If you’re reading this article, chances are you love doggos. And given your love of canines, you might be interested in becoming a dog breeder. After all, what’s better than puppy breath and cuddles?
Dog breeding is certainly not an endeavor to approach lightly, and a lot more goes into dog breeding than you’d think, from finding the right breed to acquiring high-quality pups to start your journey.
We’ll discuss everything that goes into becoming a dog breeder, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, below.
How to Become a Dog Breeder: Key Takeaways
- Becoming an ethical, responsible dog breeder is a long road, but anyone with sufficient time, resources, and dedication can have success. However, it isn’t something to approach lightly, and you’ll need to make sure you are in it for the right reasons.
- In addition to acquiring dogs to breed, you’ll need to do a variety of things to ensure they receive the care they deserve. This includes everything from securing veterinary care to constructing a kennel facility to house your doggos.
- Once you have puppies, you’ll have to make sure that they go to good homes. This not only means screening would-be clients, but also providing on-going support as their new puppy grows.
Steps to Becoming a Responsible Dog Breeder
Getting into the wild (and rewarding) world of dog breeding isn’t easy, but with hard work, you can achieve success and start producing healthy, happy (and hungry) puppies.
Everyone’s path is a little different, though most ethical breeders (as opposed to puppy mills) follow a similar route.
1. Gather Your Good Intentions (But Prepare for the Bad, Too)
Dog breeding isn’t for everyone – nor should it be.
Business aspects aside, you’re dealing with living, breathing beings here, and you must approach breeding responsibly to ensure the dogs in your care all enjoy great lives.
Simply put, if you’re not willing to do right by each and every four-footer in your care – from birth to placement to the dog’s final days – then breeding isn’t for you.
Breeding dogs is also a tough journey, with lots of highs and lows. Not every year will bring a profit; not every litter will turn out like you’d hoped.
You’ll also undoubtedly encounter heartache along the way, including difficult deliveries and losses.
Bottom line: It is critical that you consider the notion of dog breeding carefully. If you aren’t in it for the right reasons, willing to put in the hard work, and capable of coping with the down times, you’ll want to find another hobby or vocation.
2. Decide Which Breed You Want to Work With
Your first major step in becoming a good, reputable dog breeder is selecting which breed you’d like to work with. It’s critical to learn the ins and outs of a breed before committing.
That’s easier said than done, of course, since there are a lot of factors involved in this decision, including:
- You need to select a breed you’re passionate about. Not only are you going to live with a lot of them going forward, but you have to truly care about and want to better the breed. Ideally, this means finding one you don’t mind learning about endlessly.
- You need to pick a breed that works with your lifestyle and interests. This might mean looking into retrievers or pointers if you’re interested in hunting or collies and shepherds if you own a farm and have a passion for livestock. Those with small kids or lots of visitors will enjoy family dogs like Labradors and goldens, while quiet, adult-only households might adore lapdogs like Chihuahuas or Pomeranians.
- You need to consider the profitability of the breed, if you’re approaching this as a business. You may pick a relatively affordable breed that’s in high demand, or you may prefer opting for a more expensive dog breed, even if it takes you longer to find suitable homes for your puppies.
- You have to consider geographic and cultural factors. Your location will also influence your breed choice. After all, some breeds are banned in some locations, while other breeds will be more or less popular in some areas than others. As a general rule, you’ll find more people looking for a large livestock guardian like the Great Pyrenees in rural areas, while you’ll find more interest in small, apartment-friendly breeds like dachshunds in the city.
- You must consider the cost of the breed’s care. This obviously includes day-to-day expenses, such as feeding (mastiffs cost more to feed than Maltese) and grooming (poodles will run up bigger bills than pibbles). But it also includes veterinary expenses. For example, bulldogs typically require cesarean births and special care during surgeries, increasing your breeding business’s overhead.
Keep in mind that researching your breed of choice goes beyond reading up on them – it also requires hands-on experience.
You can accomplish this by meeting with local breed groups at dog shows and other events, like agility trials. Be honest about your intentions and ask questions.
Finding a mentor who already works with the breed is best to give you a real-life look at what to expect. Seek out someone with years of experience versus someone new for the best advice.
