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What I Learned: The Unexpected Start-Up Costs of Owning a Dog

November 22, 2017

  • Dogs are awesome — but they can come with unexpected costs
  • Keep in mind: Destroyed items, vet visits and and local licenses
  • Obedience training and boarding also tack on significant expenses
4 min read

Last month I drove to my local branch of the Humane Society, and a few hours later returned home with a new furry companion.

It wasn’t a spontaneous decision—I had considered getting a dog for years. As my yearning for a four-legged friend intensified, I started thinking about logistics: How much would I spend each month on dog food? Toys? Veterinary expenses? Overnight boarding when I was out of town? I had already considered all those details when I arrived to the shelter and met the excitable, freckle-faced eight-month-old pup that would soon be wagging his tail in the back seat of my car on the ride home.

Even though I entered into dog ownership with eyes wide open and an idea of what it would cost, I was caught off guard by a few of the early expenses.

Keep these costs in mind as you prepare your home–and your bank account–for a new member of the family.

The cost to replace toys (and furniture, and shoes…)

As soon my husband and I adopted our pup, we made a beeline to the pet store to stock up on necessities, including an adorable stuffed raccoon chew toy. Despite the dog’s cherubic face, he has a serious penchant for chewing—the raccoon was decapitated within a day.

Even with your best efforts, there’s a chance you’ll need to replace an item (or two) around the house soon after bringing home a new dog

We went back for replacement toys that we thought could withstand his chewing, but he rapidly ripped through nearly $50 worth of toys before we gave up on plush altogether. We’ve now migrated to more durable, chew-friendly toys that come with quality guarantees.

The higher-end toys aren’t as cheap as the cute raccoons and seasonal stuffed animals—virtually indestructible toys and toys with a quality guarantee like the Goughnut start at around $20 on the low end and $40 or more on the high end—but it’s a small price to pay compared to constantly replacing plush toys or visiting the vet because of ingested stuffing.

Our dog also took an interest in chewing on other items left in his path. The casualties thus far include his $30 medical cone collar and a $10 dog brush, but it could be much worse. We’ve monitored him closely to discourage chewing on tables, chairs, slippers and other household items, but accidents happen, and the cost to replace shredded items adds up quickly.

Even with your best efforts, there’s a chance you’ll need to replace an item (or two) around the house soon after bringing home a new dog. While we haven’t had to replace any major items of furniture yet, we’re expecting a sofa or chair might soon be on the list.

Administrative costs

Many cities and counties require pet owners to obtain a license for their animals. In Milwaukee County where I live, the yearly license fee for a dog or cat ranges from $12 to $36 a year. If you choose to forego the license, you could face a penalty that will end up costing more than the license itself.

Other offenses, like allowing your dog to run off his leash, can also lead to a citation, depending on your city’s laws. In Seattle, for example, you could face a $54 ticket for allowing your dog to run through a city park off leash and a $125 ticket for failing to have an animal license.

Your city may also charge a fee to access local dog parks. The annual fee in Milwaukee is $25, with discounts available for seniors and persons with disabilities. If you want to take your pooch to the dog park to socialize, research dog parks in your area to understand how much those costs might set you back. While some city and county dog parks are free to the public, membership at a private park can cost several hundred dollars a year.

You’ll also want to consider the cost of microchipping your new friend, which can help you locate your dog if it gets lost. If your pet doesn’t already have a microchip, you can have one inserted by a vet for around $50, according to WebMD.

Once you have the microchip, you’ll need to pay annual registration fees for it, which vary depending on the company. For our dog, fees will be around $20 a year for as long as we have him, or $85 for a lifetime microchip registration. One good thing is these chips last 25 years or more, according to manufacturers

Additional vaccinations for young dogs

I understood before my Humane Society visit that yearly vaccines are simply the cost of doing doggy business. But when I brought home a puppy with a mostly unknown health background, I was surprised to learn we’d be starting entirely from scratch with his vaccines. In the first three weeks, his vaccines, medications and visits to the vet have cost us nearly $500.

Puppies generally require more vaccines than older dogs to protect them as they age, according to the American Kennel Club, and many of the vaccines for young dogs require follow-up appointments and booster shots. We’ve paid more than I initially budgeted for routine vaccines, but fortunately this cost levels out as dogs reach adulthood.

Training and obedience classes

Unless you’re a professional dog whisperer, training your pup to sit, stay and stop jumping on your guests does not come for free. A six-to eight-week group training session ranges from around $40 to $160 according to estimates from Thumbtack and, but group training isn’t the right environment for every dog. Shy or aggressive dogs are better served with private training, which can cost anywhere from $30 to $100 an hour.

If you have the time and patience—and an agreeable pup—you can forego training classes and opt for the free route: online articles and library books.

By Lauren Sieben

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