Sep 12

It's Not the Economy Stupid, uhh, Sweetie!


Wow, I hate using the word "stupid" but I just could not resist that title for this article.  Perhaps I should change it to "Sweetie" instead but that doesn't quite relay the same meaning.  Because purebred dog breeders are, unfortunately, buying into the lie that the reason they are having trouble placing pups in good homes now is because of the "economy". People just don't want to spend the money to buy a quality pup anymore, I keep hearing.   I hate to tell you, but.....it is NOT the economy that has made it difficult for reputable show or performance breeders to sell their pups the last few years!

Why not, you say?  You have become convinced that because health testing is now so expensive, and you must charge between $800-3,000 for a top quality pup these days, even to pet homes....people are just no longer knocking on your door, no more waiting lists when you have a litter planned, those days seem to be gone forever.  The unemployment rate is high in your area. Even people with jobs worry about lay-offs. People just aren't buying expensive dogs like they used to do, times have simply changed.

Umm....a tad of truth in this argument, but you have to know, it is just a tad, a tiny bit of truth.  Because people ARE still buying dogs, and they are spending money on the dogs they buy. There are still people spending hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for well-bred dogs. Unfortunately, sometimes, actually a LOT of times, they are even spending this type of money for dogs that are NOT so well-bred.

Really, WHY?

If this is true, then there must be other reasons your pups are not selling like they used to sell. I want to lay it out here for you, in black and white. Because I know the reasons, I see them on a day to day basis as they pour into my email inbox and Facebook posts.  I watch as other dogs are getting placed, while lovely pets from show quality breeders are growing up without the families they are meant to be with, often not finding homes until they are two or three years old.

The number one reason for this current trend is one I hate to even approach but truth is truth....animal rescue groups have marketing programs that are putting the value of AKC registered dogs to shame. Millions of dollars are being spent on television ads by national groups, to convince the public that the only politically correct, even the only morally correct, way to add a dog to your family is by doing so through adopting a homeless dog. Manipulative marketing is being used to the highest extent possible, and they are doing it quite well. Training and boarding customers who were my customers back in 1990, who would have never considered buying their kids a puppy from anyone but the most reputable breeder available in those days, insisting on knowing all about genetic health clearances, etc. and the best possible breed match,  are now calling me up to find out which rescue group they should contact in order to find a healthy, happy pup for their grandchild.

Yep, that's what I said...a happy, healthy PUP.  Remember the days when all well educated dog owners knew that the best way to find a happy (as in well-socialized), healthy (as in from parents cleared of hereditary defects, puppies already dewormed, etc.) PUPPY that would make a safe family companion would be to first, establish the type of dog that would work best for your family and two, then locate the most reputable breeder of that breed of dog you could find?  What happened to that mindset?


Well, first, let me reiterate,..IT IS RARELY ABOUT MONEY.  People are not going to rescue groups to adopt a dog because it is cheaper than going to a breeder. Because one of the first things I tell people, when we discuss the pros and cons of adopting a rescue dog, is that although the adoption fee may be only a few hundred dollars (if purebred) or even less if a mixed breed, the rescued dog is likely to need more medical care during his first year of life than a pup or adopt purchased from a reputable breeder.

If they want the joy of giving an unwanted dog a good home, I try to steer them towards reputable groups who will have had most of the medical work already done. But I also take time to explain that dogs who have only been out of the animal shelter a short time may come down with a bad cause of contagious respiratory illness or even something as life-threatening as parvo within the first thirty days of coming out of the shelter environment, so they need to factor in not only the adoption fee, but inevitable veterinary costs. I explain that even the adult dogs offered by rescue groups, unless they have been in foster care for a long period of time, probably have not yet completed all of the deworming and vaccination requirements the pup will need.  I explain that if a shelter dog develops something contagious, then any current dog they own is likely to also have a veterinary bill involved before it is all over.