3. Get Your Paperwork in Order (aka the Boring, Business Stuff)
Dog breeding isn’t all canine cuddles and puppy profit, as it has its share of paperwork. The exact paperwork needed varies by location, but for the most part, dog breeders will need to handle the following:
- Create a business plan. Do you plan on only housing females or do you plan to keep your own males too? Are you running your breeding business out of your house or buying a kennel? How do you plan to sell the offspring? Each question and scenario has its own list of pros and cons. Knowing how you’ll run your business is essential before bringing any breeding stock home.
- Secure the necessary permits. Dog breeding laws vary by location, with many jurisdictions requiring kennel permits for commercial dog breeding. This might require regular inspections too. Check with a lawyer in your area to make sure you’re in compliance with local laws.
- Obtain suitable insurance coverage. Insurance is just a necessity for any business, including dog breeders. This might include business insurance if you have a physical kennel or a change in homeowner’s insurance if you run your breeding operation out of your home. Coverage requirements vary by state, so always seek out a lawyer in your area to cover your bases. Pet insurance also falls under this umbrella, though coverage may vary for breeding dogs.
- Register your dogs with the appropriate breed registries. : Reputable breeders register their kennel and pups with the AKC (or a similar breed registry) for proper recording. The breeder you acquire your dogs from may transfer the existing registration paperwork to you, but for future litters and your own kennel, you’ll need to file the paperwork.
- Get your finances in order. You need to make sure you have enough money to dedicate to a breeding business, as startup costs are steep. You aren’t just budgeting for one dog; you’re going to have several to care for, including their everyday costs like food, grooming, veterinary care, and enrichment.
- Prepare to pay your taxes. Know your local laws regarding income so you can start off on the right foot. In the US, you need to make estimated federal payments quarterly to the IRS if your income exceeds a certain amount, for example. This also means tracking every expense and form of income which can be done on a self-made spreadsheet or through software for tax time. Check with a tax professional in your area to be sure you’re paying all necessary taxes.
- Write up some canine contracts. Meet with a lawyer to pen an ironclad contract of sale for your puppies. This may include a spay/neuter agreement, a non-breeding clause, health guarantees, returning the dog to you in the event they can’t keep him, and more.
- Establish a website and social media footprint. These aren’t musts, but setting up a professional-looking website and social media pages can help share your dogs with people worldwide. It also claims your business name and prevents fraudsters from grabbing the domain and selling inferior puppies under your banner.
4. Set Up Your Physical Kennel
Breeders utilize a variety of different setups, but you need to think about how you intend to house your hounds and what kind of arrangement will work best for your business plan.
You also need to consider what works best for the breed you’ll be working with, as some dogs do not adapt to kennel life well and instead need to live in your home alongside you.
The most common breeder setups are:
- In-home operations: These consist of running your breeding business out of your home with dogs kept in the house like everyday doggos. This allows for maximum monitoring and socialization in a home setting with people, pets, and other dogs. It also means having dogs and puppies to manage at all times, which can be challenging with intact males and females.
- At-home kennels: Rather than keep your dogs in the house, they’re kept in a series of kennels on your property with this setup. The kennels should ideally provide indoor-outdoor access at all times. This allows you to keep your pups nearby and interact with them but doesn’t overrun your home with dogs (or subject your home to the wear and tear they’re likely to inflict). It also makes separating intact males and females easier.
- Commercial kennels: This type of freestanding operation is away from your home. Dogs live here either full or part-time. This is a more complicated approach, as you have to have someone onsite 24/7 for monitoring, or the dogs will have to be left alone for long periods of time, which isn’t recommended. It’s also expensive and harder to acclimate your puppies to a home setting, and generally is not the ideal for ethical breeding.
When deciding on dog accommodations, consider the following:
- Space: You need to provide enough space for your dogs to thrive rather than just exist in kennels. Obviously, the amount needed fluctuates by breed, with jumbo dogs like mastiffs and high-octane herding breeds like border collies requiring more space than toy breeds.
- Separating dogs: If you’re housing intact males and females, you’ll need to keep them separated during heat cycles to prevent unplanned litters. Never underestimate a determined male, either, as they’re known to chew through or climb chain link to get to a female.
