Estimating the cost of owning a hunting dog over the course of its lifetime
Total cost: $173 per month, $2083 per year, or $25,000 for lifetime*
*Based on an average life of 12 years
I looked the new pup straight in the eyes. She was trouble – there was no question about it. She’d spent the first eight weeks of her life not as the biggest or fastest of the litter, but as one of the boldest. This was her world and the rest of us were just lucky to live in it.
So I signed up for pet insurance.
All dogs are expensive – there are the food costs and the veterinary expenses in addition to the initial purchase price – but hunting dogs add on another layer of “what if.” These hard-charging athletes are more likely to encounter injury or accident in the field, which could ultimately wind up in an expensive (and unexpected) emergency veterinary bill.
To break down the cost of a hunting dog, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume a scenario with a single dog living in a household as part of the family and hunting regularly throughout the season. Our sample dog, “Cash,” will live for twelve years and be mostly healthy over the course of his lifespan. This is of course a generic picture for the purposes of estimates – please pardon the many assumptions made.
Buying a hunting dog: The puppy deposit and purchase
The price of a new puppy varies quite a bit depending on the breed, the pedigree, and the breeder, but it’s reasonable to expect something in the $1000-$2000 range. To reserve a spot for a desired litter, you can expect to send in a couple hundred dollars as a deposit. This ensures that you are serious about your intentions and that the breeder can be confident in the final placements of the puppies.
All things considered, the purchase price of the new puppy is going to pale in comparison to the expenses racked up over his lifetime. It may seem like a lot of money to hand over for a bundle of sharp teeth, sleepless nights, and no house training. Having bred just one litter in my home, I feel qualified in assuring you that the breeder is not making money off of the deal. Between the health care for the mother, the stud fee for the father, shows or tests required to achieve breeding qualification, the food and equipment for the puppies, the vet visits, and – may it not be so – any emergency vet care, breeding a litter is not a lucrative endeavor.
The breeder may ask you to register your new puppy and/or have his natural abilities tested by an organization such as NAVHDA, so the upfront cost may also include a registration fee and membership in a kennel club or association.
Started dogs – those who have been raised beyond the puppy phase, given basic obedience training, and begun an introduction to bird work – are considerably more expensive due to the additional time and cost invested into the young dog. The benefit of skipping the infant and toddler stages comes at a price. For this example, let’s assume Cash was purchased at eight weeks of age for an average puppy price.
Total cost: $1500
Cost of feeding a hunting dog: Performance nutrition for the athlete
Hunting dogs are working dogs, which means they have to be fueled appropriately. These athletes require good nutrition and enough calories to really thrive.
There are many options for dog food ranging from homemade raw diets to veterinarian formulas, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume a brand name dry food with a high level of protein. These foods typically range from $40-$60 per 30 pound bag. Cash is a large, active dog, so he consumes about one bag of food every month.
$50 x 12 months x 12 years = $7200
Total cost: $8700
Health cost of hunting dogs: Routine and preventative healthcare
Keeping your bird dog in great shape will require regular, preventative health care including physical exams and vaccinations. Puppies will require multiple visits in the first few months so they can receive their full series of vaccines. Regular, ongoing care is prudent to stay current on vaccines and to watch for any problems that may arise.
If you plan to travel to hunt with your bird dog, you should also be aware of any unique requirements when entering other states or countries. Some health risks are regional in nature, so it’s important for your vet to know if you plan to travel to areas where – for example – Lyme Disease or heartworm is especially prevalent.
Regular flea, tick, and internal parasite prevention should also be included in your routine medical care plan and budget. Prices can vary considerably depending upon your unique needs.
As your dog gets older, it’s a hard reality that they’ll require more frequent medical care to address their aging body. Planning ahead to budget for increased health expenses will be important to ensure that they have many healthy years of hunting with you. The question of whether or not to get insurance is worth some research, though plans vary considerably when it comes to covering routine care.
Cash’s annual healthcare expenses for routine visits and preventative care are $500 for each of the first eight years and $1000 for each of the last four.
$500 x 8 + $1000 x 4 = $8000
Total cost: $16,700
Surprise costs of emergency veterinary care
As much as we hope to avoid them, injuries and accidents in the field (or even at home) are a real risk for our high-powered hunting dogs. Puppies are bound to chew something they shouldn’t, even if you’re diligent about good supervision. Spend enough time in agricultural or pasture areas and your dog will eventually have a run-in with barbed wire. Porcupine encounters are an inevitability in some areas. Even grass seeds pose a serious threat if they find their way under the skin or into the nose. A paranoid mind can quickly conclude that the world is out to get our dogs.
Emergency vet care comes at a premium price. Anything involving a surgery is sure to be a couple thousand dollars. Simpler procedures are still hundreds of dollars in total expenses. This is where an insurance plan that covers emergencies can be an effective way to minimize the impact of surprise expenses. Let’s assume Cash has one major incident in his lifetime which requires hospitalization and three minor emergencies involving sutures, antibiotics, and similar care.
$5000 + $400 x 3 = $6200
Total cost: $22,900
Costs of training and outfitting a hunting dog
This is the category where you have the most control over the costs, but you can’t avoid it altogether. Your bird dog will need basic essentials like a crate, but whether you choose to spend $50 or $500 on that crate is entirely up to you and your budget.
Gadgets and electronics can quickly add up, but again, you can elect to purchase a cheaper electronic collar or spring for a GPS unit with all the literal bells and whistles.
Finally, the dog will need to be trained. You can opt for a professional trainer or take the do-it-yourself route. Even if you train the dog yourself, you will need to buy some equipment, regularly purchase (or invest in raising) birds, perhaps pay for access to training grounds, and so on. This doesn’t take into account all of your time and countless weekends devoted to developing your dog into the hunting partner of your dreams.
Cash’s owners have average taste in equipment and gadgets and generally prefer to keep things simple. He has a decent crate, a quality e-collar, and an assortment of other odds and ends.
Cash was sent to a professional trainer for six weeks of basic bird dog training. In the subsequent off-seasons, his owners kept him sharp with regular field work which required some basic gear and the occasional purchase of pigeons from their local club.
$200 crate + $200 e-collar + $500 other gear + $800 pro training + $400 training gear = $2100
Total cost: $25,000
Having never done this exercise on paper before, I admittedly gaped at the twenty-five-thousand-dollar figure staring back at me. I read it aloud to my husband, who immediately asked to walk through my assumptions. Judging by his nod and hasty departure from the room, I’m guessing I’m not too far off.
But as I gaze over at our two sweet girls – and see fifty thousand dollars twinkling over their heads – I can’t help but smile. $25,000 over twelve wonderful years of companionship and that indescribable bird dog bond comes out to the low, low price of $173 per month or, more poignantly, one venti mocha Frappuccino per day. I’ll take the dogs, thanks.
Jennifer Wapenski is the managing editor of Hunting Dog Confidential Magazine and co-host of the Hunting Dog Confidential podcast. She has a lifelong passion for the outdoors, dogs, and wildlife; as an adult, she discovered that upland bird and waterfowl hunting were natural extensions of these pursuits. Jennifer lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two Deutsch Langhaars.