How Much Does a Dog Really Cost? Where to Save and Where to Splurge

labrador dog treeMany people don’t think about the cost of a dog when picking Fido up from the shelter. I for one considered the financial commitment only briefly before I got suckered in by those big puppy eyes.

I knew dog food and vet bills were going to add to my expenses, but I really didn’t have a figure in mind. Not until I got home did I realize that all of the small expenses that come with the benefits of owning a dog – like treats, toys, collars, leashes, and training – add up quickly. However, after a bit of practice, I learned where to spend my money and where to save.

Now I have a happy, healthy pup – and a happy, healthy wallet. Here are some areas in which you can save and splurge for your pet costs.

Where to Save on Dog Costs

1. Training
When I first got my dog, I looked into hiring a professional trainer. After watching hours of It’s Me or the Dog on Animal Planet, I was determined to have a well-trained puppy, one of those dogs that visitors would “ooh” and “ahh” over.

Group training sessions in my area, however, ran anywhere from $20 to $50 an hour, while private training sessions cost more than $100 a pop. I would definitely need more than one session, and those fees were going to add up quickly. On the other hand, I could Google “do it yourself dog training” for free. And that’s what I did. I trained my dog myself, at home, for free and saved at least $200.

Even if you’ve never had a dog before, you can teach basic obedience commands and tricks yourself. Save the money and read up on dog training either at the local bookstore or through online resources.

2. Toys
I paid for an arsenal of ropes, bones, and chew toys, but my dog’s favorite toys are a soccer ball I found on the street and an empty plastic soda bottle. You’re going to need toys to entertain your pup and keep his mouth off your shoes and furniture, but he doesn’t care if you spend $2 or $20 on that ball.

For small, less destructive breeds, you can find decent toys – cleaner than the ball I found on the street – at dollar stores. If you have a larger, energetic pooch that’s likely to tear up a cheaper item, start scouring the Sunday ads. The large supply chain stores run great sales on indestructible brands.

3. Doggie Day Care
Dogs, especially puppies, crave opportunities to socialize with other dogs, and with people too, so it’s no wonder many owners drop their pups off at a doggie day care a few times a week. For a fee, your dog can make friends and play all day long, and you don’t have to wonder what he’s doing to your home while you’re not there.

A friend of mine takes her dog to the daycare twice a week and spends $25 for each session. I take my dog to the dog park, which costs $25 a year in my neighborhood. I save a bundle, and my dog still has plenty of space for running around with lots of other dogs. In some cities, you can even find free access to dog parks. To find a park near you, search the DogGoes website.

Where to Splurge on Dog Costs

1. Food
Healthy, high-quality dog food has human-grade sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals that will help your dog live a long and healthy life. Off-brand, low-quality food might be save a few dollars, but they contain grain, wheat, soy, and other fillers that can cause canine health problems. Dogs can even develop allergies to the ingredients that cheaper dog food companies use.

Don’t skimp on the quality of the dog food or treats you bring home to your dog. However, just because you’re willing to splurge on good nutrition doesn’t mean you have to overspend. Shop smart by checking weekly pet store ads, and stock up when your favorite brand is on sale. Also, visit the brand’s website and sign up for their mailing list. They’ll often send you coupons throughout the year.

You may even be able to buy in bulk. Sam’s Club sells three-packs of Buddy Biscuits, an all-natural dog treat that my puppy loves, at a much cheaper price point than the pet stores.

2. Veterinarian Costs
Most people think about expensive vet bills when they’re considering the cost of a dog. These medical treatments are expensive, especially in the first year, but immunizations and wellness exams are vital to helping your dog stay healthy.

Spend wisely by doing some comparison shopping when choosing your vet. Make a few quick calls to nearby clinics and ask for a price quote. You can also save plenty by shopping online for prescriptions. Many websites offer discounted flea and heart worm medications. Just make sure you buy from a reputable company.

3. Crates and Kennels
The best investment I made for my dog was a top-quality kennel. It was also one of the most expensive things I’ve bought for my pup. If you plan to crate train your dog, you will need a kennel. Every store from the supercenters like Wal-Mart to your local pet store sell kennels that come in a wide variety of price ranges and levels of quality. If you know your dog will spend a good amount of time in the kennel, go ahead and splurge on a large, high-quality one. He’ll have room to move around and you won’t have to worry about him breaking out of a poorly made gate while you aren’t home.