We talk about heartworm treatment, and about how many rescue groups are now choosing to simply put heartworm-positive dogs on preventative, as opposed to actually providing treatment to kill the adult heartworms before putting the dog up for adoption. So if they are adopting a dog over the age of 5 months, it is important to have a vet evaluate whether or not the dog has heartworms;  and if he or she does, does he need treatment (which I explain is both very expensive and can be life-threatening) or is this new conservative way of "slow kill" a safe option for the particular dog they are considering.  Not all rescue organizations are explaining this to potential adopters, so adopters need to be educated about this issue, simply so they can ask. I would guess the majority of adopters do not even ask for anything showing the dog has been checked and is heartworm negative, but they need to know so they can know the safest type of preventative to give the dog, and if the dog is under any type of exercise restriction due to being under treatment for heartworms.  If a dog has been well evaluated, a veterinarian can tell you if the dog has any permanent heart or lung damage from previous heartworm treatment, since this can affect their lifespan, if they were originally loaded with heartworms.  If they had only a few, then it is simply no big deal and once they are treated, all should be well as long as they are kept on monthly preventative. Some reputable breeders are now choosing not to give heartworm preventative anymore, because of following a strict holistic program...if this is you, then just like the rescue group, you need to let your potential buyers know and don't be offended if they wish to have an adult dog checked before making a commitment.


Another thing that potential adopters need to realize is that certain breeds of dogs, regardless of where they come from, are more prone to have things such as bad hips.  So technically, if someone's goal is the healthiest dog possible, and they also happen to want to enjoy doing things like agility with their dog, this should be a consideration. Buyers in this category who are adopting a dog over the age of a year, whether from a rescue group, a "rehome" from someone who just wants to give it up or from a reputable breeder,  should spend the money to have the dog's hips x-rayed if it is important to them to avoid the heartbreak of a dog that has hip dysplasia (or if they cannot afford something such as hip replacement surgery, which runs in the thousands of dollars). Other breeds of dogs, such as Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, even Golden Retrievers, are prone to eye problems that can cause early blindness, but most puppy buyers have never heard of hereditary eye diseases that can cause a dog to go blind by the age of two years old.

A reputable breeder will have the parents of the puppies and the dogs themselves checked by canine ophthalmologists. Does this mean they never come up with a dog who has something such as juvenile cataracts?  Of course not!  Just like people, dogs are prone to various health problems but if you are the type of person to whom these things are important, then you can enjoy the benefit of purchasing a dog where these conditions have been ruled out. OR if you do adopt a dog that has cataracts and the ophthalmologist has said they are progressive but can be removed, then you know you are adopting a $4,000 dog (about $2,000 per eye for the cataract removal in many areas) instead of a $200 dog.  One caution however re eye problems--do your research carefully, as in certain breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, cataracts are often NOT progressive and a breeder may place a dog with cataracts in a good home for only the price of being reimbursed for the cost of spaying or neutering, and the dog may live a long life without vision problems.  Each breed of dog has its own set of health problems you need to keep an eye out for (no pun intended) and if your dog is a mix, it will not necessarily escape problems, in fact, it may have more (a Labradoodle, for example, may have the increased risk of hip problems from the Labrador blood behind him, PLUS the increased risk of epilepsy and eye problems that Poodles bring into the mix).


Personally, for me, the issues of epilepsy or heart problems are much more devastating than eye problems, because so little can be done about these health problems, even if you have available a lot of money for veterinary expenses.  We took in a rehomed Poodle at the age of 9, who died of congestive heart failure a few years later and it was not an easy death.  Because of this, I personally would not want to adopt a dog unless it was heartworm free (or was a young dog that I knew I could get through heartworm treatment hopefully without a huge chance of complications due to only having a few heartworms).

When my dogs are ill or in pain, it causes me great distress.  This dog came originally from a backyard breeder (was given to us in his later years when his owner died of cancer). He had a heart murmur from a young age, that got progressively worse as he aged.  His owner paid only about $500-600 for him as a puppy but after we took him in, we spent thousands of dollars in tests his last few years of life before a good vet finally determined that his wasting away (from 60 lbs to 35 lbs) was all caused from his heart condition.  We loved this dog so dearly but I certainly wish that he had been bred by someone other than a backyard breeder who was not checking for hereditary problems, as he also had eye problems and was almost totally blind in his last few years.  A reputable breeder would have made sure to breed only a sire and dam who were free of eye problems, hip problems, epilepsy, heart murmurs, etc, so the pups they sold would have been much more likely to have lived long, healthy lives.