- Whelping areas: Your mama dogs will need calm, quiet places to deliver and nurse their puppies. Ideally, this will be somewhere you can monitor closely and assist as needed. It should be indoors and easy to clean, with enough room for mama to get comfortable and labor.
- Outdoor access: Not only do dogs need to potty, but they need fresh air and exercise. If you’re utilizing a kennel setup, make sure it has indoor/outdoors access to ensure your dogs can run around, play, and use the bathroom as needed. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time walking doggos.
- Climate control: Dogs must be kept at appropriate temperatures with heat or air-conditioning. For certain breeds, like bulldogs, more specialized temperature control is needed to prevent overheating. Similarly, greyhounds and Chihuahuas need warmer environments than huskies or malamutes.
- Noise: If you’re in a suburban setting, your neighbors might not appreciate barking, as having multiple dogs can get loud fast. This is a major concern with both home and commercial operations.
- Odors: Having multiple dogs can get smelly, especially around the house. Daily cleaning and proper care cuts down on these odors, but with larger, jowlier breeds, it might mean more housework in a home setting.
- Poop disposal: This is often overlooked, but handling the waste of multiple dogs every day can get tricky. Some owners opt for an onsite septic system, while others opt for composting or biodegradable bags. Check with your local laws to ensure you’re not being a stinker in this area or running afoul of local environmental ordinances.
- Sleeping quarters: Your dogs need a comfortable place to wind down and sleep. This might mean crates if you’re housing the dogs in your home or an easy-to-clean bed if you’re using a kennel setup.
- Safety: Freestanding kennels away from your home keep noise away, but they should also be staffed around the clock in case of a fire or another emergency. They should also be equipped with sprinkler systems, locks, and cameras for safety’s sake.
- Staffing needs: If you’re using a commercial kennel, you may need to hire a staff to keep up with the demands of daily operations, including cleaning, feeding, exercising, and socializing.
- Local ordinances: Not every lot is zoned for kennel operations, and your town might have a pet limit to contend with.
5. Establish a Relationship with a Veterinarian
It’s critical to work with a local veterinarian who can keep your pups healthy. This not only includes veterinary care of the day-to-day variety but also breeder-specific issues, such as labor complications, C-sections, and newborns who struggle to thrive.
This is crucial to have in place before you breed your dogs, as you want to ensure you’re working with a veterinarian who has the proper tools and setup (and can ideally provide this type of support, 24/7!)
Sometimes, veterinarians offer breeder discounts for inoculating litters or examining lots of dogs at a time too. Your vet might also have a multi-dog discount you can take advantage of for everyday vet care. For that matter, some vets will make house calls, which can be a very convenient bonus for dog breeders.
6. Procure Your Breeding Stock
Aside from simply bringing more puppies into the world, breeders play an important role in the perpetuation of different breeds.
Ethical breeders maintain the integrity of purebred dogs, producing genetically and behaviorally sound offspring. This is critical in continuing strong working lines and preventing detrimental hereditary conditions.
But while this is a good thing for the overall dog population, it means you’ll have to be very selective while choosing your first few four-footers. Your foundation stock needs to be as close to the breed standard as possible, which means you’ll need to be well-versed on the standard with an eye for details.
You also have to be clear-headed enough to evaluate your breeding stock with honest eyes and only breed the best dogs. It’s easy to overlook faults while thinking your dogs are perfect, but sticking to the standard is key to producing quality pups.
To fast-track your business plan, you can buy adult, proven dogs with a show or competition record. But if you don’t mind taking things a bit slower, you can opt for puppies instead. However, this means you’ll need to wait until they mature enough for breeding, which can be upwards of two years.
Breeding stock should also have health clearances that ensure they’re healthy enough to breed. This includes evaluating a dog’s hips, elbows, eyes, and heart, among other systems. This ensures they don’t have any hereditary conditions that may be passed onto puppies.
Using breeding stock that has had the appropriate health screenings is absolutely essential for being an ethical breeder – it’s not optional. Just breeding dogs without appropriate screenings would classify you as backyard breeder trying to make quick buck and contributing to the overpopulation of dogs. The AKC has an established list of breed health testing requirements specific to each individual dog breed.
Your foundation dogs will likely need to be approved for breeding from their breeder with a contract. This allows for the transfer of the AKC registration and future breedings. Going against a contract that forbids breeding can result in the dog being reclaimed, so always read the fine print of any contract and honor your word.
