Originally posted on 2013-07-10.
How much should you spend on a puppy? This is a question I have been hearing around and about for the past twenty years. The price of the dog is something that many people are very concerned about, and often without a lot of background information about what they are paying for. When you are purchasing a dog, you have a lot of things to take into account. The problem is that the price of the dog is only part of the equation. The rest of the equation includes things like how much it is going to cost you to feed, house and get medical care, to train, to outfit and to keep a dog. Beyond that there are variables related to how much you pay for your puppy that are going to impact how much you pay to begin with.
This is not how a great breeder sells a puppy! Yes he is cute, but he may not be healthy, well fed or properly cared for. Regardless of if you purchase your puppy from someone who is breeding purebreds or mixed breeds, you should take a great deal of care in ensuring that your breeder does the right things before you buy. Image credit: Cole123RF / 123RF Stock Photo
The cost of getting a puppy is high. Let’s start with the basics; you are going to need a food bowl, a water bowl, a collar and a leash. A crate is a really good idea, and if you want to travel with your dog, a second crate for the car is going to be a good idea. If you are purchasing a large breed dog, you may need several crates as he grows. A blanket or bed is a good idea to prevent pressure sores from lying on rough carpet or hard floors. Toys to chew and destroy and toys to play with in the company of people are needed. Several collars from the micro mini puppy collar to the full adult sized collar, a six foot leash and possibly a long line. If you have a very close coated dog and live in a cold climate, add on a dog coat or two or three. Don’t forget that you need to licence your dog too.
Don’t forget food. There are many choices out there, and it is well worthwhile to have some criteria when you are choose a food. My personal choice is a premade diet (yes, kibble) with three or fewer proteins, two or fewer grains (yes, I want grain in my diet), and nothing silly in it; I don’t want to feed my dogs blueberries, fennel, rosemary, or cranberries. While there is no evidence that these things will harm my dog, there is also no evidence that they will benefit my dog either. Keep in mind that your puppy needs a puppy food; the calcium to phosphorus ratio in a puppy diet is different than that of an adult diet and if you feed a puppy an adult food, you short change him in terms of nutrients and risk creating unwanted orthopedic issues later on. At one time, breeders were told to feed adult food to large and giant breed puppies to prevent fast growth which can also cause orthopedic issues. Now, large and giant breed puppy food has the right calcium to phosphorus ratio, but is lower calorie helping these puppies achieve long, slow, healthy growth.
Beyond equipment, you need to bring your puppy to the vet. If your pup is under 7 weeks when he is coming home, if you got him from a pet store, if you bought him at a farmer’s market or at the end of a farm lane, or if there is any suspicion of him not being perfectly healthy, get him to the vet on the way home, before he crosses the threshold of your house. Puppies come home with things like giardia, coccidian, parvo and bordatella all the time and you can save yourself a ton of money and grief if you know that your pup is sick before the symptoms get out of control. If you have a family member who is immune compromised, you should consider a vet visit no matter where your puppy comes from. Prevention is always cheaper than cure. Keep in mind that if you get a 6 week old puppy that has already been vaccinated, that vaccine may not actually work because the puppy’s immune system is already being prompted by the milk he is drinking from his mother. Early vaccination is over vaccination, and you will have to repeat those vaccines, which is an added expense. You will need to budget for a second set of vaccines and then a rabies series before your puppy is twenty weeks, and you cannot combine those into one visit; you will need to visit the vet at least twice and probably three times during the first twelve weeks you have your pup.
When you are planning for your puppy, you need to make sure that you include a veterinarian on your team of professionals to help you succeed with your puppy. You can expect to take your puppy to the vet two or three times before he is about twenty weeks, and then again when he is about a year old. Depending on where you live, you may need to do a faecal test to look for parasites and a blood test for diseases like Lyme or heartworm as soon as you get your puppy. Image credit: justmeyo / 123RF Stock Photo
Medical insurance is another cost to owning a dog, and for many of us, entirely worth the cost. Unless you plan on never ever doing anything with your puppy, never going to the dog park, never taking your puppy camping or canoeing, never going to a training class or on a road trip, your pup is going to be exposed to dangers and one thing you can do to make sure you can cover your pup’s medical costs if he should run into a tree or eat something noxious, is to get medical insurance. If you are not going to do this, you may want to consider self insuring by putting away a certain amount of money each month to cover your dog’s medical needs.
