Monthly Archives

August 2010

clue

Keeping her own counsel

Smile if you’re annoying your owner!

Today she decided that she was out of heat entirely; our house went from an ELO concert to immediate-post-breakup Alanis.

There are a variety of possibilities – she could be just messing with me and will get herself going again, she could be splitting her heat cycle (when the estrogen level doesn’t get high enough to trigger ovulation, so the heat cycle ends but will recur within a month or two), or she really is going out of heat and this one was just a failure.

I’ll keep you updated, but don’t hold your breath. Maybe she just knew that refusing to get pregnant means a life of glorious leisure.

General

Harper!

We get to see Harper more than most of the other puppies because Dave goes on convenient business trips and lets us have her for days at a time. But I haven’t seen her in weeks, and during that time she obviously began her transformation from strange spaghetti to Cardigan, because she doesn’t look like so much a pool noodle on stilts anymore :).

Dave says: Harper charmed EVERYONE at Sea Point Beach today. She ran up and greeted every person without jumping on them, chased all dogs big and small without barking, played soccer without nipping. Just a wonderful happy friendly funny dog. For me, a very proud evening.

Obviously, Juno needs to take some tips! And I am over the moon with that report. Harper’s, if anything, even more high-drive than Juno (which means that the two of them, when together, act like a giant furry blender, and unfortunately I am not exaggerating. That copy of The Trumpet of the Swan was, erm, not really readable in its post-ingestion state) and she really has believed that all children exist to be first knocked over and then thoroughly washed and then herded back to their parents. Evidently she’s decided that they’re soccer partners instead, which is fantastic news for Dave’s training skills and a good reminder to me that Juno needs to do the same.

Yay for our little heart-headed girl!

General

Updates on the home front

Clue is on day 13 now and still no sign of anything happening. She didn’t really get going until day 16 last time so I am not panicking yet but I do hate long heat cycles.

The great thing about this opportunity is that it’s not as desperately hoped-for as the last one was. I got my wonderful litter from her and, while a “spare” would be fantastic, I have her daughters to carry on with. Doesn’t mean I don’t want it to work this time, but it does mean there’s less tension. If she doesn’t make it happen this heat I’ll talk with the vet but my instinct is to spay her. I am seeing that she is putting more weight on her front than she used to; she still has no pain and she runs like an idiot but I am sure the pelvic bones are tightening up as she ages. I don’t even want there to be a question about whether it’s hurting her to carry a pregnancy.

I haven’t given an update on Bramble in a while; we’re continuing the nightly recall training. He has come an enormous length, really stunning. I can stand on the front stoop and let him out and he goes about his business and then, at my first whistle, comes bolting back. No more fear when I go get him – he knows he’s doing the right thing and he gives me about ten high-fives in a row when he runs over the doorstep. I have no plans to test him when the road is traveled, because he does need to have his little routine (he trots across the road and hunts for three or four minutes in the woods before he comes back, and I don’t want him meeting a car), but I am very encouraged that he’ll be able to begin joining us on our off-leash hikes even as soon as this winter.

Juno comes out with him and me every night to practice corgi-style off-leash training, meaning that she has to be under voice control and not follow him even when he tracks a toad or something really fascinating. She’s got a lovely little brain and is incredibly herdy; she does this wonderful thing where when she alerts to a movement she sinks on her own into a crouch and eyes it. She really thinks she’s a sawed-off border collie. She is also incredibly mouthy, which is our biggest challenge right now; when I praise her she leaps up and joy-bites me. Funny to watch, as I jump and scream, but not so funny to experience. She does the same thing to Friday and to her mom; she’s an equal-opportunity nipper!

Bronte is just wonderful. She’s our sweet, sweet girl. Her surgery scars are almost completely furred-over again and she looks amazing. The repair on her ouchie back door was flawless, just beautiful. Since the surgery she’s moving better than she’s done in years and she’s as happy as a clam. I need to get some video of her and some new pictures and update her “available” page but I’m in no hurry. She’s so lovely to have around.