To some dog owners though, health is not the "be all, end all".  I have met many people who were actually DRAWN to the rescue dog who had a medical problem, and they are able to commit to spending thousands of dollars on orthopedic surgery, or whatever type of medical treatment might be needed to bring a puppy mill survivor back to health.  Many, many times the rescue dog they adopt will cost them even MORE than it would have cost them to adopt a healthy pup from an ethical dog breeder.  And there are many dogs who need this help, so if you have this type of kind heart and a pocketbook to match, then you are definitely the type of person who should not shy away from adopting a special needs dog. Nearly all humane societies and animal rescue groups have special needs dogs, and they are very grateful for people who are aware of what it takes to nurse these animals back to physical and emotional health and can make a forever commitment to them.


But back to the subject of this article, why are people willing to spend this amount on a poorly bred dog while well-bred healthy dogs are growing up in ethical breeders homes without anyone showing any interest in them?  Or why has it become more and more difficult to place a retired show dog or a re-home?  Dogs like our precious Dakota, a Siberian Husky from a show breeder, who lived to be 15 1/2 years old and rarely went to the vet except when she needed a rabies shot....a lovely dog whom we took in as a "re-home" when she was 2 years old. Even though an accident caused her to have to have a torn knee repaired at age 13, she fully recovered and never developed arthritis. What a blessing, a long-lived dog who did not even have to take pain medication in her older years. Kota was an incredibly healthy girl as well as a dog that was able to finish her championship, even though she was shown rarely since she was not a breeding dog, she was my son's pet. She never met a stranger and was a joy to take on walks in the park as well as fun in the show ring.  She cost us a very small amount, I think we paid half the cost to have her shipped from her former owner (who lived across the country) when her breeder, a friend of ours, took her back.  Her breeder just wanted the dog to have a good forever home, she did not make a dime from the situation, actually she "went in the hole", because she paid the other half of her shipping costs.  I know one or two other folks who have been willing to pay several hundred dollars to purchase a dog that did not turn out for show, but is leash trained, crate-trained, often even house-trained.....but these days, more common are people who feel almost "guilty" to give a dog like this a home, instead of rescuing one from a shelter, even though the retired show dog has a much higher chance of being a healthy dog throughout its lifetime, if it came from a reputable breeder.  I will refer them to someone who has a dog that will be perfect for them, but instead often they don't even contact the show breeder who has the two or three year old dog that needs a home.


Again...it's not the economy keeping people from adopting these wonderful retired show dogs! Most people don't even know there are dogs like Dakota out there looking for good homes. But the marketing being done right now to encourage people to adopt homeless pets is incredible so everyone knows there are thousands of shelter dogs needing homes.  And how can we resent it, the marketing by national animal organizations, because it does help save millions of lives every year?  But breeders are so afraid of being politically incorrect, that on their websites, they are not writing informative articles about why someone might choose to purchase a healthy pup from them or an older retiree that did not turn out for show, instead of going to the local animal shelter or rescue group.  Or more importantly, few breeders know how to POLITELY explain why it is NOT a good idea to go down to the pet store and buy the adorable Shih Tzu pup on impulse.  The average pet owner does not even realize that he is likely to pay MORE for a pet store puppy than he would for a quality pet puppy from a top show breeder.  All the pet owners sees are the adorable puppies playing behind the window, and a very friendly young employee who is anxious to answer any of his questions and send him home with a free crate and even a free bag of puppy food if he will just plunk down his credit card for the $1,500 pup (and in larger cities, the price may be twice this amount).


And yes, "good" pet owners DO, quite often, buy puppies from pet stores. Good homes as in people who have the money and the desire to provide the very best in veterinary care, toys, beds, the highest quality dog food,training and lots of love throughout their dogs' lives.  I know this is true because these people used to bring their dogs to our Bed & Biscuit for boarding and grooming, and they had no ill will towards the pet store, because the employees had always been kind to them. The majority of the people who bought from the pet stores had dogs that were not pretty (as in they did not look like show dogs) but often they were relatively healthy if purchased from a store that kept pups isolated and did not put them up for sale until they had gotten through kennel cough, deworming, etc and all that needed to be done to make them marketable (and so that they did not look like they had just arrived from a puppy mill).

