This is a long article, but for the short of it you’ll need about $59,052 to begin a breeding program, nearly 2 years and about 2,200 hours of labor before you ever have a puppy in hand. Don’t let that scare you, though. (ok, how can it not?) You only need some of this upfront and the rest can be spent more gradually over a 2 year period. You can also sink every penny from your puppies in to paying off debt or replenishing the savings you depleted to begin.
If you’d like to know how I came up with this number (which might surprise some of you) then please scroll through. I’ve detailed each expense and given a nice explanation. I’m nothing if not thorough 😉
I will break the expenses into two categories: the bare minimum necessities to breed successfully along with the expenses required if a breeder is going to be a good breeder.
The breakdown will help you see how puppy mills and “backyard breeders” (private for-profit breeders) can make a living selling their puppies out of their homes at about $1200 per puppy.
I will not include the expenses typically paid by factory-farming puppy mills because these guys cut so many corners they are able to sell their puppies for as low as $300 a head to brokers and at auction and they sell their retired breeding stock to rescues, as well. (That’s right-sell.) They get free food from places who want to push their low-quality kibble onto puppy buyers (like Iams and Royal Canin) and the free samples they get intended for new puppy owners go to feed their own dogs not nearly enough food. And the list goes on.
I am also going to list the lowest costs and the highest costs in a range for some expenses like food. You can be assured that my expenses are the ones listed on the high range and the low-quality breeders are scraping by at the low end of the spectrum.
Here are the basic expenses necessary for every person wanting to breed dogs at their personal home:
Dogs: You’ll need a minimum of 5 brood bitches and 1 stud dog. If you don’t have several litters of puppies year round you’ll lose your customers because people generally don’t wait, only the truly special folks are willing to wait for the right dog from the right breeder. Most people are far too impatient. You will want high quality dogs and choosing the right stud is absolutely essential.
A reasonable price range for acceptable prospects will be $1200 – 1800 per dog totaling $7,200 – 10,800 for 6 dogs.
Extra Dogs: There is no way that all 6 of the dogs you bought will grow up to be everything you want them to be. In all honesty only about half the dogs you invest in will grow up to meet your expectations, should you have high standards like I do.
I will be more generous here to allow a lower total cost and say that you’ll have to replace 2 dogs costing $1200-1800 per dog (although the discerning breeder will probably replace 3-4 after the first 18 months).
You’ll have to re-home the dogs you decide against breeding. You’ll re-home for no personal profit to recoup expenses and will charge only the cost of the spay or neuter surgery. If you don’t ever choose to be selective in breeding and use every dog you can possibly get then you’re not a good breeder; period; no exceptions.
This inevitability will cost you at least $2,400-3,600 in replacement dogs.
Outdoor Fencing: Every breeder must have a safe space for dogs to be outside unsupervised. Even when you have house-dogs like I do there will be times that they need to be separated from each other and when a girl has her newborn babies she will not feel comfortable with all the other dogs milling around. She’ll want them to stay away from her litter, though she’ll want to visit with them elsewhere. And dogs need to be able to be unsupervised without always being crated.
A very small run with the most basic fence will cost at least $2,000.
Dog House: Even if you have in-house dogs they will require an outdoor kennel/doghouse that is really large, warm and safe. Your dogs will need to sleep outside when there are newborn puppies in the house and you may choose to regularly rotate your dogs into the house in pairs or triples to keep things reasonable (it is hard to train 6 excited dogs at once but 2-3 are totally manageable).
A basic, acceptable kennel will cost between $800-2,000.
Dog Run Flooring: Unless you want your dogs to be completely covered in mud and filth you need to get rid of the dirt in your run. You can do this by pouring concrete or you can use small, soft and round pea stone to fill the run.
Concrete is what is used by the all-kennel breeders (usually those that don’t really care all that much about their dogs’ comfort) because it is very simple to clean and disinfect. It also avoids issues like weeds and digging dogs.
Pea gravel is used by many loving breeders because concrete is hard and not at all pleasant to hang out on for a dog. In fact too much time on concrete can damage a dog’s bones, deform a growing puppy’s bones and cause all kinds of skin and joint problems for dogs. Concrete gets icy and slippery and dangerous in the winter and it stays incredibly cold and can get intensely hot. I do like a small pad of concrete for inside the dog house along with a good drainage ditch made of gravel with larger stones underneath for good drainage. This allows the breeder to use a pressure washer and a safe veterinary disinfecting cleanser to keep the house clean and smelling lovely for the dogs.
