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How Much Does it Cost to Have a Hunting Dog?

How Much Does it Cost to Have a Hunting Dog?

A bird hunter with her hunting dog

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.

READ: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing a Bird Dog – The Pointing Breeds

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.

READ: How do we Navigate the Sport Dog Food Market? – The Consumer Conundrum

$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.

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View Comments (22)
    • I hunt Iowa for birds. I had a dog killed right in front of me in a bucket trap with a killtrap. the dog was three, intensely and successfully trained. She was my sweetest and easiest dog to train ever. I wish pressure would be put on Iowa to stop these traps on land.. Missouri only allow these traps in water, primarily for beaver.

  • Thanks Jennifer!
    Hunting dogs can actually prove to be your assistants during hunting. I always prefer taking one along.

  • All costs are relative to necessities, enjoyment and ability to pay, whether one is referring to animals or to life’s other nonessential indulgences. From the owner of 4, four-legged ‘hunting’ companions(currently), with many more counted in the past 70+ years.

  • This article if very misleading and inflated. I’m very disappointed Project Upland put this out there. Yes gun dogs are and can be expensive, and I’m guilty as everyone else for spending too much money on my dogs. If this article was even close to being reality I’d be broke and selling the entire lot. I expect much better content from Project Upland.

    • Hi Tony, thanks for reading and for your comment. Like I said in the article, I made assumptions for the purposes of discussion – there are both cheaper and costlier approaches depending on what you feed, what kind of healthcare you pay for (and what emergency situations your dogs end up in), how you house your dog, and how you train. But I think it’s worth going into a 12+ year commitment with eyes wide open. What specific areas do you think are inflated? Would love to hear some cost-saving ideas, too!

      • Jennifer. I think your training costs were a little conservative. My GPS collar was $700, Kayak for duck search training was $450. Winger Zinger was over $400. 3 electronic launchers $750. I spend between $1000 and $2000 every year on chukar, pigeons and ducks. Oh, and 28 years ago I bought a 35 acre piece of land to build my home on. I chose that bit of land because of the 15 acre training field and 20 acres of woods .

        If I didn’t have 3 dogs I could probably get by with a little shit box economy car instead of my truck. Not really, I would still have a truck!

        It’s a bit like figuring up all the costs to cut my own fire wood. Probably in the long run it would be cheaper to burn oil.

        I have never been married and never had kids so I’ve never had to “justify” dog expenses to anyone.

        Good article
        Rob Marcotte
        Registered Maine Guide
        Scruffy Dog Guide Services

        • Hi Rob, I agree! I was going for “basic costs to get out in the field with a gun dog” to help beginners who are considering taking the plunge. I don’t care to figure out mileage and lodging for all the hunt test travel (JGHV and NAVHDA for me) and, yes, all the birds. And the pigeon coop. And the chukar flight pen. But you win with the real estate purchase!

          It’s like when I built my chicken coop – the key was to take the $700 hit on the very first, very expensive egg. Everything after that was pure profit, ha!

          Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it!

      • Jennifer , I really enjoyed your article . I have 4 Labrador Retrievers that hunt Ducks and Upland Game ! They add so much joy to each and every day! Keep up the great work !
        Sincerely ,
        Dan Williams

        • Thank you Dan! They surely do add joy to each day, whether we are hunting, adventuring, or just lazing around. I appreciate the kind words!

    • How about doing a little math on your costs for a valid comparison to those costs supplied in the article.

    • I actually found Jennifer’s estimates to be on the low side. Vet care is where I have spent more. Hunting dogs get more injuries than pets and this often mean emergency care which cost more than routine vet care.

  • The cost are pretty variable but those portrayed in the article are pretty reasonable for a “gundog”. When you begin to talk about field trails and hunt test they escalate pretty dramatically. Lots of pro’s charge between $750-$1,000 per month and if you trials that’s a minimum of 6-18 months if you are using a pro. Add in birds and its getting pretty darn expensive. Then start adding the entry fee’s for trials, if you have a pro add in travel cost, if you handle the dog, same thing, hotels, food, gas, etc. add up fast.

    Like anything people pat for what they like, compare gundogs to fishing boats and the cost is pretty paltry. While adding the cost for vet care and food help flesh it out you have to pay those same cost for companion animals as well and for most people their hunting buddy is also their best buddy just kicking around the house.

    • I agree, I participate in NAVHDA testing and AKC hunt tests. I have 3 dogs. Last year my expenses were just over $14,000. I keep track of everything so that includes gas, food and lodging associated with hunting, training and testing. The 3 dog, dog box for the back of my truck was $2k with shipping. I spend between $1000 and $2000 every year on chukar, pigeons and ducks for training .

      I am a registered Maine hunting guide so I spend a lot to keep my dogs sharp. Being a guide is just a hobby. If I’m lucky my guide fees pay for my hunting trip.

      I’m done testing my dogs and all the big ticket one time items have been purchased but I’ve still spent $4000 so far this year.

      The cost of a pickup truck was not figured in to these costs

  • Jennifer

    Great article. However, I must politely disagree on the cost of Proffessional training. As of now, I have a 8 month old lab in gun dog/ hunt test training – $900 per month; a 1 1/2 yr old gwp about to start bird dog/ navhda ut traini g – $1200 per month and a 5 yr old lab with an akc mh title, mnh title and runs super retriever series – $600 month plus travel fees. Test entry fees, etc. again my choice and not everyones cup of tea

    • I think you need to understand that there are different levels of commitment to professional training and therefore the costs associated with it. It’s a rather wide range and up to the owner(s). Yes, you can disagree with “your scenario”, but you seem to miss the point that the article clearly pointed out……….”This is of course a generic picture for the purposes of estimates – please pardon the many assumptions made”. Again, every dog owner will have their “own” scenarios.

  • This is a great article! Yes, everyone’s situation is different, however, it really gives you an idea or “range” of cost of ownership. To me, it is expensive, I have 3 dogs. However, like the MasterCard commercials………PRICELESS. I also like the comment above that is so surreal………..”The true cost of a good Gundog is a broken heart in the end”. It is always a sad day of which I went through 6 months ago.

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