My wife and I have been thinking about getting a dog for over a year now. It seems that whenever we think about it seriously, we have an important trip planned. (Case in point, I’m writing this flying somewhere over Kansas – I think). We’ve started to begin the search for Fido a more seriously in recent weeks. We’ve spent a lot of time looking online and visited with animal shelters. We’ve learned a lot along the way. For one, don’t call an animal shelter a “pound” – they really don’t like that. My wife and I didn’t know the difference. (The pound typically houses dogs that have little marketability to people – and who are more likely to visit “the farm that you can’t visit” after a week.)
Like any purchasing decision, dollars matter. We know that we don’t have an infinite amount of cash to spend. That’s why it’s natural to ask the question, “how much does a dog cost?” When I thought about this, I figured it’s similar to buying a car – there’s the start-up or acquisition costs, and then there’s the on-going maintenance.
Costs of Buying a Dog
There are many factors to consider:
- What breed of dog is right for you? – If you want a big dog, food is going cost more. You may also need a bigger place. We knew there are a billion different breeds of dogs, but we didn’t immediately know which breeds may be right for us. With the help of the animal shelter, we were able to quickly narrow down the dog choices with the following criteria:
- Small to Mid-Size – We live in a 1200 square foot apartment. Though we are thinking of moving to a bigger place in the summer, we can’t bank on that. We think a small dog would be a better fit for our small space.
- Good with Children – My wife and I want to have children someday. We’d like to make things easy on ourselves and not get a dog that would mistake junior for food. It just seems like a smart idea.
- Lazy – Working from home makes me the natural caretaker for the dog. While I would definitely like to play the game of fetch
- Well Behaved with Minimal Special Needs – While I grew up with a dog for the first 15 years of my life, I was never the primary caretaker of the dog. My wife has never owned a dog. We are going to learn how to take care of a dog. We will probably even make mistakes. We’ll be asking for the dog to have patience in dealing with our ignorance. If a dog has special needs, we think it deserves special owners. That’s not us.
I saw on the news President Obama is looking into a Labradoodle. That’s one of the breeds that’s been deemed a fit for us. Should we be scared with the President and Lazy Man have the same dogs. I think the answer is yes.
- Where are you going to get the dog from?
- Animal Shelter – The animal shelter we are looking at takes donations for the dogs while they are kenneled there (Note to self: maybe Lazy Man and Money should make a tax deductible donation – could be some good advertising). When you choose a dog, you pay $250 for a series of vaccines, fixing and other associated necessities. This is the road that we are looking at, but our requirements are tough to match. We may have to look into a…
- Breeder – Breeder’s aren’t typically the cheapest way, but it’s something we are considering. We found a local breeder that looks to cost around $300. [Update: Commenters have be helpful in telling me that this may not be a reputable breed as the price looks too good to be true – expect $750 or $1000 or more]. I have to look into whether we’d have vaccination and fixing costs on top of that. My guess is that we would.
- Off the Street – My wife’s family picked a stray dog off the street. They cleaned it up, took it to veternarian, got it shots, got it fixed… ta-da instant Fido. I’m not sure I have the stomach for this. I would be afraid that the dog had rabies, a potential health condition, or was someone else’s dog.
The Bottom Line – Buying a dog costs between $250 and $550 – depending on if you need a breeder.
- One-Time Costs – There are a number of one-time costs associated with buying a dog. A few of them include:
- Shots and Fixing – We discussed this earlier, but if you have to do, it’s probably best to set aside $250.
- Bedding – The animal shelter had a sweet microfiber pet bed for around $60. There’s at least a 57% chance that I sleep on that and let the dog have the bed. It felt that comfortable.
- Toys – We can probably get away with around $25 to start in this area. I plan to playfully wrestle with the dog until it’s tired out.
- Water Bowl, Collar, Leash, Tags, etc. – I’m think we can get away with this for less than $50, but I’ll over estimate it for now. The dog is likely going to live like me, the cheapest of these things that money can buy.
- Training – We haven’t decided between puppy or older dog. The older dog may come pre-trained. A puppy may require some professional training. I’m probably going to try to learn to the train the dog myself, but this is an area where I have to set aside up to $300 for that.
The Bottom Line – One time costs look to be roughly between $400 and $700 – depending on training.
- On-going costs – Taking care of a dog, to paraphrase Ron Popeil, isn’t a set it and forget it situation. Here are just a few of the costs that we will expect…
- Food – It looks like food ranges $300 to $1000 depending on the size of the dog. I would estimate our dog food to be around $500 a year for our size dog.
- Veternarian Services – My aunt is a vet. Unfortunately that’s not going to help us much as she’s going to live 3000 miles away from our dog. We are looking at around a $300 a year for medical exams. I think I’m being conservative with this estimate as it might be less.
- Health Insurance – Is health insurance a good idea for a dog? I don’t know, but it’s something to look into. It looks like it might be an addition $250 a year.
- Kenneling – We do like to take 1-2 vacations a year. Sometimes we go to Aruba. I’m not sure that bringing a dog there is very practical. We’ve looked around Silicon Valley and it seems like we could find someone for $30 a day. For two weeks, that would be around $450 a year. We could possibly have a friend take care of the dog, which would be a way to save money here.
The Bottom Line – On-going costs look like it will be close to $1500 a year. That’s a little pricier than I thought, but not outside the range where I think it affects our decision.
Adding up the Costs of a Dog
It looks to me that a dog will cost around $2500 for the first year and average $1500 after that. I think these are the top end of the spectrum. I’m sure we’ll find ways to save money along the way.
Whenever making a purchasing decision, I ask myself the same five questions. Buying a dog isn’t our typical purchase though. We don’t need a dog. There’s no financial benefit to having a dog. A dog makes our lives more difficult. A rational person would not get a dog. Getting a dog isn’t about being rational. It’s not about financial benefit or how I can live a more efficient life.
I could make a number of arguments of how a dog could save money. A dog is warm and we could use less heat. A dog can serve as protection. A dog could save me if my real name was Timmy and I’ve fallen into a well. A dog can be a good friend and studies show that people with friends live longer. A dog can cheer me up when I’m down – a very cheap psychiatrist. None of this matters. Getting a pet is about love and that’s its own reward.
- Total Cost of Owning A Dog
- The Annual Cost of Pet Ownership: Can You Afford a Furry Friend?
- Texas Society of CPAs’ Pet Budget Worksheet
- Cost Monkey breaks down the cost of dog ownership.
Photo Credit: Yann!s