In the town where we owned our Bed & Biscuit (upscale boarding, training and grooming facility) for over 15 years, our city had a pet store that was actually well run, as far as the pups receiving proper veterinary care and not being put in the display cages until after an isolation period of a week or two, once they were sure they were not coming down with kennel cough.  And this store hired friendly employees who made their customers feel welcome when they came in the door, whether they were buying a $5 chew stick or an over-priced pup whose registration papers actually showed that he came from a puppy mill in Missouri! In addition, they helped the local animal shelter by always devoting a few cages in their store to adult cats who had been spayed and were being offered (by the shelter) for adoption.


Again...remember the point of this article...it is NOT the economy stupid!  Often, before the trip to the pet store, these potential pet owner have actually looked on the internet and located a show breeder in their state, and emailed or called them, and never received a reply.  Or if they did receive a reply, the very first response came with a very long questionnaire that had to be filled out before the breeder would even DISCUSS the breed or possible placement of a pup with them. Just like with the difference in marketing approaches of animal welfare groups, the big pet stores know about marketing...they know how to treat a customer like he is valuable, and how to make him feel like his interest in their product is appreciated.

Perhaps if reputable breeders did the same...spent some time on the phone, or in a pleasant email conversation, answering questions about their dogs and finding out what the buyer was looking for, BEFORE they started screening them, perhaps if one started actually developing a relationship with the caller, then by the time they were told the price of your pups and received the questionnaire, they would realize the value of getting a well-bred puppy.  Explanations about health clearances on the parents, any health guarantees offered on your pups, or the value of adopting a retired show prospect (and let me point out, for the reader who is considering adopting, many are even quite young, all show breeders have raised pups whose tail set didn't turn out quite right or some minor flaw makes them less than top show quality)....the fact that your dogs are already leash trained, crate-trained, trained to behave for baths and brushing, etc....these are BIG selling points.  But if your potential puppy buyer feels like he is being put through the 3rd degree before he even has a chance to speak with you, then you won't have the time to explain to him how well-socialized your puppies are, the fact that they are already used to a leash and a crate, or that their parents have been checked clear or all types of hereditary defects.


And although I know this sounds mercenary, If you happen to own a breed of dog that produces big litters, it may behoove you to look into accepting credit cards, because again, look at your competition.  Pet stores accept credit cards and for those with bad credit, some even have payment plans!  Larger adoption centers, like SPCA, Humane Societies and even many larger purebred and all breed rescue groups, are now accepting credit cards for donations, and for adoption fees. People often purchase their new addition when the time is convenient for them (such as during the summer when their kids are out of school or a school teacher is out for the summer) not when they happen to have the proper funds saved up. This doesn't make them a bad owner, it is just part of human nature that people don't typically want to drain their savings account a month before vacation time, if they could use their credit card and spread the payments out over time. Credit cards can even be accepted on Paypall accounts, so it is not something that is difficult to set up if you want to offer this convenience.


I have trained and shown dogs since the late 1970s, owned a boarding/grooming/training facility for over 15 years (1990-2006), studied canine behavior and done hundreds of behavioral consults and have  volunteered for animal rescue groups for over 2 decades.  I think I have a very well-rounded background, as far as understanding the average pet owner, as well as having years of interacting with dog show people as well (since I showed dogs from 1977 until about 2007).  I have been a president of an international purebred dog association, on the board of local kennel clubs and I have been regional representatives for purebred dog rescues as well as having served on the board of local humane societies and all breed rescues.  So I have walked in almost all aspects of the dog world (I have not had experience in certain dog sports such as the gundog world but if it doesn't involve a gun, i have at least been a spectator if not a participant in all types of dog events).  I know the dog world from all sides of the fence.

The bottom line is...if, despite your lovely website and the fact that you have healthy, well-bred dogs who are winning in the show ring or accumulating titles in performance events,  yet you still cannot seem to get your pet quality puppies placed in good homes anymore....you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate.  It is not JUST the economy.  If it were, then people would not be spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on rescuing dogs.  They would not be doing crazy things like spending thousands of dollars at pet stores, or buying a dog from a glorified puppy mill who has a website with cute pictures (but no health clearances posted and sometimes these dogs being shipped in and bought from websites for thousands of dollars are even mixed breeds, like Shnz-a-Poos or whatever they are called!)