I am going down to Hartford next week sometime; I would like to wait until after I breed Clue (assuming I breed Clue) but I am watching the home page and will swoop down there if there’s a dog that I think looks like The One. I cannot bring back a pit bull, as desperate as their situation is (I love them, but with winter coming I can’t reliably separate dogs at all times and I won’t bring in dog-aggressive breeds unless I can do so), so it will be some other breed but I haven’t the slightest idea what.

Enough rambling, back to work! A couple more hours to go before I can sleep.

Responsible Ownership

Furbabies. Kids in hair suits. My dog is my daughter. And other pieces of total lunacy.

People, just… NO.

Your dog is not your child. Your dog doesn’t WANT to be your child; your dog is completely confused by this kind of behavior. Your dog would be horrified if he could comprehend the statement.

Dogs who are “children” are usually the most lost and badly behaved dogs there are, because the relationship is entirely for the benefit of the “parent.” What parents do for children, the way parents behave around children, are nothing that a dog needs or even likes. They end up casting here and there for any kind of stability and strength and assurance. The soft ones go neurotic; the hard ones take over. Either way you have an unhappy dog trapped and being fed upon, asked to provide something it cannot and stay sane and healthy.

I love my dogs. I think they are just marvelous. I feel privileged to know them. But they are not my husband and they are not my children. I don’t mean that they are on the same spectrum but just further down it, like I might hand my kid a twenty but I wouldn’t do that to a dog. I mean that they are on a completely different plane; they are my dogs. They don’t need to be compared to the way I feel about my children or my spouse or my neighbor or the president of France.

I have enormous numbers of pages to read tonight, in a campaign known in my own brain as Thank You God For Giving Me A Project That Will Pay For Clue’s C-Section, so I can’t go on much longer than I already have, but just one more thing:

Why are the “baby” statements ALWAYS and inevitably and heartbreakingly followed by “I need to find a new home for my baby”? I’ve seen more “babies” rehomed than I’ve ever seen working dogs rehomed, more than I’ve seen even the dogs I consider neglected (like “yard dogs” or chain dogs) rehomed. It always begins with “Timba has been my baby for seven years, but now I broke up with the boyfriend/moved to a new apartment/got a different job/she bit someone/I am getting married and she needs a new home with someone who will love her like the baby she is.”

Dude, wake up. I have babies. You could no more wrest them from my grasp than you could tear my lung out, and the birth parents who choose to give up a baby go through the rest of their lives with one lung. You don’t give up a baby because you move to Reno.

What we have with dogs that we own is something very fine, very noble, very GOOD. It makes us better people. Turning it into a child substitution wrecks it on both sides. Don’t do it.

buying a puppy, Responsible Breeding, Responsible Ownership, Selling puppies

How much do puppies cost? How the “breeder wars” hurt our community

There are a whole bunch of good guides out there on how to price a product. They vary in terms of how much you can add on top of the basic equation – how much margin you can expect – but the initial algebra is pretty consistent.

You take your raw materials cost, add in your overhead (travel included), make sure you’re counting rent and utilities and other facilities cost, and then pay yourself a good living wage on top of that. If you’re putting in 40 hours, you might be able to pay yourself $30 an hour. If a lot of what you do is stand around and then there are bursts of activity, $150 an hour might be more reasonable. Once you’ve done all that, then you add in your profit. The whole thing is called “cost-plus,” and it’s why you pay more for a vase than you would for the clay, and more for a photograph than you would for the film.

Anyone investigating setting up a small business that is based on a unique product or service (as opposed to a commodity – in other words, you’re either making something by hand or producing something unique) is told that it hurts everyone to undersell yourself. If you price your widget at $50 when an actual cost-plus price should be $300, you hurt everybody in the widget business. People start to think that widgets should be $50, so they refuse to buy the $300 ones anymore. You enjoy a brief period of popularity but then you go out of business because even with huge volume you still lose money. Nobody wins.

