Let me just say up front, this article is in regards to responsible, ethical breeders. Not the BYBs who are advertising their pups to the first person that comes along with cash, do no health tests, are not active in any dog events, have no interest in the pup the moment it walks out the door and the check clears, breed their female on her first heat and every heat thereafter, etc. I have no doubts those people are making a profit, as that is really their #1 motivation for breeding, and if there was no profit they would stop. Also, this article is about the dollars behind breeding. I am in no way saying that is why responsible breeders breed, or that the bottom line is their only concern, or when a dog is rehomed (a nice word for sold or placed) it’s about the money that can be made to minimize the loss.
Are Breeders Getting “Rich”?
There is a never ending debate played out between breeders, buyers, animal rights groups, and the general public regarding the question “is that breeder getting richer or poorer by breeding”? Most breeders insist that breeding is a money pit, while non-breeders insist breeders are lying, and really they are making money by breeding. Many people see a litter of 8 pups, for sale for $1000.00 each, and immediately the math in their head tells them the breeder just made an $8000.00 profit on that litter. They might be willing to bump that profit down to $6500.00 when the breeder mentions a $1000.00 stud fee, the cost of the extra food for the puppies, and the vet care the puppies received. But they will continue to insist that breeder just made a nice tidy profit of $6500.00 on the litter.
Here’s the “rub”. When it comes to buying a puppy, in addition to:
- all relevant health checks on the parents
- titles or other certificates demonstrating the dogs quality, or a breeder who has the depth of experience (doesn’t come free) to recognize quality without titles/certifications
- a breeder who is active in dog sports (performance events, protection sports, conformation, etc.) or real world work
- a pedigree of dogs with appropriate health checks and titles/certifications
buyers also want a contract, warranties, and lifetime customer support. In addition breeders are expected to pay appropriate taxes, have any required licensing, follow zoning laws, etc. This breeding thing is starting to sound like a real business, not just a hobby.
Yet when it comes to a figuring in the breeders expenses, and determining if a breeder is “getting rich breeding” suddenly the business model concept the buyers want goes out the window and breeders are expected to only take into account the obvious expense of the litter itself (breeding, whelping, food, vet bills, etc.). No other dog related expenses are allowed to be considered, including other breeding expenses not associated with the specific litter being “valued”. Any losses there are just supposed to be absorbed by the breeder, and not included in the big picture. This is where that assumption of profit comes in, i.e. 8 puppies x $1000 each – $1000 stud fee – $500 food/vet bills = $6500 profit.
The Costs of a Breeding
So let’s look at some of the behind the scenes costs of a single breeding. First, the mother of the pups didn’t just magically show up for free as a breeding quality adult at the breeders house. She was either purchased as an adult, generally for a fairly large sum of money, or she was purchased as a pup. If she was purchased as a pup the breeder spent the money to raise her (food, vet bills, housing, etc.), train her, do her health checks, and put titles on her. All of this costs thousands of dollars.
If the sire of the litter is on site, all the same expenses as the dam apply. If he is not on site there is the travel to the sire, which depending on distance can include gas, food, hotel, airline tickets, shipping, or other expenses. There will also be a stud fee, either cash up front or a puppy after the litter has been born.
Then of course there is the vet care for the pregnant mother, the vet care for the puppies, the extra food, advertising the litter, and costs associated with whelping/housing the litter. This could be minimal if the breeder already has the equipment, or it could be larger if the breeder has to purchase a whelping box, extra kennels/fencing, crates for crate training pups, supplies to clean up the many messes the pups create, and repairs for the various items inquisitive puppies with sharp teeth damage.
The Hidden Costs in the “Big Picture”
Now let’s address all those hidden costs that people either are unaware of, or prefer to pretend don’t exist, when it comes to breeding. These are really the costs that tip the scale from “minor profit” to “breaking even” to “money pit”. The following are just some of the things that can cause a major financial hit for a breeder, and that must be taken into account when considering the finances of breeding.
