The Cost of a Fearful Dog

For a while I was taking a cue from The House of Two Bows and posting a little monthly budget summary here. Then I realized that our numbers were crazy and I gradually quit doing it.

It is very easy when you have an anxious dog to throw money at the problem. There are a thousand calming widgets on the market, many of which do help, albeit not enough that you aren’t enticed into buying the next one. It’s also tempting to buy a lot of dog toys, because you spend most of your dog’s life in the house. Good toys that won’t leave indelible paint marks on your white walls aren’t cheap. All that’s before you even get to training classes. Also, spending money makes you feel like you’re doing something to help, even if what you’re buying doesn’t help at all.

So I thought I would present the conversation from a slightly different side. These are our current baseline minimum numbers per month, assuming that we want to make progress rather than just managing the level of fear Silas currently has:

Behaviorist: $120 (that’s for the maintenance visit). This is a fair price for our area. $120 would get me once a month with the behaviorist, once a month private lessons with a few dollars left over, or a 4-6 week class if I could find one that wanted Silas.
Food: Silas eats roughly 22 pounds of food in a month. The cheapest thing he eats is about $2/lb, ranging up to about $4. We’ll say $50, although the amount I spend per month fluctuates depending on what’s available. Our numbers are higher than typical here, thanks to the food allergies.
Prescription medications: Roughly $25. This is alprazolam and Silas’s heartworm preventative. If we decide to use a daily medication, this will obviously go up.
DAP Collar: $20, depending on where I can find it on sale. This is one of those whoo-whoo things that really does make a lot of difference for us.

That’s $215 dollars a month, assuming I don’t buy a single toy or treat and nothing unusual comes up. If financial calamity were to hit, I could of course cut out a good bit of that, but that’s not really what this post is about.

Helping a fearful dog is not cheap. Even if I could feed Silas kibble instead of raw, I would be looking at a substantial monthly outlay. I’m not telling you that because I feel sorry for myself. I’m very lucky that we can afford this, and I don’t feel bad about it.

I’m also lucky that Silas is not worse. I don’t think our numbers are the highest out there. Separation anxiety can easily cost a small fortune in either repairs to your home or in doggie daycare. In some dogs, fear can lead to aggression, especially toward other household pets, and you may have extremely high veterinary bills.

I feel like sometimes people get sucked into rescuing anxious dogs because they “feel bad for them.” Or, more likely if the dog is coming from a shelter, the dog’s problems don’t really manifest for a few weeks. Badly bred puppies, either from mills or from unfortunate accidental litters, may not show their problems until they enter adolescence. I think this kind of data needs to be out there as a part of that discussion.

The emotional cost of dealing with a fearful dog can be unexpectedly high. I’m used to it, and I still have days where it gets to me. The real financial cost is also quite high. It’s okay if you can’t afford either of those things. It can be a wonderful thing to help a fearful dog, but we also need to acknowledge that not everyone has the resources.

If you have a fearful dog and are willing to share, please give your numbers in the comments.

 

(Updating with our more recent numbers: we finally were able to phase out our behaviorist visits, and the DAP collars stopped working after a while. Silas’s daily medication plus his heart worm treatment is roughly $45 per month, and his food costs have remained the same. I find that Silas is happiest if we stay involved in some kind of training class online, which ranges in price from $65 per six weeks at the Fenzi academy and up.)

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8 thoughts on “The Cost of a Fearful Dog

  1. This is an excellent post and one that should be printed out and given to people who are considering adopting a fearful dog from the shelter. Unfortunately I don’t think it is discussed enough pre-adoption and then the dog ends up back at the shelter or worse.

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    1. It’s a pretty bad outcome no matter what. While going back to the shelter is bad for the dog, people who feel too “guilty” to give the dog up, even though they don’t have the resources to take care of it, wind up with dog bites, attacks, etc. It’s a complicated situation, because shelter environments are impossibly difficult for fearful dogs.

      Some fearful dogs can bounce back pretty well. It’s something that you see a lot in dogs like Greyhounds, who just haven’t experienced a lot of things. They’re timid about the world, but then you do some adult socializing and they even out. It’s just hard for an individual to walk in off the street and know the difference.

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  2. Wow. Thanks for sharing. I agree; I certainly didn’t know what I was getting into with our fearful dog. I’m glad I found our trainer when I did. Otherwise, it would have been easier to give up on Pyrrha. Our costs are not bad at all, but she has taken more training classes than your average dog (like our current training class for reactive dogs).

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    1. Dog training is insanely priced here. I’ve compared numbers with friends, and most of them have never heard of private lessons costing $100/hour. And that was at the more reasonable place. Not only is it very expensive, but there are actually fairly few classes offered. All of the positive training places do maybe two levels of obedience and one agility class.

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  3. My fear reactive and hyper-vigilant pug x rat terrier costs me around $400 per month for daycare and food alone. For the first two years of her life I spent quite a bit on training classes, individual sessions and various tools (DAP collars, calming sprays, etc, etc, etc). I would estimate that in the first year of Kaia’s life, I spent $600 on trainers and some of these devices. The second year was a bit less but there was likely a bit less and now we have come to a point where I spend very little on these items as she has likely improved as much as is possible to expect. I got Kaia at 7 weeks old and did not know I would have a fearful dog but anyone getting any type of dog should realize this is a possibility. Even if you do everything “right”, research the breeder, positive socialization, training, etc., you cannot always overcome everything such as genetics and unpredictable situations. I feel blessed that I found a daycare that Kaia is able to attend even though it was an unanticipated expense.

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  4. First, I absolutely adore your new look and that awesome header photo of Silas…Your costs are high, financially and emotionally, and this post needs to be shared…I’ve posted it a number of places…I have a couple of suggestions on your prescription medication costs…email me if you want me to share with you

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  5. Having a fearful dog I was interested in reading this post. I’ll be honest, I’ve never sat down and thought about the added expense of having Maggie, but will now…not that it would change anything. This is a good post and should get out there especially for folks considering adoption.

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  6. This is such a great post. I’m tossing around my own thoughts of the true cost of rescue – it isn’t for everyone. You’re so right about how easy it is to fall into the trap of tossing money at the problem. I’ve got every snake-oil cure-all there is for Ruby. Some things help – some were a waste. I am interested in trying the DAP collar. I tried the diffuser but it tried to catch my house on fire! Ruby also has a ridiculous toy collection.

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