7. Care For Your Dogs
With your kennel situation established, veterinary partnership forged, and founding stock secured, it’s now time to turn your attention to the nuts and bolts of dog breeding: daily care of the doggos.
Caring for your dogs may seem like a given, but it can be more work than you initially think. Minimally, you’ll need to do the following to ensure they have the best life possible, including:
- Feed the dogs a high-quality food
- Provide regular vet care and core vaccinations
- Provide socializing opportunities with people, pets, and other dogs
- Maintain a clean, safe environment
- Keep up with regular grooming, including bathing, brushing, clipping (if needed,) nail trims, and toothbrushing
- Provide sufficient exercise and mental stimulation
- Love each dog and make the best possible decisions for them
- Only place puppies with responsible owners equipped to handle the breed
There are certainly a few optional aspects of dog breeding, but providing high-quality care for your dogs is absolutely imperative. Indeed, it is the most important aspect of being a dog breeder, as you’re responsible for your dogs’ entire lives.
8. Play Matchmaker: Select Males for Females and Vice Versa
There are two basic approaches to breeding dogs: You can acquire and care for males and females, or you can keep dogs of one sex. This will require you to partner with other owners and share the proceeds of the resulting litter (either in terms of puppies or cash, if you will be responsible for the sales).
Using your own male and female is easier and simply entails picking the best mom and dad for a given litter. But if you’re studding your male out or looking for a stud, you have some more homework to do.
For starters, you’ll have to pick a dog whose attributes work well with your dog, such as a similar-sized pup that’s as close to the standard as possible. You don’t want to pair an exceptionally large male with a pint-sized female, for instance.
You also want to be mindful of genetics and avoid bad pairings that can result in double merles and other serious issues. Always look at health clearances too.
9. Put on Some Romantic Music
We’re obviously kidding about the tunes… kind of.
Music can certainly be calming and help set the mood (and some dogs do like music), but really, we’re talking about establishing a safe, controlled place for your intended pair to get down to business. Ideally, this should be located somewhere away from a stressful kennel setting.
Outdoor areas with room to move around are optimal, as a breeding tie can last up to 30 minutes – you don’t want to cramp your breeder’s style, after all.
In any case, the particulars here vary if you’re using your own sire and dam or bringing in an outside dog for mating.
If you’re mating your dog with another person’s dog, the dam (female) is usually brought to the male, as she’s likely to be more receptive outside of the home. The owner of the sire (male) also tends to control his dog during the act. If it’s the other way around, you will control your male when a female comes to your breeding facilities.
Before you bring the dogs together, make sure they’re comfortable with each other and not at all aggressive to prevent fighting. Leashed walks and previous play sessions can help familiarize them with one another, like doggy dates before the big day.
Once they’re comfortable with each other and appear compatible, it’s often recommended to muzzle the female just in case she nips during the act – something that’s not entirely uncommon, especially during first-time breedings.
For safest practice, keep the male leashed and let him do his thing. Usually, instincts kick in, and dogs manage just fine on their own, but sometimes you might need to intervene if the male’s having a hard time lining things up.
It’s not pretty work, but if you want puppies, sometimes you have to do the not-so-fun stuff.
Another potential way to get puppies without a live mating is artificial insemination, which again, isn’t the most enjoyable task. You have to acquire semen from a male and transfer it to the female who must be in heat.
Artificial insemination has strict protocols you have to meet to comply with AKC standards, however, and it is pricier than the old-fashioned way. It’s also less likely to be successful.
That said, artificial insemination allows you to avoid direct pairings . This allows for more flexibility, especially if you or your dog can’t travel or if you’re interested in a mate for your dog that is far away.
10. Care for the Pregnant Mom and Prepare for the Puppies
Your veterinarian can check your female for pregnancy via ultrasound about 28 days after mating. If successful, puppies will arrive roughly 63 days after mating. In the meantime, you have a lot of work to do, as caring for a pregnant pooch is no small feat.
To care for a pregnant dog, you must:
- Provide regular vet visits for routine monitoring
- Feed a high-quality diet where you gradually increase her calories to accommodate her growing belly
- Switch to smaller, more frequent meals for comfier eating closer to delivery
- Introduce supplements if recommended by your vet
- Know signs of pregnancy complications (bleeding, reduced appetite, fever, panting, etc.)