The breedings that don’t take
Not every breeding takes. Sometimes even with dogs that have previously successfully sired or whelped a litter, the female does not get pregnant. In these situations the entire pre-whelping expenses still exists, but there are no pups to show for those expenses. With most stud dog owners if the female fails to get pregnant a second breeding will be done without charging another stud fee. However, all the travel costs for that second breeding still must be paid, and if the female fails to get pregnant a second time generally the breeder is out of luck. If the breeder does an artificial insemination the costs are even higher, easily $2000.00-3000.00 for the stud fee, progesterone tests, shipping of semen, insemination, etc. Even without a stud fee, an artificial insemination can easily run 1000-2000 depending on the type of insemination done, if semen had to be shipped, etc.
The litters of 1 or 2
Not every litter born has 6+ pups in it. When a breeder has a litter of 1-2 pups, the income from selling those pups generally isn’t enough to even cover the cost of producing them. A stud fee is generally the price of a puppy, so there goes one pup, figuratively. If the breeder got “lucky” and that small litter had 2 pups, they have one more pup to sell to hopefully cover the remainder of the costs of the litter. Unless of course their entire goal in producing the litter was to keep a pup back for themselves, in which case they will be absorbing the entire cost of the litter.
The dogs that don’t make the grade
Not every dog is breeding quality, and a quality, ethical breeder knows this. This means that not every puppy a breeder holds back, who they spend money on food, vet care, training, housing, do health checks on, etc. is going to grow up into an adult that is the quality required to add to the gene pool. From a purely business standpoint, a dog with a flaw(s) that prevents it from being breeding quality is also a dog with less “market value”. This means after putting all the time, effort and money into raising the dog, it is a financial “loss”, and if the dog is sold it won’t be for the $$ put into it. Breeders with high standards may raise, or purchase, numerous dogs over the years that do not end up meeting their standards as a breeder, and are either kept as pets/performance/working dogs or are rehomed to a home better suited for the dog.
The “unseen costs” ie housing, water, electric, property, etc
When people think about breeding, they think about the dogs, food and vet bills, training/competition expenses, etc and tend to forget about all the other expenses associated with caring for an animal. Expenses such as:
- housing – be it in the house, outdoor kennels, a kennel building/facility, etc.
- water – not just for drinking but bathing, washing down kennels, etc.
- electricity – for lights, AC or fans to keep the dogs cool in the summer, heat for the winter, etc.
- property – many breeders I know end up eventually selling that normal family home so they can purchase a house and property on which to properly house and maintain their dogs. This means higher purchase price, more maintenance costs, higher property taxes, etc.
Honoring the contracts
One of things that many people consider to be the mark of a reputable breeder is a sales contract and guarantee. These guarantees can range anywhere from a health guarantee that only lasts a few years, to the lifetime of the dog. Or a “quality guarantee” stating that the dog will be able to achieve a certain level as a working dog, or become a conformation champion, and if it doesn’t it will be replaced or money will be refunded. While every breeder hopes that 100% of the puppies in their litters will be 100% healthy, and 100% the quality expected, the reality is different. We are dealing with genetics, and while we do the best we can to predict the final outcome, sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. When this happens, the cost to the breeder can range from a partial refund of the purchase price, to a full refund, to even paying some or all of the medical bills. Or a replacement puppy from a future litter. All of which effects that bottom line.
Lifetime support (time=money)
Another expectation from buyers is that the breeder will be there for the life of the dog, as a mentor, coach, and even safety net for the dog. This is a job a good breeder takes on gladly. But the time it takes can not be discounted when factoring in the costs to the breeder to produce the litter. Over the course of a litters lifetime a breeder can spend literally hundreds of hours conversing with the puppy buyers, providing guidance, information and other resources. The breeder is also there if the dog must be returned at some point, regardless of the reason. Which means taking on the expense of getting the dog back, then caring for it for the remainder of it’s life, or until a new home is found.
I have only touched on some of the expenses, the bigger ones. There are other smaller expenses which also add into the overall picture. When you consider the big picture, it’s pretty easy to see that breeding really can be the money pit many breeders claim it is.
So Why Do People Breed?
That will have to be a topic for another blog article 🙂 I think this one has gotten long enough.