What is Your Bargain Puppy Really Costing You?

*The price of your puppy is LESS THAN 10% of the total cost of owning a dog!!*


Puppies are expensive because it costs a lot of money (and much more time than you think) to produce high quality puppies. What does it cost to raise a high quality litter of puppies? A whole lot more than you think, I guarantee that.

But perhaps you think it is ridiculous to spend so much money on a dog. After all you can often get a mutt from a cardboard box in a Wal-Mart parking lot for a measly $200. But what are you getting from that cheap parking lot puppy? What are you getting with the $50 dog from the lady down the street (a breeder like that is called a “backyard breeder”)? What about a pet store puppy? They’re expensive, so doesn’t that mean they are quality? Maybe you found a great breeder but don’t want to wait a couple of months for a puppy.

If you buy a cheap mill bred puppy (and we’ll leave the ethics of this decision out of this article) directly from the mill you might think you’re getting a really good bargain. If you get a free puppy from a Craigslist ad, from a guy who bred his pet-store mill dog for a quick buck (and failed) you might think you’re getting a great deal.

I hear people that do this say things like “why on earth did you spend $1500 on a dog? I got my lab puppy for $200 from my neighbor. She had an awesome lab and her friend has a lab and voila; $200 puppies”. This exact thing was actually said to me by a friend of my husband. And within a few months he was singing a different tune. He was complaining about the vet bills that were literally piling up (and I saw the paper mountain on the desk to prove it). The puppy didn’t have anything majorly wrong with him (yet), just minor issues that come up when you get a poorly bred dog. He had paid nearly $1000 by the time a few months had passed. But that isn’t really all he spent, because he also had to take time off of work to shuttle the dog back and forth from the vet’s office. He lost wages from the time off and he spent money on fuel for his diesel-eating truck. He also annoyed his boss by needing so much time off of work. Furthermore the lab has become quite fearful of the vet’s office and relates that with getting into the truck. So he fights tooth and nail to avoid going for a car ride and is a struggling beast in the vet hospital. This is so sad, because the little guy is just afraid. If my husband’s friend had just spent the $1200-2000 in the first place on a healthy puppy from a reputable breeder he wouldn’t have had all those problems.

And don’t say “well he still has only spent $1200 total in vet bills, so it isn’t all that bad” because this dog still needs care and more vet trips and his owner just can’t afford to keep bringing the dog in for what he needs. Over the course of 3 years he has spent over $2900 in vet bills, and that was while really avoiding doing anything for the dog if he could. And because he can’t afford to spend the money needed to get the dog the right treatment the dog will live a shorter and more uncomfortable life and be more likely to suffer from chronic conditions like hip dysplasia and arthritis, and also allergies that manifest themselves as skin and ear disorders, among other conditions.

I spent $1500 on my oldest Cockapoo dog. I have had him for 6 years. I have not spent one single cent more on him than the average cost expected for health maintenance and a high quality, healthy life. He is vibrant and free of any problems. I have, of course, spent more money on him due to health clearances and DNA testing for breeding purposes, but if he were just my pet he would have not have cost me any more health-wise.

Of course well-bred dogs can get sick, have accidents, and have emergencies. So there is no guarantee that your well-bred puppy won’t cost you a lot of money in veterinary bills at some point. But please keep in mind that a dog that has good breeding (can’t change genetics with training and nutrition), a great start in life nutritionally, no history of parasite infestations or ingestion of toxic substances and a stable and balanced temperament is going to recover much more rapidly from any medical emergency (and is more likely to survive a medical emergency). The well-bred and well-brought up dog is also more likely to bounce back psychologically from a medical emergency.

Now you have to factor in that well-bred dogs have longer life spans. These dogs have a lower chance of developing chronic disease and/or requiring maintenance medications. Can it happen in your well-bred dog? Absolutely. DNA tests and health clearances simply cannot cover everything out there; but they certainly help. Your bargain puppy is extremely likely to have a shorter life span than a well-bred pup. And that ends up costing you more than just the vet bills, as well, as most people go out and buy a new puppy when their pet goes to doggie heaven. That ends up increasing the cost as you’re getting fewer years out of your purchase.