If you want to succeed in your widget business and build the industry for everybody, you not only charge $300, you’re PROUD of the $300. One of the other cardinal rules of expertise-oriented small business is that discounts are death. The discount becomes the “real” worth, and the customer reacts negatively to the normal price. If your instinct is to discount, we’re told, do a freebie instead. Charge $300 for the widget and throw in a $20 credit; don’t discount to $280.

Now let’s look at dog breeding. We’re always walking a delicate line because we don’t consider ourselves businesses but we do ask money for a product, or (as I prefer to think of it) we ask money for an extended-support contract. But people ARE handing us a check.

If we followed cost-plus pricing, the way a small business is supposed to, the average puppy price for a well-bred litter should be around $20,000 each. And that’s not an exaggeration. Most of us have a litter once a year, twice at most; our expenses are astronomical. Most of our “raw materials” (show-potential puppies) end up never producing anything. Those who have more litters than that are also the ones who are paying the most; they are the ones showing every weekend and they have an RV that cost a year’s salary and their vet bills could send a kid to college.

So let’s say that a fair puppy price, if we were treating this like a business, would be $20,000 per. That’s the price that, if we were businesspeople, we should be PROUD to ask.

Why, then, do the ridiculously small puppy prices we DO ask engender so much embarrassment, and (even worse) so much breeder-to-breeder criticism?

I rearranged my puppy page last night, and as an experiment decided to put my puppy price there publicly. I’ve never done that before; very few breeders do. There’s a feeling, and I think it’s not a bad one, that we don’t want to make it look like anybody who can meet the price gets the puppy. The problem with this is that potential owners are kind of floundering; they don’t know how much is normal and they don’t know when to bring it up with you. I also did it because I’m a potential owner too; I feel the same tension anybody does when I am approaching a breeder. We are not, and never will be, the kind of family that can drop even three figures without thinking about it; when something could be anywhere from $1000 to $5000 – and I won’t even know until I am well into the process – it really gets stressful.

I put my price there because I want to see if a public price really does bring me a lower caliber of buyer, and (if so) if I feel I can still place puppies well using all the other things I do, like questionnaires and interviews and meetings.

I was typing along, listing the stuff that comes with a well-bred puppy, and when I typed out the price my immediate reaction was to say “OH MY GOSH I KNOW I’M SORRY I’M SORRY I PROMISE IT’S WORTH IT.” I was actually embarrassed, cringing with the thought that somebody was going to be mad at me for saying that my puppies are a certain price.

And I also know that any time a price is made public on someone’s website or somebody hears that so and so is charging this much and this other person is asking that much, it becomes a topic of gossip and criticism. “Did you know he asked THREE GRAND for that litter?” “Did you hear that she got TWO THOUSAND for that MISMARK?”

It seems, often, that breeders will take any opportunity to tear each other down – as a group we are passionately pro-dog, and I’ve never met any who were more selfless when it comes to care and welfare and devotion to doing the right thing. But we are often incredibly cruel to each other. It’s the same sad tune that mothers sing: I stayed home and you didn’t; I breastfed and you didn’t; you let your kids eat fries and I don’t. “Did you hear what she did” is the great battle cry.

In dog breeding, and I think this can be the case in many other pursuits as well, self-abnegation becomes the real pride. I lost more money than you did; I neutered more show prospects than you did; I charge $1000, well I charge $800, well I charge $600, well I give them away and also donated my kidney to a puppy buyer. I breed twice a year, I breed once a year, I breed once every five years, I’ve owned this breed for fifteen years and never once have I even LOOKED at a dog’s genitals with intent to use them.

Here’s the truth: Any show breeder charging less than $20,000 per puppy is not running a business. They’re undercharging. So even a few dollars below that amount, we’re all on a level playing field. And I don’t know anybody charging even a third of that, so WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT. Nobody gives out prizes for I-dig-a-deeper-hole-than-you.