- Understand the signs of labor (hind-end licking, nesting, clinginess, hiding, etc.)
- Know the signs of labor complications (collapsing, green discharge, extreme distress)
- Prepare a whelping box area in a safe, quiet space that mama can sniff and grow accustomed to in advance
- Gather birthing supplies in advance and keep them on standby (clean towels, iodine, paper towels, newspaper, etc.)
If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your vet. Your vet will want what’s best for your pup and will help guide you along the way. If something seems off, give him or her a call. Even if it seems minor, just ask the question. You want your dog to have the safest pregnancy possible.
Always block off adequate time on your schedule, so you’re around when your dog is expected to go into labor. You need to be aware of signs of distress like a lack of progress so you can get her to the vet right away to save both her and the puppies if needed.
If you reach the 64th day with no puppies or signs of labor, then it’s time to visit your vet.
11. Establish the Puppies
Once mama delivers all her puppies safely, you can let out that breath you’ve been holding in and prepare for the next rodeo: Puppies.
Mama will usually lick her babies clean, though you might need to help her if she leaves ickiness behind.
This includes removing the leftover amniotic sac membrane from the puppy or cutting the umbilical cord if she fails to do so promptly. Remove the sac remnants and any fluid from the nose and mouth area to ensure the puppy can breathe.
To cut the cord, tie unwaxed dental floss about two inches from the puppy’s abdomen to clamp it, snip through the cord with scissors, and wipe the end with iodine to prevent infection.
After all the puppies are cleaned, it’s time for feeding, so help the puppies latch onto mama as soon as possible. Not only do they need nutrition, but they also need mama’s warmth. It’s wise to learn how to bottle feed a puppy in advance, just in case there is a problem.
Monitor her to ensure she doesn’t accidentally squish anyone, especially if she’s a first-time mom.
With puppies safely delivered and fed, you need to worry about keeping them warm and clean in a temperature-controlled area with a few bedding changes throughout the day.
You’d be surprised how quickly it gets messy, so set up a cleaning routine to make things easier for everyone.
Don’t forget about mama, either, as she still needs an increase in food to keep up with feeding her pups and plenty of love from you for a job well done.
Now that puppies are here, you’re still not entirely out of the woods yet. Be mindful of any puppies who don’t seem to be eating well or progressing as much as others. Also, monitor the pups for any that the mother seems to neglect. You need to watch mama for symptoms of complications, too, like fever, anorexia, or aggression. If anything seems amiss, call your vet.
You need to register your litter with the AKC after birth, either online or via mail. This ensures your records are in order and establishes you as the breeder. Congrats!
12. Weaning the Puppies
The little puppies will subsist entirely on milk for a while, but you’ll slowly have to transition them to proper dog food – a process called weaning.
This usually starts between two and four weeks of age, depending on the breed. This should be done gradually and according to your veterinarian’s recommendations to avoid causing tummy upset.
During this time, you can get to know the puppies through play and socialization, noting the rambunctious rascals, mellow meatballs, and middle-of-the-road pups. This will come in handy when it’s time to match them with the right family.
13. Advertise the Puppies You Have for Sale
Now that you have puppies, it’s time to think about them going off to their forever homes. This starts by letting people know about the incredible puppies you have.
You can advertise your puppies in a number of ways, including:
- AKC website listing
- Your website
- Word-of-mouth in show and competition circles
Newspaper ads and social media postings can work, but they’re not always the best approach.
It’s not that everyone you might find here isn’t great, but you’re more likely to encounter those who want a puppy on a whim after seeing your listing and not because they’re actively looking for your breed. This might mean a puppy ending up with someone ill-equipped for dog ownership.
Always interview prospective owners to ensure a good home. Ask questions about where the dog will stay, how familiar they are with the breed, and how much time they have to devote to training.
It’s a good idea to ask about their lifestyle and what they expect in a dog to help match the puppy with the right personality to them. Those rambunctious rascals we talked about will be better with an active family, for instance. Request references, too, preferably veterinary references, to ensure your puppies will receive adequate care.
14. Sending Your Puppies Home
Once owners are selected, it’s time to say goodbye, which is both happy and sad.
