So, you want to get a puppy? Let’s be honest, there are plenty of people who feel exactly the same way.
In fact, I was one of them. For years we looked at dogs, but with the impracticalities of work and being out of the home for 10 hours a day, it was always the impossible dream. Then lockdown came, a change in jobs and opportunity knocked.
Before we get too deep into this, it’s probably worth me clarifying a few things;
- I am not a vet, behavioural expert or dog whisperer
- This is the story of one dog, not all
- No judgement is inferred
- I’m going to use the term ‘owner’ a lot, obviously we don’t own the dog, if anything it’s the other way around
- I’m thrifty (tight… Ed.)
This series has been a while in the making. Just this week the BBC published an article on ‘pandemic puppies’ not working out, which pushed this forward. So in the first, of what I hope will be many, posts we’ll look at the cost of owning a puppy.
Part 1: Buying a Dog
This is a minefield. For first time owners like us, we didn’t feel like we would be capable of taking on a rescue. Although this would have been the preferred route, we didn’t want to create more problems than we solved.
So, how do you go about finding a puppy? Specialist breeders are always the recommended route, and with good reason. They’re welfare-orientated, know historical health issues and can provide some level of tailored support – they are experts.
We knew our limitations. A small home, out in the countryside and no experience. So the dog had to reflect those criteria – it had to be trainable, couldn’t be large and energy wasn’t a problem. That quickly crossed a few off, including labradors and other retrievers.
Our focus switched to Terriers, my preference being the Norwich, my wife leaning towards Borders. From our research, they had the temperament and trainability we wanted, were happy getting out and about but also had an independent streak – so would be happy getting on with their own stuff. Well, that’s what we read at least.
Where do you start?
We signed up for pretty much every alert and emailed more breeders than I’d care to admit. Not a sniff. Then, in a strange bit of happenstance, we stumbled upon a dog who was himself a happy accident. Ted was neither of the breeds we’d looked at, in fact he was a cross – Lakeland and Patterdale Terrier. Some further research later, and seeing the parents, the litter (all remotely, unfortunately) we were sold.
Prices, as we all know, are extremely high. Puppies typically cost anywhere from £1,000 to £4,000 on some sites. I’m not here to judge on the ethics of selling puppies for profit or supply and demand, but the advice is out there – as we’ve shared on VetHelpDirect too – be careful;
- Make sure you see the parents together with the puppies, preferably more than once
- Ask questions about previous litters and the health of the parents
- Look out for warning signs, such as allowing you to pick up before 8 weeks, poor conditions, not microchipped, vaccinated or even checked by a vet
- If there are multiple breeds/litters walk away.
The PDSA has a useful guide on what you can look out for.
Nothing. But. Trouble.
Part 2: Buying everything else for your puppy
If you thought buying a puppy was expensive, it doesn’t get cheaper from there.
Food, toys, somewhere to sleep, I think we all know about. Then there’s the insurance, vaccinations and vet care plan. Fine so far, but starting to add up.
Then, a couple of weeks before you’re due to pick him up, you realise just how easy it is to escape from your garden. And of course it’s not just surface level, Terriers love to dig – so we needed extra reinforcements. New fencing, patch up the gates and something to prevent him tearing through your home.
Are you crate training? If you don’t have anybody to get a second-hand crate from, this is another add-on. And you will need to get them groomed of course, unless you’re adept at doing it yourself.
So where are we so far?
- Insurance + puppy plan (£40 per month + £85 one-off cost for vaccinations etc. – this will vary on breed, Ted is cheap)
- Food (£50 per month, again a St Bernard will be different to a Terrier)
- Grooming (£25 per month – in between lockdowns)
- Training treats (£5-£25 Ted enjoy’s yak’s milk chews which sit at the more expensive end)
If you’re a first time puppy owner, like me, you’ll be inundated with advice on what you’ll need to collect and settle in your puppy. Something to chew, something that smells of their mother (a towel, sheet or similar), a bed for transport and one for home, puppy pads (extremely useful) collar, lead, harness – the list goes on. It soon adds up.
Things won’t always go to plan
In our case, we bought food he didn’t like, as soon as he discovered chewing, his favourite things to eat were puppy pads – so they were out – and he preferred the cheap bed to his proper (expensive) bed – which he also later ate. Oh and he outgrew his collar in a few weeks and the lead wasn’t up to much.
We’re in the home stretch now.
- Monthly costs – £130 + extras
- Puppy proofing – £200 (our house needed more than some)
- Initial setup – £100 (we had a free crate, which went largely unused)
- Puppy plan – £85
So we probably spent £500+ before we had a full weekend with Ted.
Then of course there are puppy classes. Essential for socialising and learning the fundamentals of behaviour, most are now on standby (including ours). This was £60 for a 6 week course, so by no means prohibitively expensive, but something else to consider in the early months.
Read: Socialising your puppy in a socially distanced world
Finally, there are the unexpected costs.
Part 3: The unexpected surprises
Like many puppies, Ted was healthy and in tip-top condition on his first visit to the vet. But also like many puppies, he soon developed a couple of minor issues. Ear mites were the first little treat. As we’ve covered, a trip to the vets and some drugs aren’t cheap. We got a free check-up with the puppy plan, but the ear drops cost a pretty terrifying £50. A while later, gunky eyes were another £60 – check-up and drops.
That’s not a complaint. We expected a few issues, but buying pet insurance or a pet plan doesn’t cover everything, so you always need a little in reserve for emergencies – or gunk. Touch wood, we’ve got off relatively lightly. Puppies eat everything; Ted’s eaten remote controls, ear plugs, the new fencing and of course that bed. So far, he’s avoided anything toxic or damaging. Again, touch wood.
Less surprising, but certainly essential in a lockdown, we are also regular visitors to our local dog park. At £5 for 25 minutes, it’s a perfect way to give Ted the freedom to run without other dogs and distractions. If I had one recommendation, it’d be to look for your local dog park and book a few slots.
So, how much does a puppy cost?
Well, it all really depends on the owner. Those essentials are probably up to £150 a month, that’s if they don’t have expensive taste in food, or a more expensive breed to insure. But the add-ons certainly add up quickly.
The reality of course is that he could become ill, get injured or eat something he really shouldn’t. So there’s always a risk that we could have to pay for more medicine or cover the excess on an expensive insurance claim.
Dogs are a money pit. An extremely lovable, affectionate one that you wouldn’t trade for the world – but a money pit nonetheless. Suddenly the vacuum you had isn’t up to the job, then you need a carpet cleaner too.
In my recent StreetVet Q&A with vet Tim Sandys, we discussed the boom in puppy ownership. We’ve also covered the growth in importing dogs and the calls to ban this practice. Clearly, as the BBC article demonstrates, some new puppy partnerships won’t work out.
There are plenty of dos and don’ts for getting a puppy. As much as we all don’t want to think about money over companionship, it’s unavoidable – puppies aren’t cheap. We’re in it for the long haul with Ted, for better or worse.