Forget laying sod or planting grass of any kind because the dogs will kill it in many spots and tear it up and render the place a total mud pit in the end (oh, I know from experience after laying beautiful sod).
Filling a small-to-moderate sized run with round stone will cost about $500.
Pouring concrete to fill a small-to-moderate sized run will cost about $3,200 but I won’t include it in our totals and we’ll assume pea stone for comfort and safety.
Dog Run Prep: prior to filling your dug-out run with gravel (should that be your choice) you will have to consider weeds and the time involved in going out there and ripping up weeds frequently. You won’t be able to use poison to kill them (dangerous) and you can’t trim with a weed-wacker or a mower due to the danger of whipping gravel everywhere. If you decide that constant weed-removal sounds like a huge chore (and it is) you’ll want to lay down a high quality and durable weed barrier layer (and sprinkle some Preen seed-killer for good measure).
It costs about $150 to lay weed barrier down for an entire run.
More Prep: You also need to think about the fact that dogs dig. Many dogs dig and bored dogs love to dig and destroy things. You want to ensure that you don’t have any escapees while you’re not home because that could result in a dog getting hit by a car. In order to prevent industrious diggers from destroying your run you will need to lay down deer fencing on the ground (on top of your weed barrier) and then cover that with plenty of stone. This is unnecessary if you fill the whole run with concrete, though.
Wire dig-proof barrier for the run will cost about $150
Cleaning equipment: as I said before you’re going to need more than a hose to keep your run and dog house clean. Dogs go potty quite a bit and you will need to clean up every day (or every other day). And if you over-sleep and leave your dogs too long in their doghouse they will potty in there too, which will require a good blast with a pressure washer. Good poop-scoopers and pressure washers and a large brush on a pole to scrub the concrete along with safe veterinary grade disinfectants (not bleach).
This will total $350-500
Legal Stuff: You need to do things right by the law. In order to protect your family and do things legally you will need to incorporate your business and register it with the state so that you can collect and forward the appropriate taxes.
This costs $300 in NJ (it depends on what state you live in)
Dog Bowls: Your buddies need to eat. You must have several dog bowls so that there are never any squabbles over supper. Even the sweetest girls get pretty feisty over food when they are in-whelp. They always thing they are starving and Lord help anyone who dares come near her precious food! You don’t ever want to encourage resource-guarding behavior so you’ll avoid it entirely by feeding your dogs in their own separate bowls. Unless you want to wash out bowls every single day you will want enough for 2 or 3 days. You need outdoor safe and durable bowls. Your dogs will sometimes step on them or toss them around in the gravel and plastic is completely unsafe. It gets hard and brittle in any amount of sunshine and a chewing dog could ingest chunks of plastic and require surgery or die.
Stainless steel bowls of adequate size cost about $12 per bowl. You want 6 bowls times 3 days (18 bowls) so you need to spend $216
Water Trough: your dogs need constant access to an ample supply of very clean, fresh water. You do not want to risk a frisky dog overturning a water dish and the crew missing water until you notice (hopefully in only a few hours). You will need a very large, heavy water trough. Again plastic is no good and you’ll want something that is easy to sanitize. The better ones last for life and really are worth the investment and they can also be used as bathing pools for the dogs on a summer day when they feel like playing, yet they are shallow enough to be completely safe. They are easy to drain and disinfect so that water can be changed out at least every other day.
A large, safe water trough can run anywhere from $50 to $400 (really, truly).
You also want to ensure your water doesn’t freeze in winter so a smaller bowl with a warmer will be necessary to keep available inside the dog house.
That runs about $50
Whelping Box: You can buy a horrible commercially available plastic whelping box for between $300-500 but these are awful. You really want a well-designed one to help you clean easily multiple times a day, minimizing cracks and crevices and seams for defecation and other goo, gunk, foods and fluids to accumulate. To build your own box you’ll need some carpentry skills and tools and about $250 in material (wood, paint, hardware). There is always the chance that at some point you’ll have two litters that overlap one another. You need a second whelping box.
The total will be $500.