Within our losing-money-fast boat, individual breeders make decisions based on how they feel they can best place their puppies. I’ve had breeders tell me that they charge $2000 because pet stores are asking $1800 for their breed. If they don’t go over that amount, people feel that their beautifully bred puppies are not worth as much as the pet store dogs. I’ve had other breeders tell me that they charge a very low price because then they can pick and choose from many more buyers. And I’ve had others tell me that they price at the very top of their breed’s range because that actually pulls in more buyers (the “Ivy League” effect – Yale has thousands of applicants for a few positions, while Hobtown Community College has a hundred applicants for a thousand positions).

No matter what they have decided, EVERYBODY’S LOSING MONEY. There’s no reason to attack anyone. This is especially so in the Cardigan community, by the way, where puppy prices are INCREDIBLY LOW. I sold my last litter of Danes years ago for $1500 each, and that was the very lowest end of the breed’s range. That same year a friend bought a similarly well-bred Dane puppy for $3000; the show-marked harlequins were somewhere in the $4500 range and many of them went with puppies back as well. Prices went up an average of $50-$100 per year, quite consistently. Danes are not a particularly expensive breed, either; if I were looking for a well-bred pet puppy of any breed in 2010, I’d expect to pay around $2000. When I inquired about Cardigans and was told that they were in the $900 range, I about fell over dead. It felt like shopping at the dollar store for a show puppy!

And there’s no “reason” Cardis are that low; no reason besides a certain expectation of that’s what everybody’s selling them for. So there’s no pride attached to selling them even lower, or any pride attached to selling them higher either. Everybody’s shoveling money into a dog-shaped hole, so what decisions are made around that situation are your business and nobody else’s.

If I see somebody charging $3,000 for Cardigan puppies, I need to be able to distinguish between something that’s WRONG (which obviously it’s not; that person is still nowhere near making a profit or being motivated by money) and something that is not what I would have decided. I may have my own private little thoughts about it, in the same way that I would have my little thoughts about feeding (or not feeding) fries to your kids, but I need to put on my big-girl panties and not make a moral issue out of it – because we are on the same side. That’s what it really comes down to. Much more unites us than divides us, and as a community we should be loving to each other even when decisions differ.

——

If you’ve hung around long enough and are a normal person wondering how I personally put a dollar figure to puppies, here’s how I do it.

I sell my puppies oddly. I charge more at the beginning and then rebate for classes and titles. I do this on the advice of a wonderful trainer, who said that puppies should be like soda cans; you should be rewarded for doing the right things with them. So I pay for puppy K and I pay for a herding instinct test or any title (rally included). Clue’s first litter was my grand experiment in doing this and I was VERY happy with the way it went. I had a 100% puppy K attendance, which I think is the most important thing you can possibly do for the average puppy, and I gladly wrote those checks. I hope to write more as the titles are achieved.

My puppy price is $1200 (with $200 rebated, for a total of $1000 in the end) this year. I tried to be as honest with puppy people as I could be, showing them exactly how much it cost to get their puppy to eight weeks old so they would understand that I wasn’t making any money; I also used this lovely mess as a ruler. I did not want to price puppies so low that they were being bought as pit bull bait, which sounds hideous but it happens far more often than you’d ever imagine. At $1000 I am right in the middle of the bad-breeder pack, which I am not happy with as a rule but I also don’t want to keep really great owners who don’t have a lot of money to throw around away from my door.

I would love – LOVE – to someday be able to actually redefine what I do as a free puppy and a lifetime support contract. I would love for us all to do that. I think it makes more sense to a buyer when you ask them how much they’d expect to be paid to be on call for the next twelve years than to try to accurately define what a living puppy is “worth.” And I think defining the transaction as a support contract also allows them to distinguish between a good supplier and a bad one without labeling the puppy itself as good or bad.

Maybe someday that will come true, and people will figure they’re paying me a buck-ninety a week and it will seem like a bargain. Until then, I will continue to try to walk that line, failing at business but hopefully succeeding at establishing value.

And hopefully we won’t fight too too much.