As much as I hate the "s word", let me say it one more time.....IT IS NOT THE ECONOMY STUPID, I mean SWEETIE...because dog owners are spending thousands of dollars to adopt dogs which are likely to be much more difficult to integrate into their home, especially if they have children, and grow up to be healthy, reliable pets for the average family. If you want to get back to the place where there is a waiting list of good homes who want one of your well bred dogs, then your website and your conversations, need to be geared towards helping people understand the value of buying a dog that someone has spent years of time planning, so that they can produce a litter that has the best possible chance of growing up to be healthy, well-adjusted dogs. And also, pet owners need to realize the benefit of buying from someone that will stand behind that dog for its lifetime, answering behavioral questions and even lending a listening ear when the dog is ill and a shoulder to cry on years later when it is time to let the dog go.  Most good breeders keep in touch with their puppy buyers for the dogs' entire lifetime.

Please don't write and blast me if you are a rescue person, because I am NOT pro-breeder and anti-rescue. Of the six dogs living here with our family, 3 are rescues, and 3 are from show breeders.  All 6 are loved equally.  The dogs from show breeders are here, even though I am no longer showing dogs, simply because we enjoy having beautiful, healthy specimens of the purebred dogs that I happen to love. The rescues are here because they just kind of "happened",  two are short term fosters who turned into forever fosters and one of them is a shelter dog, where I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I have spent just as many thousands of dollars on dogs I have fostered through the years as on those that I have shown, who raked up show entry fees, traveling expenses and the like!  My heart is equally invested in these dogs, I love them all dearly.

But sure, I wish my elderly rescued Dachshund from the shelter had not had to go through the misery of heartworm treatment after we got her, and I wish we had not had to pay almost $500 to have little rotten teeth pulled after she got through the heartworm treatment.  I wish she did not have a serious heart murmur, and I know that these 2 conditions (the heartworms and the bacteria from her bad teeth probably contributed to the heart issue, which will most likely shorten her life span.). I wish the Siberian rescue here had been exposed to a lot more people and other dogs in her early years, so she would not be so worried now when she has to go to the vet.  Our Siberian who came from a show breeder actually ENJOYS going to the vet!  And no, she was not a dog I bought as a pup and trained to be that way, she was a re-home from a show breeder....the temperament on our Siberian rescue, versus our show dog re-home girl, are like night and day. it does not affect how much I love the dogs but it does affect their quality of life and what I am able to do with them.  For example, "Linda", the rescue, would never enjoy going with us to a Fall Festival or a dog walk fundraiser, she would be scared out of her wits.  She also is a two-man job to brush and groom, while "Ewok", the rehome from the show breeder, jumps up on the grooming table and practically begs to be brushed because she loves the attention.


People are still spending money on dogs SO IT IS NOT THE ECONOMY SWEETIE.  But what you do need to understand, what I want you to think about very seriously is....public perception.  PERCEPTION IS RARELY REALITY. Marketing is not meant to give people truthful information to enable them to  make good decisions! Marketing is meant to manipulate people to make a decision that someone else has already decided is better for them.

Right now, animal welfare marketing is convincing people that they will be happier, they will even be much better thought of by their neighbors and friends, if they adopt a rescue dog.  No ones goes over the "cons", the fact that we don't have health history on the parents of 99% of rescue dogs, and that many have been turned in to shelters due to behavioral problems that may take years of patience to solve.  That there will not be a breeder on stand-by 24 hours a day if they need help raising this puppy, a breeder who will even take the puppy back years later should they have significant change in their life that means the heartbreak of giving up their beloved companion if they have a family tragedy.  That the rescue group may no longer even be in existence if that situation happens to them years after they adopt a dog, while a good breeder typically keeps in touch several times a year with their puppy buyers, and gets to know their families personally. Good breeders make lifetime commitments to their dogs, so if the dog ever needs a new home, they are there to help.