Really cruel kennel-type breeders (The $1100-1600 breeders as the factory-style puppy mills make all their puppies grow up in cages outside) use a small wire cage/crate with a hard plastic floor as a whelping box and containment unit for mom and puppies.
That is only about $100 but it is truly horrible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this. The poor female can’t get out when she pleases, is stuck with the puppies constantly who overnurse and injure her nipples pretty bad and she can’t even stand up and turn around comfortably with all the babies crammed in there for her fear of stepping or laying on them. It is really sad to see that and Mom always looks so stressed. These are often advertised as “home-raised” puppies, too.
Pads for the Whelping Box: your dam will bleed after she has her puppies and, of course, the puppies are going to constantly pee and poop. The amount becomes astronomical by the time the little guys are about 3-4 weeks old.
The final couple of weeks require about 8-10 box cleanings every single day in order to prevent the puppies from running through their own waste and splattering it on all the walls, floor and covering themselves head-to-toe in feces and urine. Believe me, they will do exactly that if they are not given any alternative.
You can use disposable puppy pads but that gets extremely expensive (those things cost a fortune) and usually 5-6 week old puppies learn that those are tons of fun to shred to bits 😉 It is much better for the environment, your wallet and training purposes to use washable whelping pad liners. You can buy used liners made for hospital beds for about $15 a piece or you can make your own liners from the types of fabric used to make cloth baby diapers. This is what I do. These wind up costing you about $10-15 per pad as well.
At the very least you’ll want 10 pads and if you have two litters at once you’ll need at least 20 pads. This will mean laundry every single day and it is far better to have a stock of about 40 pads to maximize load size when you do wash and to only wash every other day and reduce wear and tear on your machines.
This will cost you a grand total of $300-600 for 20-40 pads.
Towels: you are also going to need a ton of what I term “dog towels”. These will be towels that can be washed in ultra-hot water many times without getting destroyed. These need to be towels that can be bleached, too. These are generally super cheap (which is nice) but you will need a lot because the day of whelping results in a mess similar to a war zone! You will want at least 10 towels on hand (for somewhere around $5/towel).
It will cost you about $50 to stock up.
Medical Equipment for Safe and Sterile Whelping: You will need to have some veterinary supplies on hand to ensure your babies are born safely.
This will cost you about $150 initially with minimal “consumable” per-litter costs henceforth.
Heaters, Fans, Thermometer: your whelping box needs to stay at 85-95 degrees in order to ensure the puppies have a good shot at survival. You will want a heating pad with a cord that is safe to be around dogs (protected for chewing) and one that is easily sterilized and can be used safely underneath a whelping pad. There are pads like this made specifically for this purpose and they run about $50, which isn’t bad. You will also want a fan so that you can keep Mom cool in the summer as she will get crazy overheated in-whelp or while taking care of her puppies. You don’t want this pointing at the box or the puppies but you want to provide her with a cool place to escape to should she need to cool off for a bit. Expect about $35 for a safe fan suitable for your purposes. And finally you need a good thermometer ($20) to tell you what the temperature of the whelping box is and the nursery as a whole.
This gives you a total cost of $105 for the nursery climate control category.
Weaning Bowls: you want to have puppy bowls to wean your little hungry crocodile puppies. If you don’t purchase a bowl intended for weaning the pups will walk right into the dish and make a giant mess. They are already going to make a mess when weaning (they manage to fling that stuff everywhere and get it all over one another). But correct weaning bowls are pretty much the standard. These cost about $30 each and you’ll need a clean one about three times a day.
If you wash these bowls every night then you can buy only three for $105 total.
Grooming Supplies: Even terrible breeders need to have reasonably well maintained dogs or they will get cited and fined and in-person sales might potentially decline and they certainly lose any would-be repeat-customers. For the most basic grooming tools like clippers to shave the dogs to the skin every 3 months and some cheap shampoo, etc. will cost about $300. For someone that actually takes pride in the way their dogs look and enjoy grooming them to perfection the startup cost is easily about $1500. I have spent more than that but I have all professional quality tools to get the job done in minimal time. To start, though, I had about $1500 worth of basic equipment.
Total of $300-1500
Crates: Every breeder requires at least two crates sized for a couple adults and 2-3 puppy crates for all kinds of needs. Can’t take a car trip without some way to transport the dogs so even the crappiest breeder needs crates.