On the one hand, your little nuggets are heading off into the world without you, but at the same time, they’re getting their happily ever after. Give yourself some time to mourn them moving on, and don’t shy away from squeezing in an extra cuddle session before the big day.
Every owner should be required to sign a contract of sale at pickup, noting that the puppy is to return to you if they can’t keep it, regardless of the reason. This contract also mentions health guarantees, breeding rights/refusals, and basic care they are to provide the puppy. As we mentioned, this should be reviewed by an attorney and another experienced breeder to make sure you cover your bases.
As an AKC-registered breeder, you will provide registration documents to new owners and explain the condition of sale, including whether this is a limited registration (pet) or co-ownership where you still have rights to breed the dog if you so choose.
This is also when you provide any health records, care instructions, genetic testing results (if applicable.)
15. Provide On-Going Support for Your Customers
Maintain contact with your puppies’ new families through periodic check-ins. Not only does this help ensure that your puppies are doing well, but it is also satisfying from a personal standpoint, as you’re seeing high-quality puppies from your dogs thrive.
Owners should feel comfortable enough to ask you any question, whether it’s about feeding or navigating the teething process. This is vital, as you want them to report any issues they may have, as health issues happen, and you want to ensure it’s not a hereditary condition.
This ongoing support is lifelong, which is why it’s so important to understand that dog breeding is a long-term commitment. Those puppies will be out in the world for up to 20 years in some cases, so prepare to guide their owners along the way.
Is Dog Breeding Right for You?
Dog breeding is rewarding, but it is not for everyone. As you can see, it features great highs, but it also has its lows. Deciding if it’s the path for you requires asking yourself serious questions while weighing the pros and cons.
Perks of dog breeding include:
- Making money while working with the breed you love
- Having the chance to improve your favorite breed
- Welcoming litters full of cute puppies into the world
- Seeing your puppies go on to live wonderful lives
- Helping improve the lives of other people through the dogs you produce
The negatives of dog breeding include:
- Footing the bills for the steep startup costs involved
- Coping with high, often unpredicted expenses
- Living without a source of guaranteed income
- You’ll have to do a lot of hard, messy work
- Your heart may be broken from time to time
Only you can make the final decision, but remember to be honest with yourself.
Dog Breeding FAQs
You might still have some questions about dog breeding since it’s such a complex field. We’ve gathered the most commonly asked questions to try to help.
How much do dog breeders make?
It varies. We know this isn’t what you want to hear, but dog breeding doesn’t offer a guaranteed paycheck. As with any business, income and expenses are ever-changing. Veterinary bills aren’t predictable, with some surprises popping up along the way, including cesarean sections or other medical complications that will eat into your bottom line.
It’s also important to factor in the size of your breeding operation and the breed you’re working with. Small and toy breeds have smaller litters than larger breeds. This obviously means having fewer puppies to sell, but larger litters need more supplies and care, cutting into your profits. Some breeds cost more than others too.
Some breeders may earn more than $50,000 in a year with multiple championship litters, while others may lose money in a year due to unsuccessful breedings, complications, and other issues. Remain flexible with your business plan and always plan for emergencies.
What does a dog breeder do?
Dog breeders aim to produce high-quality dogs that meet or exceed the breed standard with no known inherited health or behavioral issues. This can be achieved through owning and breeding your own sires and dams, utilizing a stud service, or studding out your own dogs.
Can anyone become a dog breeder?
Anyone can, but not everyone should. Overpopulation is a serious concern in dogs, as are poorly bred dogs. Ethical dog breeders are vital in ensuring a breed’s longevity, weeding out hereditary issues, and keeping dogs as close to the official standard as possible. But this quality comes at a cost, as it’s very expensive to be a dog breeder, and it takes a lot of hard (often gross) work too.
Do you need a license to breed dogs?
Not always. You may need a license to operate a kennel in some places, but this isn’t always the case. Speak with a lawyer or town clerk in your area to check with local laws.
Dog breeding isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it shouldn’t be. It’s a tireless job where your paycheck isn’t necessarily monetary. Oftentimes, it’s just knowing that you’re producing the best puppies possible. If you’re not sure about it, don’t do it. Stick to loving your dog and making him the best example of his breed possible.