For years I’ve read comments on dog owner Facebook groups that complain about how expensive pedigree dogs are and how it’s better to adopt not shop. I’ve written about this before, but when we started this puppy project I decided that I will track the costs so that I can both see for myself what it has cost and where the money has gone. I also said that I will make the costs public because I think it is important to shed some light on this question.
We are now in week 11 and there won’t be many unpredictable costs anymore, so it was a good time to make a calculation. I’ve added up all the costs and coded them into categories – some are mandatory, and others are optional.
The total cost at this point is about 9700 euros and I the additional costs will be things like rabies vaccinations for the puppies that go abroad that will be charged on top of the 2000 euro price per puppy I have asked for. You can do the math very easily – 5 puppies sold at 2000e each is 10 000e which sounds like a lot of money – and it is a lot of profit, for some.
For example, we bought our whelping box second hand from a couple who had just decided to breed their labrador/stabyhoun cross “for fun” – the male was a golden retriever/staby cross, so there were no pedigrees – there were also no kennel name costs, nor health tests etc. They had 9 puppies, and they would have only needed vet costs and food, so at a rough estimate maybe 1500-2000e, so if they sold the puppies even at a bargain price of 1000e each, they would have made 7000e in profit for relatively little work. In contrast, if you get a pedigree puppy from a breeder who does things by the book, the mandatory costs alone are well over 5000 euros, which do not include things like health testing.
It’s also important to note that in this process we spent over 5000e speculatively before there was any guarantee of any puppies because it’s always possible that a mating isn’t succcessful. 5000 euros that we could have spent on ourselves – on relaxing holidays or, like smart people do, into home improvements that would increase the value of our house. Instead, we spent it on this puppy project which makes us sound completely crazy if we ever try explain it to an outsider – so we generally don’t… (On another note: think about the full implications of someone needing that buffer of out-of-pocket money to even begin this process!)
I chose my price after making a rough estimate of the costs some weeks ago, and simply divided the total by 5 puppies. You might say that I got a “free” puppy out of this, and fair enough – technically that is true. However, this project has also included a lot of time which, as you can see, is literally pro bono. Out of curiosity, I kept track of time spent on this “project” (with the same app I track my time for clients as a freelancer) and by end of March, I was up to 145h.
If I calculated that work to be charged at the minimum wage in the Netherlands (taking an average of c. 12e/h) it would come to 1740e. I stopped tracking at the beginning of April, because after week 5-6 it became impossible for one of us to work while also caring for the puppies. So, again calculated with the minimum wage, the minimum per week is 446e, which doesn’t include weekends so it’s an underestimate, but for 7 weeks (until week 12 when the majority of ours have gone) it would be 3122e.
Of course, the typical time for puppies to go to a new home is 8 weeks, so for comparison’s sake, let’s say 2 weeks of full-time work, which is 892e. So, if our puppies HAD gone to their new homes at the absolute minimum age, the costs of labour provided at a minimum wage would have been around 2632e, excluding weekend and evening work done for free because puppies require 24/7 care.
So, even if I had sold all 6 puppies, I would still have made a loss.
Please note: I haven’t written this to get anyone’s pity (because posting things online will usually evoke comments to this effect) as it is entirely our lifestyle choice and hobby to do this. The experience itself has been beyond exhausting and has taken its toll on our mental and physical health, but it is also one of the most meaningful, rewarding things we’ve done in our lives. It’s been a huge privilege to follow the growth and development of these pups so closely, and it brings us a lot of joy to see how excited the future homes are and how much happiness these pups will bring them in the years to come.
However, in a system where it is financially more advantageous to do the bare minimum when raising puppies, we clearly have a problem.
It is easy to find e.g. cocker spaniel puppies on Marktplaats (an online marketplace in the Netherlands) for 900-1000e – most of which are sold without a pedigree, and none have any proof of being in good health, of good structure or great temperament. The parents of the dogs were not selected in any other way than proximity and convenience. Lots of people say they don’t care about a pedigree as if it’s some kind of vein thing, but what they don’t realise is that anyone breeding and selling dogs without a pedigree is also doing so outside of any controls and regulations that are designed for the wellbeing of dogs.
At its most basic, registered breeders whose pups have a pedigree have to adhere to certain rules about the minimum and maximum age of the mother dog, the maximum number of litters she may have during her life, the minimum time between two litters etc. When people say they don’t care about a pedigree, they are also saying they’re comfortable with not caring about the wellbeing of the mother of the dog they are buying. They’re also saying they don’t care about inbreeding, because without a registered pedigree, there’s no real way of checking the dog they’re buying is actually the one they’ve seen paperwork for (if any has been shown). Is that system perfect? Of course not, but it’s not reasonable to argue that because some less than optimal behaviour is still possible within those regulations, it’s OK to play without any rules at all.
To me, the root of the problem is the market and specifically buyers: the supply will follow the demand when it comes to dogs, but when the demand is simply for “a dog” by whatever means, as cheaply as possible, nevermind what happened before the moment the dog moves into your home… This is also how dogs end up in shelters, because breeders who only do it for the money don’t care who they sell their dogs to, pay very little attention to how the dogs will be as adults, and offer no support after the dog moves to a new home – it’s no longer their problem once money has exchanged hands. I don’t have any real solutions to this – at least not scalable, but two years ago we decided that the best we could do is to be the change we want to see and share our journey.
To be honest, it is hard to not feel like a fool when writing this – it seems crazy to do a lot of extra work, only to make a loss when there are so many who make the minimum effort and walk away with thousands of euros, with no care for what happens once the puppies go to their new homes*.
Unfortunately, it’s not something I could ever do, whether it is a fool’s errand or not – these puppies are forever in our hearts, and we will always have time for their new families. There are also more important things in life than money: dogs and their wellbeing. But as long as the majority of potential dog buyers have no idea what to ask for and why; as long as we keep accepting the bare minimum from people breeding dogs… the longer it will take for things to improve for dogs.
If you want to read the whole journey that led to the existence of these puppies, you can read about it here: The Work of A Breeder Part 1 and The Work of A Breeder Part 2
*There is nothing wrong with making a bit of “profit” if you define it as selling prices minus outcosts (not including work) and we might also be in that situation if and when we do this again – but it’s not going to be at the same scale as someone who cuts corners, for reasons that should be clear from the cost breakdown.
`FULL BREAKDOWN UP TO TODAY
(Costs in blue cells are “assets” we can keep for another litter, if we ever do one)