Should you choose to get that bargain puppy I recommend you get a really good pet insurance and make sure that your insurance provider isn’t going to call heritable (genetic) disorders “pre-existing conditions”, which they won’t cover. Several insurance providers pull that kind of garbage.

When you factor in all the costs of owning a dog for his entire lifetime you can easily see that the initial cost of a well-bred dog is really just a drop in the bucket. In fact it is less than 10% of the cost of actually keeping and caring for the dog over his lifetime. And that is only considering the amount of money involved in owning a healthy (pricey) well-bred dog, but not the many extras most owners also provide.

When you factor in the loss of years and the increase in incidence of lots of expensive medical care you’ll see that your bargain puppy is costing you a whole lot more than you think.

Now with all that put out there it is important to say: please do not assume that an expensive puppy is immediately a quality puppy and a less expensive puppy is mill-bred. No one advertises by saying that they are a scumbag breeder. They all say to “watch out for puppy mills” and that they are expensive because their puppies are so “high quality”. Mills will squeeze every last penny out of people that they can. They often begin offering their pups cheaply when they haven’t found enough buyers and the puppy is getting too far past the ideal go-home age (7-8 weeks old). Definitely be wary when choosing your breeder. Research and interview your breeder really well and you’ll know if that breeder is putting the time, money and effort into his or her litters to justify the cost of the puppies.

And the same goes for less expensive puppies. If you find a puppy that is significantly cheaper than market value you can very safely assume that breeder is not putting the resources and effort into the litter that he/she should. No one is going to sell their litter at an overall loss. So if each puppy is only $200 (as an example) and there are 6 pups in a litter you have a total of $1200 for the litter. That is not enough money to properly raise that litter. No one is going to spend $500 or more out of pocket to raise a litter (and more to select a proper pair of breeding dogs). People that charge less than about 10% under market value are cutting the same many (often dangerous) corners that mill breeders do. You’ll know what market value is when you see the prices of average breeders listed online. It is currently around $1200-2000 for Cockapoos. Cheap puppy pushers are nearly always either mills or BYBs (backyard breeders).

Remember that you are not ever buying a puppy. You are buying a breeder.

That bargain puppy is likely to cost you an additional $15,000-20,000 extra over his lifetime and that is just talking about food intolerances, allergies, training problems often requiring professional intervention, rug and furniture stains from vomiting or bowel/urinary bladder incontinence, special shampoo and foods due to yeast and allergies, medication for an epileptic dog (from poor breeding), constant ear infections, more grooming and maintenance, more frequent veterinary visits, and the list goes on and on!!

When buying a puppy don’t get suckered into focusing on that $500 difference between one person’s dogs and another’s. Some breeders charge a lot more because of the real quality of the animal you are getting. If a breeder is professionally producing amazing dogs and is making a living at being a reputable breeder they often sell their dogs (at market value) and end up making a little more than minimum wage when it is all said and done. Most quality breeders feel that their time is more valuable than a few dollars an hour. I know my time is worth considerably more than minimum wage.

If you find a very high quality breeder (like a purebred show breeder or performance-sports champion breeder or a breeder with amazing reviews and with whom you’ve developed a great repertoire) paying the high amounts is likely going to save you tenfold in the long run as well as save your family a whole lot of heart ache.

When shopping for a puppy you must remember to pull back and look at the big picture. This is a purchase that will be around for 9-18 years (depending on breed, etc.) You want to make sure you make this choice carefully. Be prepared to wait 6-9 months for the right puppy from the right breeder and save up if that is what you feel you need to do to be fiscally responsible. Remember that a well-bred puppy will be easier to train and more of a joy to have around your home. Some things you just shouldn’t get “on sale”.

I recommend avoiding both parachutes and puppies at a “steal” of a price.

A good, reputable breeder does not need to put her puppies up “for sale” for the most part. That is because a high quality breeder will have a long waiting list and people lined up to scoop up one of her sweethearts the second they are available. Animals are one of those areas where you are going to get what you pay for if you choose to go “cheap”. If you can’t afford at least a middle-priced pup from a good breeder then maybe you should reconsider if you’re really ready to take on the financial responsibility of owning a puppy

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