This cost would be about $65 per large crate and $20 per puppy crate totaling $170
This wraps up the bare-minimum required foundation expenses of any dog breeding program. Remember that the great breeder will require several other things to begin, those will be listed below. The garbage-breeders all stop here for what they provide for their dogs and customers.
Our total for this category up-to-here is between $15,946 and $23,846
Great Breeders Do More
Education: You need to learn, learn and learn some more. I won’t include the expenses involved in taking professional grooming and training courses or medical courses to learn to whelp, perform artificial insemination and so forth. But I will include the most basic expenses involved including books and instructional DVDs. You can also rely heavily on free information via the internet, though it requires more time and work to sift through the junk to get to good information.
This will total about $500 the first year.
AI Equipment: Nearly all professional breeders who know what they’re doing perform artificial insemination when needed (and some do so every single litter to help ensure a pregnancy).
This will cost about $200 for the equipment not including a lesson from a veterinarian (which is usually pretty cheap if not free from the reproduction vet).
Puppy X Pen: Your little ones will need a safe place to play in the yard when you cannot hover directly over them at all times. You need an exercise pen that is large enough to give them room to play in safety.
This will cost you about $300 for quality construction that is safe and durable and easy to disinfect.
Potty Training Box: you want your puppies to keep their instinct to eliminate away from their den. If given a separate area with a door or partial wall blocking it from their sleeping area they will use this as a potty (most of the time). If you keep the floor in their sleeping area constantly clean (clean it the second there is a potty mess to discourage a repeat) then you will be well on your way to potty training puppies. You can begin this at 3 weeks of age and it makes house-training dogs (which you can start at about 5 weeks) a breeze for your new owner. Building a puppy commode to add on to the whelping box requires about $50 in material, time and space for the additional “room” added to the whelping box.
Two puppy commodes for your two whelping boxes totals $100
Puppy University: This is a sensory toy box built out of PVC piping and containing a myriad of toys and objects that will help the puppies grow, develop, learn and be the greatest dogs they can be. It has several very real benefits and is worth the time to construct and the price.
One University or “puppy adventure box” will cost about $75.
You want to buy a hard plastic pool meant for toddlers to give your puppies the chance to experience water and safe swimming while they are growing up. This will help them love the water and also learn, grow and extend their knowledge of the world. You want one large enough to be a pool for the puppies but small enough to easily store between litters and fit in the house during cold seasons for use.
A pool this size costs about $35
Now you want to purchase a very small sized plastic toddler pool and fill it with small clean and empty plastic bottles (water bottles or soda bottles, etc.) If you prefer not to use plastic bottles (I don’t like them for fear of the puppies ingesting a bit) you can use baby and kid-safe phlatate-free crush-proof plastic balls intended for children’s ball pits. This sensory activity is extremely helpful for the puppies’ growth and development.
The plastic pool costs about $10 but the plastic balls (with some squeaky tennis balls thrown in for color, texture and sound variation) will cost $100 bringing your total to $110.
Puppy Playground and Gym: Now you’re building a little gym full of toys for the puppies to experiment with. These can include wobbly walking bars, teeter-toters, balance beams, ramps of various inclines and texture and swings. You want tubes, tunnels and even slides thrown in there too. This is more than just fun watching puppies play, they really learn an extraordinary amount about the world, gravity, physics and confidence by playing on this easy-to-build-yourself equipment.
Make it at home with very little skill and home-improvement store matierials for $250
Now you want to purchase really inexpensive starter equipment for the typical agility course. Certainly you’re not training the new puppies to weave poles or hop and freeze on a “pause box” but having the equipment around for them to explore and play with is a great help for those looking to get into performance sports in the future and for those that will never do those kinds of sports the benefits are the same as the playground equipment. Build confidence and intelligence with all these stimulating objects.
You can get fantastic and inexpensive equipment for puppies for $65
your puppies need to
be exposed to as many sounds as possible while they’re still very little. Having them living in the house helps because they will hear your voices, kids scampering around, kitchen appliances, vacuums and so forth but they will do even better with a sound effects cd playing for an hour or two each day that includes noises like airplanes, fireworks, thunder, car traffic, trains, babies crying, doorbells, sirens and so forth.