And finally but not least, there is the cost of going to puppy school; something I think is essential for every puppy. Puppy school is going to cost time and money. It really, really is, and it is really worth what you pay. A great puppy class is going to include time for the puppy to play, time to learn skills, time to go to the toilet and time to troubleshoot problems at home. There should be activities to take home and do and lots to see and do. Your puppy class instructor should be a great resource on what to do and how to do it and when to do it. Your puppy class instructor should also know a lot about things such as where to find a good vet, pet food store and dog walker. They should be aware of which dog parks are safe and which are the high octane, difficult parks. They should be a part of the dog loving community that you live within.
That is the cost of getting a puppy, without the puppy. I hear a lot from people that they feel that paying a lot of money for a purebred puppy is a waste of money, but I will argue that if you want a pup who comes home genetically sound, healthy, and well enriched, you are going to get what you pay for. Let’s look at what the cost is to the careful, thoughtful breeder. They start out by paying everything I have outlined above for their own puppy. They raise it, they love it, they often show it and train it and compete in performance sports with it. They have researched the pedigree, they have looked at the dam and the sire of their puppy, and they have a good idea what their puppy will grow up to be like and what she will likely throw when she whelps her pups. This person goes out and researches compatible pedigrees; they want to find a mate who is going to match their dog really well.
Once they have raised the bitch or mother dog to the age of two, they will go to the vet and do about a thousand dollars worth of health checks. Health checks include things like taking radiographs to ensure that hips and elbows are in good shape. They also check if their dog’s heart is healthy. They check for venereal diseases that might harm the litter while the dam is pregnant. There are genetic tests that can be done to help rule out passing along certain genetic problems. These tests have to be done on both parents, so before the breeding even happens, over two thousand dollars has already been spent to produce the litter. If your breeder is not doing these health checks on both the dam and the sire, then you are buying a puppy who might get sick from a preventable disease. The breeder and the veterinarian should be working together to look at the results from both the dam and the sire to make sure that there are not health problems that could be prevented by not breeding. Breeders need to know about things like the effect of breeding a merle dog to a merle dog; if you do that 25% of the puppies will be deaf. Not 25% of the puppies MIGHT be deaf, but 25% of the puppies will be deaf. While it is true that many deaf dogs live full and happy lives, who would intentionally breed a deaf dog? Taking care of a deaf dog is a lot more work than taking care of a hearing dog, because they cannot hear you call, they cannot hear the horn of a car and they cannot hear the warning noises of other dogs. If your breeder isn’t screening things out, you are rolling the dice.
When the owner of the dam has found a compatible stud, and she is ready to breed, then she must pay the owner of the stud a fee to get the breeding. Usually the cost of a stud fee is about the same as the cost of a puppy. If the stud fee is $1500, then the cost of the puppy is going to be about a fifteen hundred dollars. Then the owner of the dam must transport the bitch to the dog, and sometimes board her there. I know of breeders who have travelled across the continent to get the stud they want to breed to. If the breeder owns both the dam and the stud, you need to really know what you are talking about before you buy from them. Is the stud used by other breeders? If not that is a warning sign to me that you may not be working with someone who really cares about what the puppies are like; they may just be trying to make money. The great breeders rarely make money off their litters; they barely cover costs.
What about the breeders who don’t want to breed purebred dogs? What about the breeders who have lovely mixed breed dogs and who want to produce lovely mixed breed puppies? They too should go through health screening to ensure that the puppies they produce will be healthy and it is no cheaper to do this for a mixed breed dog than it is for a purebred. If they are not doing the health checks, your chances of a bad breeding are much higher. When the breeder makes really radical matches for their dogs; a shi tzu and a yorkie for instance, you know that they aren’t thinking through the process really carefully.
Regardless of the breed of dog or mix that you are getting, the person who is breeding the litter should make sure that mom and dad both have appropriate health checks and genetic screening for their breed or type, and that all of the litter’s health, environmental enrichment and behaviour needs are met until they are ready to go home. Image credit: ballnoi / 123RF Stock Photo
And what about the purebred dogs who don’t get health checks? Then the breeder is rolling the dice and hoping for the best. The lack of health checks for the parents is one of the easiest ways to tell if your breeder is in the game for the money or if they actually care about the dogs they produce. If your breeder says things like “I have never produced a dog with a health problem” or “they are mixed breeds so they will be healthier” you know that they are playing the game with a hope and a prayer not because they care about producing great puppies who will grow up into great adult dogs.
Once the breeding has occurred the owner of the dam has to wait 21 days before she can get an ultrasound to make sure the bitch is pregnant. If she didn’t catch, then it is likely that she will go through this whole rigmarole again in six months and try again. If she is pregnant, she will be through her first trimester and the breeder will start to feed her a high nutrition and calcium supplemented diet in order to be able to grow healthy pups. The dam will likely have to see the vet once or twice more before the pups are whelped. All of these costs are part of what make up the cost of the puppy.
