One of the hardest aspects about transitioning from dog lover to breeder is learning how to use your head, and not your heart, to make most of the decisions. Most would-be breeders start by collecting several dogs – that urge to find “the perfect breeding stock” can be pretty overwhelming. If the novice is even halfway on track, each of these dogs will be lovable with great personalities – they’re so easy to fall in love with!
The intelligent novice, as she learns, will start to realize that not all of these dogs fit with her “vision” of what she wants to do. Health, genetics, temperament, conformation – it’s easy to have two very good dogs who just don’t need to be in the same breeding program.
This is where it gets difficult. She loves them all, she can’t think of parting with any of them – each one is so special, in it’s own way!
Hopefully, logic – or a good mentor – steps in. If the keeps all of them now, what happens when she breeds her first litter? How many of those need to be kept to move forward? What if she breeds two litters?
If the heart makes all the decisions, soon there are 10, 15, 20 dogs – what then? She can love all of them, but who gets her time? What happens when all of those first dogs start to get old, and are past breeding age? In a long-lived breed (many of the Toy breeds), dogs may finish their breeding career at 8-10, but live to 15 years or more. Potentially, that’s 2-3 generations of “seniors” who are incapable of breeding – where do they go? Does she keep them? Rehome them? But she LOVES them!
It’s so easy to love all of them. Whether we rescue, buy, or breed, those of us who love dogs LOVE dogs. We learn their habits and quirks, and they become so dear to us – it’s hard to imagine going through the day without that particular face smiling back at you. This dog really gets it when she’s sad, this one is always happy, this one just wants to spend his entire life curled up on her lap!
Now, she’s either started making hard choices, or she’s a candidate for the next episode of Hoarders (I don’t need to watch the show; I see it every day in real life).
Hopefully, she’s both a good breeder and a good communicator – because selling puppies takes a LOT of communication. I know plenty of great breeders whose interpersonal skills rank slightly lower than Tarzan’s. If she’s really lucky, or really good, those first few homes are great. They send pictures, they post on Facebook, she gets to see dozens of photos with her beautiful dog smiling back at her, and she knows he’s in love with his new people, and they’re in love with him.
If she’s great, those first homes tell other homes, and she finds herself with wonderful families who are in eager anticipation of acquiring one of her dogs. Handing them off to make their way in the world isn’t any easier, but those excited, happy human faces help make up for it.
If she’s smart, and lucky, and just plain works her bum into the ground, she goes to sleep every night knowing that her pups are happy and loved – every one of them.
Those novice breeders who aren’t as smart, or as lucky, or willing or able to work as hard – they end up in different places. Some become headlines. Some quit. Some flounder somewhere in between, never quite able to let go.
At the beginning, for most breeders, is love. I truly believe this. Almost every breeder I’ve met (good, bad, or in the gray area) loves their dogs, especially at first. Age, poverty, exhaustion – so many factors can change that – but at one point, I believe that all of us were shiny faced teenagers who thought that cuddling a puppy was the best place in the world.
In the end, what distinguishes the best of us from the worst is logic, and letting go.
I have dogs here, right now, who are ready to go to their “forever homes.” I like some more than others, but I know and love every one of them. Pick one, any one, and I’ll tell you more than you ever thought that any person could ever know about a dog. I know each voice, and I know each “style” of bark. Right now, Bridget, in “maternity queen” mode, knows I’ve entered the house, and Her Royal Majesty feels that my first duty should be to bring her more cold water, fluff the blankets on her bed, and let her outside – she’ll scold me for whatever order I choose, because I always get it wrong. I adore her. She will be seven in October, this is her third (and last) litter for me. Her retirement home is waiting anxiously for her pups to be born and ready to leave – her place on that sofa is ready and waiting.
I’ll miss her desperately – she’s funny, and imperious, and strong willed, and commanding. Boys twice her size flee if she curls her lip at them. I’ll even miss her initiation of group howls whenever she feels slighted, or siren screams when I play Maria Callas on the stereo (her grandmother hated Callas, too – is it genetic?).
Love wants to keep them all. Logic dictates that some must move on, or I’ll not be able to care well for any of them.
Logic wins, and I let them go.