A couple of good cds total about $65
Dog Treadmill: You aren’t going to be able to exercise all your adults every single day unless you’re a marathon runner 365 days a year who lives in perfect weather like San Diego. Otherwise you want a great tool like a treadmill to keep your dogs in excellent condition and give them satisfying exercise on freezing winter days when they’re snowed in or when you’re under the weather or simply swamped with other work and can’t make it on a decent walk or game outside.
A decent dog treadmill that will last through all your dogs and years of heavy use will cost $600 and is more expensive than a casual one-dog family type treadmill.
Since you will be training your new breeding prospects from puppyhood you will need training supplies like collars, harnesses, leashes, clickers, hands-free leashes, and so on and so forth. Those that just throw their new puppies into outdoor kennels and never so much as house train their dogs are really pretty scummy breeders in my opinion. As long as you don’t get too fancy or simply like collecting pretty collars and leash sets like I do you won’t spend much per year after your initial investment (and your initial investment won’t be too much). I also am always trying the newest inventions to see how they work, but that isn’t a necessity, of course.
Training equipment will cost you about $80 per dog for 6 dogs plus at least two extra sets totaling $640
DNA Testing and Health Certifications: You want to ensure your breeding prospects aren’t passing along genetic diseases that can be tested for. These tests and clearances from specialists cost $1,000 per dog as a one-time fee and yearly fees are less and included in the “business maintenance” expense category.
This is going to total $8,000 if you test all your dogs (and remembering that you replaced two of them, resulting in 8 dogs instead of 6 that will wind up being kept and bred).
Puppy Scale: This is necessary if you care about your puppies and want to monitor their weight gain.
This costs about $45 for a good quality gram scale and I like one that also converts to pounds and ounces because I’m an American and hate grams but like to take two forms of measurements just in case I make a mistake somewhere 😉
Adult Dog Scale: You want to monitor your girls’ weights as they progress through pregnancy and then recover after lactation. The best way to monitor their nutrition is to keep an accurate record of their weights.
A dog scale will cost $70 for a medium sized one for a Cockapoo (more for larger dogs).
Car Safety Harnesses or Car Seats: A crate just doesn’t cut it for safety unless you have a vehicle that is installed with a cable mounted to the frame of the car that holds a crate securely in place. A seat-belt harness that can safely buckle in a dog or a doggy carseat that does the same is relatively inexpensive and a must have to transport your dogs to all their important medical screenings (which are often far away).
A car harness costs about $15 and totals $90 for 6 dogs/harnesses.
Lots of Dog Toys: Your adult dogs need to play too, not just the puppies! If you stock up with a good stash then you’ll learn what they like best and will not have to run out and buy more as often as if you started with the bare minimum. You’ll also want some kind of container or doggy toy box to keep the toys contained when not in use. I find it useful to use a big bin that is on the floor and accessible to the dogs to come take what they want as they please.
A reasonable supply of toys and a storage box will total about $100
Done! Those are the additional expenses that are paid by breeders like myself. I’m sure I am forgetting stuff, too, but this is certainly a long list to start. The additional “Better Breeder” section totals $11,245
Our Foundation Costs for the Garbage-Breeder total: $15,946 plus the cost to maintain, feed, house, groom, etc. these dogs for 1-1.5 years before there is are puppies to sell.
These guys have a shot at making their investment back in the third year of starting their business. They also sell poor quality puppies and cheat a lot of dogs out of a wonderful life (both their breeding adults and their puppies sold willy-nilly).
Our Foundation Costs for a top-notch breeder are $35,091 plus the cost to maintain these dogs for 1.5 years before we have any puppies to sell. This maintenance cost will amount to $23,961 and 2,190 hours of your free labor at an absolute minimum.
This brings our total investment to: 1.5 years, 2,190 hours of labor and $59,052
And believe me that money goes quickly even with a lot of budgeting, planning and using less-expensive materials or buying sale or used items. However this initial investment can be recouped eventually. Since it takes a minimum of 18 months to raise your foundation stock and an additional 18 months to raise your replacement foundation stock many of these expenses can be purchased gradually over the course of about 2 years but it takes real dedication to come up with that kind of money to launch into this business.
Go on to the second expense in dog breeding: The Cost to Properly Maintain Breeding Dogs