough to know that your pups are outstanding and worth waiting for!
Bear in mind that sometimes people posing as clients may be there to case your situation just so they can return later and relieve you of your valuable stock. I have known breeders to lose whole litters to theft. You can protect yourself in several ways:
- Ask for people’s contact details before giving out your address.
- Viewing should be by appointment only. Don’t offer any details about when you are likely to be home and when you are likely to be out.
- Put locks on all gates and doors accessing your dog areas.
- Discretely record the number on the car license plates of clients you feel uneasy about.
- Restrict prospective buyers to a particular area at the front of your property so that they do not have the opportunity to case out exactly where your puppies are housed and the potential access ways.
- Once you start advertising, don’t plan any time away until your last pup has been safely picked up by its new owner.