Final Word

The key to being a good pet owner without breaking the bank is to do your homework before you make a commitment and take your new pup home.

Trimming some of the unnecessary spending from your puppy budget will open up some funds so you can spend a little more on effective training, healthy food, and a long and happy life for your dog. But keeping a dog healthy and active can disrupt even the smartest of budgets. Whether you have a lot of experience with dogs or you’re a first-time owner, you’ll face a lot of surprise costs in taking care of your new best friend, so resist the temptation to overindulge.

In your years living with your dog, what are your biggest spending regrets? What are some of the things you’re glad you spent more on?

  • Kira Botkin

    Many doggie daycares are much less expensive – I take my dog a few times a month as a treat. It can be a real lifesaver for dogs who get stressed being alone. I totally agree about training costs, though – I took my dog to a local group class and it was $85 for great advice. You can learn a lot from It’s Me Or The Dog for free as well! Consistency and repetition don’t cost you a thing!

  • Lakita | Personal Finance Jouney

    I just adopted a Border Collie / Boxer puppy from the humane society. He is the CUTEST pup! I’m also starting a monthly puppy expense tracker on my site. The first one will go live Monday….I’ve already shelled out cash and haven’t even brought him home yet!

    – Application fee (includes 1st shots, microchip, and neuter)
    – Dog crate (got reasonable off Craigslist)
    -Misc doggie supplies (sweaters, collars, leashes, nail trimmer) — got off Craigslist, and it was new!

    I never thought about Doggie Day care or heard about the It’s Me of the Dog training, so I’ll check both of those resources out! Thanks so much!

  • ScarletPhantom

    It’s good to talk about areas where to spend and where to save but it should be noted that you should be careful about dog parks in certain circumstances! Doggy Daycares, Groomers, and Kennels will require your dog to get shots for Kennel Cough and Rabies but dog parks will not BUT you should still do it!! Bordetella (Kennel Cough), Rabies, DA2PPV (distemper), and Corona vaccinations are all highly recommended if your going to be taking your dog into a social situation with other animals without having any certainty about their health backgrounds. Assume that the other dogs have NOT been vaccinated and are carrying to keep your dog safe!! If you have a smaller dog then BEWARE! You will want to go to parks that have separate areas for small dogs and large dogs so that things don’t get out of hand. Another caution you should take before entering the dog park is to see the way the dogs are playing there and take advantage of the ‘entering’ areas that fence you off from the other dogs when you are first entering. Dogs of all kinds and varying degrees of training go to parks, not all of them have the best manners or know how to interact with other dogs and not all owners know how or when to take control of their dog when it’s acting out. Also make sure that your puppy is completely done with it’s vaccinations before taking them to the Dog Park!! You don’t want to risk a puppies immune system with unknown diseases before they have had their full set of vaccinations!

    2) Training — Training at home works perfectly fine with the proper research and patience but it’s still not a bad idea to enroll your pup in at least one or two group classes at a young age for the socialization benefit and the chance to get a few pointers from an experienced professional. Many communities local SPCAs offer group classes that are less expensive as do PetSmart and PetCo. Some community centers also offer cheap training programs. Make sure to thoroughly check out all your options!

    3) Toys — Your right, your dog doesn’t care if your toy costs $2 or $20 but sometimes you should, always check with your vet before purchasing toys of certain types. For instance always check to make sure that stuffed toys are safe! They can be found everywhere but some come with stuffing that, if ingested, become impacted in their intestines. Kong toys are a great toy but you have to introduce your dog to it the right way if you want to get the most out of them. That said most dogs love a good old-fashioned tennis ball.

    4) The Kennel — I agree a Kennel is a good place to splurge! The pet bed you get the dog (and you will want to get one) along with the kennel itself will be a source of safety and comfort for the dog in any situation whether your at home, traveling, or moving. That said it’s important to get the right sized kennel for your dog. It’s better to have one that is too big rather then too little but ultimately your dog will feel safest in a kennel that fits it properly.

    I suppose my point here is that if your going to try to save on costs, and there is no reason not to, it’s important to do the proper research. The thing about the doggy daycares, certified trainers, and the like is that your paying them to be informed but if your going to do it all yourself then you need to be instead. You need to know what you’re doing and the consequences of doing it wrong, and be aware of everything that doing it yourself encompasses. Not trying to be a downer, I’ve seen a lot in my experiences as a vet tech that I thought I would share in the hopes others could avoid such occurrences.