People need to know that many rescue groups are highly defensive if you adopt a dog and find out it is a "mis-match" for your family, because they may make you feel like the world's, biggest, stinkiest rotten egg if you ask to return the dog....while a good breeder will WANT you to bring the dog back, because he only wants his dogs in homes where they are going to be perfectly matched so that both the dog and the family will have years of joys together.  If you are working with a breeder who has not insisted on an agreement that if the dog must ever get re-homed it has to come back to them, I would say that is not a good breeder, and I feel the same re a rescue that does not include that clause in their adoption contract.

As mentioned, I have both show dogs and rescue dogs, and I plan to continue to do so as long as I have the resources to take care of and support multiple dogs. But if the purebred breeds of dogs that many of us do dearly love are going to survive, we are going to have to step back and compare ourselves with the competition.  The bad economy may have slowed down adoptions from some rescue groups, but others, especially in the bigger cities, are reporting increases in adoptions and donations.  I don't have any statistics as to how the economy affects pet store sales, but as long as people have credit cards and as long as it is legal to sell small, adorable breeds behind a plastic window, I imagine these customer-friendly puppy millers under cover will survive.  Add this to the fact that ethical breeders now also have to compete with unethical breeders who have websites (so that the buyer never even goes out and see the conditions of the  backyard breeder or the puppy miller, all he sees are cute pictures on the website).....times are tough.  Competition is tough and frankly, they are doing a better job in making customers feel good about getting dogs from them, versus getting dogs from ethical breeders who can come across as unfriendly and uncaring.


So it is time for ethical breeders of purebred dogs to up their game.  We have to get the information out about the advantages of working with an ethical breeder, and we have to learn the patience to give more of our time and be more understanding with novices, instead of treating them all as suspected criminals when their first inquiry comes in!   Come on...you CAN do it!  If you have a website but don't have a lot of writing ability, then you can link to good articles form your website  (just make sure that your site is set up so that the potential buyer can quickly get back to your site).  If you need help with articles about your breed, or about the value of buying from ethical breeders, there are people like me who love to write and for $25-30 an article, will write for you all day long, you'll have more articles than you could ever wish for, or you can link to articles that are on your national breed club organization's website.  You may need to spend a couple of hundred dollars to update your website to make it more customer friendly.

Don't worry, it does mot mean that you have to deal with every Tom, Dick and Harry who contacts you about a puppy!  But increase the number of inquiries, and make sure that every inquiry is getting the very best customer service around, as well as excellent breed information (answer your emails and phone calls!) and before you know it, you will be back to the days of having waiting lists of good prospective homes for your pups before they are even born. You may have to even bite the bullet and do things you swore you would never do, like make yourself a Facebook page or start hanging out on Saturday afternoons and watch the group rings (remember, how we used to do in the old days) with one of your best behaved dogs laying at your side. But remember, face-to-face contact can even turn an uneducated dog owner into a dog fancier who just might be responsible for the next generation of healthy, well-bred dogs in your breed, and they may also become a valuable rescue volunteer or a worker-bee for your agility or conformation club!

Because you, the ethical purebred dog breeder, ARE the one who has the product with the most value. You actually have the future of purebred dogs in your hands. If you own a breed that you feel deserves to survive the economy and the politics of the current climate, then it is time for you to do what needs to be done. You can still protect the breed you love while promoting the benefits of buying from an ethical breeder. You just have to find a way to communicate this, to simply GET THE TRUTH OUT.  When true,and helpful,l information is presented, people will recognize it.  You don't need to resort to manipulative marketing... never downplay the rewards that someone may get from adopting a homeless dog so don't badmouth your local rescue groups. If you are a donor or volunteer for your breed's rescue, or to your local humane society, say so.  But by the same token, don't be embarrassed to tell the prospective pet owner of all the benefits they will receive, throughout the dog's lifetime, of purchasing a  dog from a reputable breeder. Go to your national club's website and order some inexpensive educational materials about the breed and keep them in your grooming box and your car, so you have them handy to give out to newcomers, such as folks you might meet while you are walking one of your dogs at the park.

Questions, comments?  As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated. (ps, that cute little blonde boy in the photo is my son, years ago, playing with a litter of show quality Siberian Husky pups many years ago. I believe the pups were Synama/Wintersweet breeding. I wish I could remember who the young lady was--maybe one of my Siberian friends will remember!)

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