Recently I helped a breeder friend compile a package of handouts to send to prospective owners. This was her first litter so she was new to the process. I was surprised to learn that her bitch’s breeder had not sent her anything comparable when she was shopping for a puppy. I used to think these were pretty standard in breeders’ dealings with the public but evidently not so.
Whether we have puppies to sell or not, I am a huge believer that each of us must act as a goodwill ambassador for our breeds. A bit of time spent educating potential buyers can prevent much heartache later, if someone chooses the wrong breed in haste, or perhaps was never cut out to be a dog owner in the first place.
With so many litters having been bred during the pandemic, there is more need than ever in providing prospective buyers with accurate breed information, sent in a timely fashion. Responding promptly and politely to inquiries can prevent an eager buyer from heading to an online puppy mill or a purveyor of designer mixed breeds.
Basic Breed Information
I think of consumer handouts in two categories: fundamental facts about your breed emailed to anyone who inquires, and then a more tailored questionnaire sent to those folks who are seriously considering one of your dogs.
Let’s tackle the fundamental facts first. Here are some easy items you can have on your computer, ready to send anyone who asks about your breed.
- Your AKC breed standard. Some are written in a more technical or flowery style than others, but most novices have never heard of a breed standard, so let them read one and discover the blueprint we use to evaluate the dogs in our breeding program. Depending on your breed, you might highlight key passages dealing with color or size (e.g. disqualifications for merle may serve as a wake-up call for those who have jumped on the recent “Merle is hot!” bandwagon).
- “Ten myths about your breed.” Here is where you can speak truth to marketing nonsense about bogus teacup and ginormous sizes, why your breed does not make a suitable guard dog, and the like.
- Contact information for your parent club and regional breed club. You might even send a membership form if the club does not insist that applications come from a sponsoring breeder member. The club’s breed information will complement the material you are sending, and the club will often have a list of member-breeders with available dogs on its website.
- Basic pet grooming information on your breed. Explaining to novices why shaving of double coats is not recommended may be enough to send them to a more appropriate breed. Listing typical prices for professional grooming of your breed may provide a similar wake-up call to those who cannot afford the monthly upkeep required.
- Book list. Provide titles of the better breed books, magazines and videos, along with worthwhile breed websites.
Your Personal Questionnaire
After a few email and telephone exchanges with a prospective buyer who seems a good candidate for one of your dogs, send a questionnaire to gather concrete, detailed information on home (own or rent, house or apartment, fenced yard?), family members (toddlers, singles?), lifestyle (hours at work or work from home?) and other pets.
I prefer open-ended questions to yes-or-no. You can learn so much more about the person inquiring. Encourage them to answer at length. (And, of course, if you are met with resistance, or they don’t answer at all, the screening process will have served its purpose.)
Answers to questions like “What attracted you to the breed?” and “What do you want to do with your dog?” may quickly take some people out of the running, or trigger a wonderful conversation about trying a performance event.
Asking about past dogs and current veterinarian is essential. Is this someone who has burned through seven dogs in five years, or is mourning the loss of a well-loved 15-year-old? The vet’s office will let you know if past pets were years behind on vaccinations and exams.
Not all good breeders have identical priorities or expectations. Some breeders are fine with their double-coated breed being shaved down once or twice a year; others go ballistic at the mere suggestion of it. If an issue is important to you, raise it in the questionnaire. If it’s a deal-breaker, find out early.
Don’t forget to ask the very basic, “Have you ever met a [insert breed] in person?” Breed popularity varies greatly by decade. For the thousands of Cavaliers, Frenchies, and Havanese that today’s 20-somethings see in big cities, many have never met a live Collie, Afghan Hound, or well-bred Cocker Spaniel (breeds that were all the rage in the 1960s, ’70s, and ‘80s). Make no assumptions. We must educate without judgment.
Responsible breeders must view the public’s inquiries not as a nuisance but as a teachable moment. Bad breeders are taking advantage of buyers’ naivete even as we speak. Our breeds and our sport are depending on us.