Growing up, my family got into dog breeding. At one point, we had 12 mastiffs and 2 malamutes at home.

It was nuts.

During all that, I learned a few things about how to start a dog breeding business.

I’ll walk you through the nitty gritty on how to get started. But first…

Don’t Start a Dog Breeding Business for the Money

I’m going to be frank. A dog breeding business is not a great business. In fact, most breeders lose a lot of money. The more you care about dogs and doing the right thing, the more money you’ll lose.

Don’t start a dog breeding business to make money, do it because you love dogs, love the process, and love finding forever homes for your dogs. Better to consider it a hobby and expect to lose money on it.

There’s a reason why puppy mills are so prevalent: it’s the only way to turn a profit. If you want to ethically breed, turning a profit with a dog breeding business is nearly impossible.

Yes, there are a few exceptions to this rule. The main one I can think of are breeders that also provide specialty training. Like a Belgian Malinois breeder that also trains their dogs for police or military K-9 units. Those dogs can easily go for $10,000 and above.

How Much Money a Dog Breeding Business Makes

I’ll talk about mastiffs since that’s what I have experience with. My family sold pure-breed English Mastiffs from championship lines. Our puppies sold for about $2,000. It sounds like a lot until you break down all the costs:

  • An average litter size is about 6 puppies, so that’s $12,000 in total revenue.
  • Stud fees can easily get to $6,000 for a championship line, the really prestigious lines will be even higher. That’s half your revenue.
  • Studs aren’t available to just anyone, you have to establish yourself in that dog breed community. This means attending a bunch of dog shows with your own dog and reaching AKC championship status with them. Most dog shows only cost $20-30 to enter but you need to pay for gas, hotels for multiple nights, and a handler fee to show the dog if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself. You could easily spend $1,000 on one show.
  • The point system to reach champion status is complicated but in my experience, it takes at least half of a year of attending dog shows regularly in order to achieve it. That’s if you go to a dog show every other weekend. Assume you’ll need to attend at least 10 shows at $1,000 each.

We’re already at $16,000 in expenses to make $12,000 in revenue. And we haven’t factored in vet bills, health tests for specific breeds (like hip dysplasia tests), food, and the biggest expense of all: your time. I’m also assuming you already have a championship-quality bitch to even consider attempting all this.

Yes, you could cut these costs down. You could do the show handling yourself, stay at really cheap hotels, only go to shows near you, find a cheaper stud fee option, etc. Or breed dogs that aren’t show-quality.

But the further you cut costs, the less you’ll be able to charge for each puppy. You won’t be selling champion, pure-breed puppies anymore, you’ll be selling family pets.

Nothing wrong with that, it just drops your revenue by a lot. Instead of getting $2,000 per puppy, you’ll get $500.

Now you’ll only make $3,000 for a littler. This still needs to cover all the vet bills, the insemination, stud fees, equipment and supplies in your house to manage the puppies, health testing, expenses to advertise your litter, and your time. $3,000 goes real fast.

Like I said, dog breeding businesses are terrible businesses. Best to treat it as a hobby, assume it’ll cost you more than you make, and enjoy the ride.

Now let’s say you still want to start a dog breeding business, how do we do it?

1. Pick a Breed

Every breed has tons of quirks to their own health, temperament, and breeding. It takes a good 5-10 years to become competent at a single breed. And it’s exceedingly rare to find breeders that span multiple breeds.

So I recommend thinking through which breed you want to devote a decade of your life to. And if you’re not sure, I’d highly recommend getting that breed as a pet first. If you’re not thrilled with the prospect of a dozen of them running around, keep looking.

2. Select Your Bitch (Female Dog)

Nearly every breeder starts by using their own bitch to breed, it’s much simpler than getting a championship stud and learning how to do stud fees.

From your own dogs, you’ll need a bitch that’s breedable. If you’re looking to breed show-quality pure-breds, the lines of that dog will need to be full of well-respected champions in your breeding community.

Buying a few champion-level dogs yourself, getting their own championships, then getting lucky that one of them is viable takes a lot of work and luck. This is a 3-5 year journey on its own.

3. Run All Breed Health Tests

Before you can seriously consider breeding, you’ll need to get all the standard health tests completed for your bitch.

Every AKC recognized breed has a national breed organization that lists out all the health tests. Do all these tests before considering breeding. For example, here are the tests for mastiffs.

It’s a lot but this is what it takes to breed responsibly. 

The other benefit of going through all these tests yourself is that you’re going to get a really deep understanding of your breed. That will help immensely when you look for studs.

4. Find a Stud

Now you need to find a breeder that has an active stud. This is done by networking through dog shows and the breeder community.

As you get to know folks, you’ll learn who has the major champions, who’s actively breeding, and hopefully make some friendships that will get you access to the stud that you want.

In most cases, you’ll know who you want to reach out to by this point, assuming you’ve done the work to get your own bitch to a championship status.

5. Start an LLC and Form Your Business

I highly recommend that you wait until this point before doing any of the “business” stuff. A lot of stuff can go wrong before this point. Or you might decide that an official dog breeding business isn’t for you. That’s why I recommend that you don’t register your business before this point.

Once you’re sure that you’re going to breed your dog, get your business formed.