When the puppies are ready to be born, the breeder has to be prepared to take her to the vet if anything goes wrong. A caesarean for a dog can cost upwards of twenty five hundred dollars, and if mom dies, then the breeder has to be mom to however pups make it. This means that every two hours, around the clock, she has to bottle feed the pups. Even if mom is perfectly healthy, the breeder may sleep next to or in the whelping box to help for the first few days, just to make sure that everything is going smoothly. Then there are blankets to wash, floors to clean, food to make for mom, walking and watering mom and making sure that every pup is healthy. It is not uncommon for a breeder to stay with the litter twenty four hours a day for four to six days after the litter whelps. That means that while the breeder is doing that, she cannot be out working at a job. If the pups get sick, she has to be ready to take them to the vet right away, and to pay for that too.
If your breeder is really good, she will be doing ENS or early neurological stimulation from days one to 16 too; this helps the pups to learn and grow and develop to be the most they can be. As the pups grow they actually get messier as they begin to move around. They need a lot of toys and things to walk upon. They need to be monitored. At about three weeks they can start going into other parts of the house or if the weather is good, outside. This means transporting the litter in and out. The breeder who leaves the litter to its own devices in a horse stall in the barn just isn’t doing their job.
Finally the breeder has to announce, advertize, and screen potential owners. Interviewing puppy parents can take hours and hours and the breeder may end up turning away more people than that they actually have puppies for. All of this is what should be done, for every single puppy.
Farming has always attracted me. The idea that I could by the sweat of my own brow go out and plant some seeds, care for the plants, and then harvest them and sell the food I had produced is wonderful. I am taking raw ingredients; seeds, land, water, weeding, hoeing, thinning, and eventually harvesting, and I get great food out of the deal. For three years I grew a very large garden and either sold or gave away a lot of what I produced and could not freeze for my own use. When you work out how much I would make if I were to just garden and sell what I produced you would total up the cost of what went in (seeds, tools and whatever I am paying to use the land including taxes) and figure out how much work I put in. Then I price my produce according to what the market will bear, and subtract the amount of money I put in to come out with how much my work was worth.
Producing puppies is like that; the breeder has to add up everything they paid in advance of the litter selling. This means the initial cost of their dog, the vet care, the training, the travel, the stud fees, the preventive medicine, the screening, the stud fee, any show fees, trial fees, trainers fees, leashes, collars, coats, crates, dishes, food, and all the work they do once the litter is on the ground.
When you go to the grocery store, you can often find produce that is marked down. Perhaps it is older, or maybe it is slightly mouldy, or maybe it has a bruise or a spot on it. When you are looking for a puppy you are going to find pups who sell for as little as a couple of hundred dollars, and you can find pups who go for as much forty thousand dollars. The difference between the discount puppy and the puppy who sold for forty thousand dollars is often simply how much work the breeder did with the dam and the litter before you got your puppy. If you get your puppy at five or six weeks, you may get him for a lower fee, but then you are stuck doing all the work of mom, the litter and the breeder. If your breeder didn’t do health screening and your pup grows up to have a preventable heart problem, then you are going to pay for a veterinary cardiologist and likely a pile of medication to keep your dog alive. If your breeder chooses not to radiograph elbows and hips, sure the pup will be cheaper, but you may end up with a puppy who cannot walk by the time he is four years of age.
If this litter of puppies is advertized for a price that is unreasonably low, you can bet that the breeder has not done the things that you would hope have been done to ensure that your puppy is going to be healthy, happy and ready to become a part of your family, and you might end up paying for things that could have been prevented. Paying more for a puppy doesn’t guarantee that you won’t face health or behavioural challenges later on, but paying too little will almost guarantee that you will face things you wish you and your pup wouldn’t have had to face. Image credit: lilun / 123RF Stock Photo
When you see a puppy advertized for $400 dollars in the newspaper ask yourself if you are ready to pay for all the things that the breeder didn’t include in the price of the puppy. The health care, genetic screening, the maternal nutrition, the puppy nutrition, the hands on time with the litter; the vet care for any pups who were ill or who needed extra attention all add up. If the breeder didn’t pay for that, then if you get a puppy who comes home with worms, or parvo, or giardia or bordatella, or who develops hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or a preventable genetic disease, or who dies from an early cancer, you will wonder if that trauma could have been avoided by finding a breeder who spent more on the litter and charged more for their pups.