Is There a Place for a Small Hobby Kennel?

How Smaller Kennels Can Strategize to Share the Limelight With Larger Ones.

In today’s dog show world of high-profile specials campaigns, is there a place for the small hobby kennel? One that produces perhaps a litter a year, maybe two, depending on breed and litter size, that shows its own dogs and mostly just goes to the local shows. In other words, a kennel whose owner is involved in dogs for the fun of it, in a relatively small way … which doesn’t preclude a desire to win.

Yes, there is a place for such kennels — I promise. As in any other activity, you have to accept that, like it or not, much of the recognition will go to the big players. And if you really want to succeed and have an impact as a small hobby kennel, there are a few rules you need to follow. Trust me, I have learned both from my own mistakes and from watching a lot of talented small-volume dog breeders. Here are what I think of as the Golden Rules:

  • Breed good dogs. It sounds self-evident, but it isn’t. You can’t experiment with breedings like a large kennel can; every litter counts, and a single mistake may put you out of competition for a year or two. You’ve just got to breed smarter than the big guys. (Or be luckier; see below.) In other words, be selective. More litters may result in more champions, but if you’re not breeding a lot you need a high percentage of high-quality homebreds — so if you’re not insanely enthusiastic about an upcoming breeding, don’t do it. A spayed or neutered champion can make a wonderful pet instead of producing “just average” puppies.
  • Cooperate with other breeders. With a small breeding program you need to maintain a cordial relationship with your fellow breeders, since you have to rely on them for outside blood. The ability to see where you may benefit from going “out” to another kennel is invaluable.
  • Find good puppy buyers. You can’t do it all yourself, and since you may not employ a professional handler, you need enthusiastic, talented puppy buyers to take good care of the dogs you breed, and to present them well at the shows. Put some faith in a new exhibitor; you may be agreeably surprised.
  • Don’t be greedy. If your puppy buyer agrees to let you co-own their puppy, fine — but don’t impose ridiculous restrictions. Accept that once a puppy leaves your premises it’s no longer “yours.” And if you insist on breeding from every bitch puppy you sell you don’t qualify as a “small hobby kennel” anymore.
  • Stretch your resources. It’s amazing how many exhibitors waste a whole weekend showing under judges they should have known were a lost cause. If you’re having fun anyway, fine, but do your homework and spend your dollars on judges who will give your dog a fair chance.
  • Advertise. You always “win” when you put in a good ad, and it costs less than most show weekends. I’m not talking about a flashy specials promotion ad either. There used to be “kennel ads” that focused not so much on a particular dog as on a whole breeding program. Serious dog people will take notice if you put together a simple, interesting kennel “story” ad.
  • Stick around for a long time. Instant success is nice, but lasting influence is better. You won’t achieve your goals as quickly as if you breed a lot, but the satisfaction when you get there will be even greater.
  • Have a lot of luck. Without a fair share of good luck nothing else matters. One day you may even sell a puppy to someone who can bring you into the big league…

    So, good luck with your small kennel, and please let me hear of your success. You may be an inspiration for the rest of us.
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