There are a bunch of steps to starting a business and making it official. It’s really important that you get an LLC formed though. By having an LLC, it’ll take on a lot of the liability and help shield your personal assets if anything goes wrong. Since we’re dealing with dogs, there’s always a chance of something crazy happening. So get everything set up correctly. You also should speak to a local small business attorney that’s familiar with dog breeding in your area.

6. Register Your Litter with the AKC

Assuming you want to build the prestige of your kennel over time, start laying the groundwork with the AKC.

The first step is to register your litter.

The AKC has multiple programs you can work towards, like registering your kennel and becoming a breeder of merit. All of these programs require an established history of litters and attending AKC events. The sooner you build that track record, the easier it will be to apply for these programs when you’re ready.

And since the AKC is such a trusted brand in breeding, it’s safe to assume that you’ll want to join their programs as you establish your business.

7. Get the Insemination Completed

This step isn’t easy, you need to find a vet that has experience with insemination.

Many local vets will offer to do just about any procedure, regardless of how much experience they have with it. I’ve lost a few dogs from vets getting over their heads, even had a really close call with a routine neuter and gastropexy recently.

I’ve learned one really important lesson: for any procedure, find a specialist.

You want a veterinarian that has done that procedure a ton of times. 

There’s two ways to find good specialty vets:

  • If you live close enough to a reputable vet school, go there. Or ask for referrals from them. These are vets at the top of their game and know who to trust.
  • Ask a few breeders that you respect in your area where they recommend that you go. 

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t trust Google when trying to find a good specialty vet. The best vets aren’t typically good at marketing or SEO so it’s unlikely that they’ll come up in search results.

8. Build a Puppy Waiting List

As soon as the pregnancy is official, start your puppy waiting list.

It’s extremely important that you don’t wait to advertise your litter. After the birth, you only have 8 weeks to get all your puppies sold. For pure-bred puppies, most people want to buy puppies around the 8-week mark. Yes, there’s some margin of error here, 10 weeks is also viable. But you don’t have much more time than that.

Wait too long and people won’t be interested anymore.

That happened to my family multiple times. We couldn’t find homes fast enough and before we knew it, we had several new pets from the litter instead of just the one we planned on.

The best way to sell your puppies is to build your waiting list of interested buyers before the birth. As soon as it’s confirmed, start advertising your upcoming litter and tell people you have a waiting list.

Great places to advertise your upcoming littler:

  • Local Facebook groups for your breed (assuming the group allows litter announcements)
  • The AKC puppy marketplace
  • Reach out to breeders that you have relationships with, let them know you have a new litter on the way
  • Look at the national and regional organizations for your breed, see if they have listings for upcoming litters and new puppies

With a strong waiting list, you’ll be able to find amazing homes for your entire litter.

9. Get Your Puppy Contract in Order

Puppy contacts are pretty standard, we had them when we sold puppies. They include things like:

  • If the puppy can be bred
  • Naming requirements from the breeder kennel
  • Health screening and neutering
  • Rehome clauses

If this is your first littler, I don’t recommend grabbing a random contract off the internet. Instead, ask your breeder friends if they have a template they’ve used. If you really want to make sure it’s solid, run it by an attorney with breeder experience. It will cost more but the whole point of a contract to avoid massive problems later by paying a little now.

10. Screen and Finalize Your Puppy Homes

You don’t want to sell to just anyone, you want to find great, loving homes for each puppy. Real forever homes.

This takes work.

A few common things to look for:

  • Breed experience if it’s a unique or challenging bread. For mastiffs, it’s really important to look for folks that have giant breed experience and know what they’re getting into. Same thing with huskies, people should be familiar with the energy levels required. This helps you avoid having to take a puppy back. We had multiple mastiff puppies get returned once families realized what having a mastiff was actually like.
  • Home visits or video calls to see the environment. You’re looking for homes that are well organized, safe, and have access to everything that breed needs. Some dogs do great in apartments, others won’t, etc.
  • The new owner’s plans for the dog, making sure that it matches well with the breed.
  • Day-to-day plans for the dog. Do the owners travel often? Will someone be around regularly? Every breed is a little different here. Some do well on their own, others need lots of time with their owners.

Also ask your breeder friends what mistakes that they’ve made with finding homes.

It’s common to ask for a deposit on a puppy. This will ensure that each new home is truly serious about buying the puppy, reducing the number of last-minute cancellations which can cause a real problem. If someone backs out for some reason, you keep the deposit. You can add this to your puppy contact.

Once you’re comfortable with the new owners, schedule a meet and greet for them and the new litter. They can come by, see the young puppies, and pick one that’s still available. This will also help build an emotional bond with the new family, reducing the odds that folks back out at the last minute.

11. Puppy Pickup Day

The big event is finally here.

For each person you’re selling to, organize a scheduled pickup. It’s best to stagger your pickups so they’re not happening at the same time.

Collect your final payment, hand over copies of health documentation from your vet, microchip info, and a list of your recommended steps for raising the puppy (vet visits and shots, neutering and spaying timelines, training, socialization, etc).

At this point, you’re now successfully sold your first littler. That’s a huge accomplishment. Take a breather and then decide if you want to do it again.