The Cost of a Dog – Puppy or Part Trained
I can remember when I first started shooting I had to get all the ‘gear’ – boots, Barbour, AYA shotgun etc, and thank goodness, in my life, part of that ‘gear’ was a gundog. Although I had owned dogs before, I had never had to make a decision on a dog that would work in the field for me. I was lucky in that near to where I lived there was a breeder of good hard working field trialing spaniels and I started off right with a great dog. I say lucky because that is what started me in dogs and enjoying dog work to the extent I now do. Dogs change your life, and unless you realize you have to make changes for your dog, you should not take on the responsibility of a dog. And there is no doubt in my mind dog ownership is a responsibility.
Over the past 28 years I have bought and sold puppies, part trained and full trained dogs; the latter for clients both in Europe and America. During this time I have realized that there are advantages and disadvantages of each, but the most important factor is the dog must match the owner. Although everyone wants a good hunting dog, in order to achieve a true working association, the dog and owner have to like each other and their personalities have to fit.
Personally I love puppies and bringing them on, that is the big plus for me. Again I have been lucky in that I have been able to select my dogs from the best working lines due to my friendship with top trialing people. Going to the best dogs reduces the risk of getting one that has a problem, and dogs with proven trialing ability and awards are more likely to produce pups that are of the required quality. Occasionally I have had pups that as their training progresses I realize they will not make the grade for trialing, and these I have sold on for shooting dogs. They have no faults just do not have the style and pace I am looking for in a trials dog. Such dogs are available also from other trainers for the everyday shooting man as part-trained or even fully trained dogs.
The big advantage to a pup is that it is a pup and all the joy it brings, plus of course there are more of them to select from than trained dogs. I enjoy training and am willing to spend time doing it, firstly it was a hobby and then it became my livelihood as well as pleasure, so a puppy gave me a multitude of gratification. However training a pup to be a good hunting dog does take time, commitment, experience and ability, plus availability of facilities to be able to train him. Not everyone has these accessible to them. We can all learn and can make time but for some owners it is not in their motivation. Time and commitment are the big ones, together with the ability to solve problems that arise. Every dog has problems at some stage and that is when we need help from experienced trainers. Without this help the problems can last a lifetime. Also of course a pup will not be ready for the shooting field for at least a year to eighteen months and even then the amount of work he can do will be limited by maturity and the training that has been put into him. House training (for a house dog), destructiveness in the home, family intervention, and behavior problems all have to be dealt with to ensure the right habits are built into the pup to make him into a dog you can work with. But the big advantage of having a pup and training him is that you learn with the pup. You will know the dog and build a good relationship through the training and there is no doubt that working with a dog is not just dependent upon the dog’s ability but also the handlers.
Although pups may come from healthy and good working parents there is no guarantee they will turn out the way you want either work wise or physically. Even pups from parents that have a clean bill of health can develop eye and hip problems
The actual cost of buying a pup is not high when you consider that he is to be with you for, on average, 10 years. So with this in mind my advice is usually do not compare the prices from different breeders and even let it come into the equation. I have always been willing to pay over the odds for the right pup from the lines and parents I like. It is difficult to give actual figure as they can vary and certainly do so from breed to breed. But today 400 to 500 dollars for a spaniel and 500 to 800 dollars for a good Labrador pup is not out of the way. But of course that is only the start with food, vet fees, kennel (if you want to use one) plus training equipment, book and videos doubling this amount. But all this disappears into a minimal amount when compared to the cost of destruction a puppy can do and the emotional costs within the family with the problems a pup can bring. There is no doubt in my mind a young puppy has to be a family decision. For those that want a puppy and then decide that he should go to a professional trainer for training, this can prove to be the most expensive option. Most trainers want the pup at about six to nine months of age and then keep them in training for between 3 to 6 months depending on the level you wish to take them. Three months will only give your dog the very basics and even with six months training the experience and ability of your dog will be at beginner level. Remember these dogs are still only a year to 15 months when they return. They are still pups requiring a lot of experience. And the cost per month? Anything between 300 dollars to 500 dollars.
