It should be obvious to all of us that, now more than ever before, we have to be as honest, ethical and careful as we possibly can be as dog breeders. In this day of political confusion (at least, I’m confused most of the time!), Animal Rights activists and a rather shaky economy, we are faced more strongly than ever with close scrutiny as breeders and even the possibility of losing our rights to own, breed and exhibit dogs. What does it take to build and maintain an outstanding reputation as a breeder, one where we are trusted and respected by our communities and our buyers?
Making Our Communities Love Us
It all starts at home, or at least I believe that it should. Let’s begin by being excellent neighbors. We should always be considerate of the people who live close to us. No loose dogs running, no matter how much property we have. No constant barking. Of course, dogs bark, but there is no faster way to malign our relationship with our neighbors than letting dogs bark for hours on end. And they surely should not bark at all at night! Locked in or taught to be quiet, make it one or the other.
At my house, my dogs have dog doors so they obviously can get out at night. But it’s a very rare night when there is a disturbance. They are used to the regular sounds of their surroundings, and it takes a very unusual noise to make them go outside. They are a good alarm system in that manner, and if there is barking at night, either my husband or I are immediately up checking to see what is happening and quieting the dogs. We do have one dog that regularly goes outside on the night of the full moon and barks, but we are always ready for him, and a quick, “Theo, be quiet and get back in the house,” is always sufficient.
Cleanliness is so important. Our dogs, our kennels and our property must be kept clean, odorless and neat. Nobody wants to live next to a doggy pigpen, and no breeder who wants to be taken seriously should ever live that way. It matters not if we live in a mansion or a small, modest house, as long as everything is neat and clean and well cared for.
A wonderful relationship with our veterinarians is critical to our success in the community. We should take clean, properly groomed and well-behaved dogs to the clinic. Our dogs should be social at the office and cause no problems for the staff. We should keep all of our dogs fit and healthy at all times so that the excellent care that they receive at home is evident to our veterinarians. All the staff at my clinic loves when my dogs come because they are clean, well-mannered, stand quietly on the examining table and the scales, and are totally trusting of people. Breeders whose dogs behave this way make such a wonderful impression on veterinarians and their staff. This helps to create a mutual respect between doctor and breeder, which is necessary for a successful, long-term relationship. We must never act as if we know more than our veterinarian. Yes, as breeders we have learned a lot through the years, but we didn’t go to vet school and we don’t see case after case of a thousand different problems every month. If we respect and trust our veterinarians, they will feel the same about us and do their best to work together with us for the benefit of our animals. And they will happily recommend us as quality, caring breeders.
If we drive a vehicle around town that advertises our dogs, we will frequently be approached by curious people who want to either see the dogs in the truck (if there are any) or who want to tell us a story about a dog of our breed that they had in the past and loved completely. Being kind and patient with people who want to chat about dogs takes little effort and brings great reward. Be willing to talk for a few minutes, hand out a business card and maybe even invite them to call and come meet the dogs. Show the people in your community what a wonderful thing it is to be a purebred hobby breeder! When we have puppies on the premises, it’s excellent PR to invite the neighborhood children over to play with them. The kids go home talking about how much fun it is at our house, and our puppies get extra socialization to boot!
It is so important to be proactive, not reactive, with our communities. We have many ways to make positive impressions.
Instilling Trust in Our Buyers
In the Digital Age, it is definitely a “buyer beware” market. Fancy websites can cleverly advertise and often cover up the reality of a situation. People searching for a puppy of a specific breed might spend many hours researching but end up confused about where they should begin to search for the right puppy. While the Internet is surely a great tool, there is still no better way for people to find a really good breeder than through referrals from previous buyers. This is a fantastic way for us to receive inquiries. Don’t you just love to get a call or email that begins with, “We met some people who have one of your dogs, and we fell in love with it”?
When we receive an initial inquiry, regardless of how they found us, obviously we go through a fairly standard process of questions, both asked and answered. If we are all satisfied with the initial communication, a great tool is to send the prospective buyers the email addresses of several people who have dogs that they have purchased from us and tell them to make contact and find out how those buyers feel about us as breeders. It’s a wonderful way to instill trust.
If the prospective buyers are within driving distance, scheduling a visit is so important. We should absolutely be willing to open our homes to people interested in a dog. And we should allow them to interact with all of our dogs, whether we have four or five that live in the house or two dozen that are in our kennel. As breeders, we should have nothing to hide from prospective purchasers. Our dogs should be healthy, happy and eager to meet new people. Letting prospective buyers meet all the dogs benefits us more than it does them because we get to see exactly how they interact with the dogs and determine if we really think that they will be good owners and if our breed is the right one for them. We should never, ever just be in a hurry to make a sale.
If we are dealing long-distance with someone whose puppy will have to be shipped, we owe it to ourselves and our dogs to put extra effort into making certain that we are doing the right thing. Personally, I will never conduct a long-distance sale solely via email. I want to talk on the phone several times with the people until I am completely satisfied that it is a great home. People who are truly interested in dealing with the best breeders will welcome this sort of exchange and have greater confidence in us than if we shoot a few emails back and forth and say, “OK, here is a puppy.”
These days it is critical that our buyers understand that we are committed to them and their dog for its lifetime. Our sales contracts should clearly state that we are always available to help, and that if for any reason at all something occurs that makes it impossible for the buyers to keep their dog, it must either come back to us or we will help them rehome it. If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem. No dog that we bred should ever end up in a shelter or rescue. There is simply no excuse for it ever happening if we make it clear that our dogs are forever welcome back with us. And don’t think for a minute that something can’t happen that forces a family to part with their dog, no matter how beloved. Marriages break up, terminal illness can befall someone or an unexpected death can occur. As breeders, we have to stay on our toes and always be willing to take care of our own. Staying in touch with our buyers through the years makes us much more informed and responsible and always returning calls or emails is a must.
Regardless of how careful we are as breeders, things can and do go wrong. We can breed dogs together that have wonderful temperaments and every health clearance possible, and yet come up with a dog that has a problem. How we handle this sort of situation with our pet buyers clearly defines what sort of breeder we really are. If we sell a puppy to a family as a companion and that dog later exhibits a problem that makes it unacceptable as a pet, then it is our responsibility to make it right. Yes, dogs with minor health issues can live perfectly normal lives as pets. But dogs with untrustworthy temperaments, epilepsy, or crippling blood or bone disorders cannot. In these situations, we have to step up to the plate and help the family deal with what is always a crushing loss, and then provide another dog when they are ready to begin again. The closer we remain in contact with our buyers, the more we will know about our breeding programs. And the more we know, the better we can do as breeders.