Often the most economic way of obtaining a gundog is to buy a part trained one from a reputable trainer. Part-trained dogs can cost between 1000 dollars to 2000 dollars but again market pressures come to bear and also of course the quality of the dog. I cannot emphasise enough that it is imperative you go to a reputable trainer that has built his or her reputation on providing quality dogs and services. If you do not know the market place get the help of someone who does and knows what a good dog is. That is someone who does know and not just think they know. It’s quite surprising how many are impressed just by the fact that a dog will stop and return on the whistle, or if it is a spaniel, hunt within twenty yards of it’s handler and this in a field that it knows like the back of its paw.
Many prospective buyers who are concerned about the cost, or perhaps feel they can introduce a dog to game themselves, will opt for a part trained dog, one that has been dummy trained but had little experience on the real thing. However, getting a dog onto game can be quite difficult and full of problems for the unwary and inexperienced and a lot of good training can be quickly undone. Where this is the case it is often advisable to buy a dog that has been fully trained with considerable experience on game. In that way all the good habits should have been learnt under the guidance of an experienced trainer. The cost of a fully trained dog? Well how long is a piece of string? But as a guideline anything between 2000 dollars and 5000 dollars for a Labrador, 1500 dollars to 3000 dollars for a spaniel.
With both part trained and fully trained dogs you have the advantage of seeing what you are getting, provided you are given a full demonstration. A quick run with two or three retrieves and the word of the trainer is not enough. With one dog I had trained, we spent a weekend at the clients shoot working with the guns on a 200-bird day before he decided to buy. This is excessive, but a good trainer will want to show you everything the dog can do and be sure that he is the dog for you. The best place for this is in the actual shooting field. Do not be too shy to ask for special requirements such as water work or, with spaniels, work in heavy brambles if that is what you require. Also of course these older dogs will be fully grown and you can see whether you like the look and style of the dog.
Part trained and finished dogs should have had their eyes and hips checked and a clean bill of health from a veterinarian. Insist on this and look at the general condition of the dog and where it has been kept. The big advantage of course with the part trained and fully trained is that time has been given to their training by a trainer who has experience and facilities to do this. The trainer can show you what the dog can do and guide you into handling him. The big disadvantage is that the dog may know far more than you and you need to learn how to handle and avoid potential problems. Dog behavior does not remain static and faults will occur if you do not keep up the training and good handling – the most obvious being unsteadiness to gun shots.
Often the part-trained and fully trained dog has been kept in kennel and if your requirement is now for him to be in the home, there is the problem of house training. Most dogs take to this quite easily but some can be a problem. Again a look at the trainers approach and the condition of the kennel can equally give you a clue. One fallacy about trained dogs that should be squashed is that an older dog will not bond with you. Treat him well, work him, spend time together and provide the pleasures you both enjoy and he will quickly become ‘your’ dog.
Most potential part and fully trained dog buyers begin looking about July and August so that they have the dog for a couple of months before the season starts, but the best time to buy in my opinion is between February and April. This is not the peak period for buying, and trainers will be looking to sell on dogs that have not made the grade in field trials but are ideal shooting dogs. Generally these are well trained beyond the needs of the ordinary shooting man and they can make first class guns dogs, plus if they have had minor awards in field trials their ability and mouth has received positive recognition. In July and August the availability of good fully trained dogs is sometimes limited.
The costs I have mentioned above are broad figures but what I have found is that potential owners look at the price of the dog and rarely consider future running expenses. Food costs are dependent upon size of dog but good quality premium food is on average between 25 to 35 dollars per large bag, one bag lasting around a month. A kennel, if required, is up to 1000 dollars, Vet bills average around 350 dollars per year (if no serious problems occur), Dog beds, traveling crate and training equipment 1000 dollars (guestimate), kenneling while away from home 300 dollars per annum. But none of these are the big costs once you get a dog – well not if you are like me. The big costs for me included a new house with plenty of ground to train and run a dog, cars purchased with dog in mind or a second car for when you take him out working, a dog trailer (when I moved up to more than one dog), and the list goes on. The costs I have incurred with my dogs I have never and will never regret, I have had and still have wonderful dogs that have filled my life with much happiness and unforgettable experiences, they have made my life what it is today. But I would never recommend anyone buying a gundog unless they are willing to shoulder the responsibility a dog requires and give the attention a dog needs in his life. A gundog is a wonderful companion but unless you are willing to bring him completely into your life and family hire a dog person to work their dogs for you in the field, the costs to you and the dog could be too great otherwise.