When dogs are a member of the family, sometimes money is no object. A while back, we covered pet-friendly luxury hotels. Now, let’s "take a walk" through the elite world of premium pooches in which some dog breeds command top dollar, and examine the expanding array of companies that fully cater to pets. These companies are taking notice of owners willing to spare no expense to pamper their furry friends.
The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates the U.S. pet industry at over $62 billion in 2016. In order, the $2 billion cost for purchasing animals is eclipsed by spending on food ($24 billion), supplies and medicine (almost $15 billion), veterinary care (almost $16 billion), and $5.7 billion for services like grooming, boarding, and training. Over 54 million households own a dog—cats come in second at almost 43 million households. That’s a lot of households spending a significant amount of discretionary income to keep their dogs in tip-top shape.
Dog-lovers seek out particular dog breeds for a variety of reasons. Maybe they want a purebred dog with specific traits for hunting, agility, therapy, breeding, or to show. Some buyers with dog dander allergies seek a dog with non-shedding qualities. And some folks simply desire a canine companion with predetermined attributes and behavior to fit their lifestyle. Depending on the breed, genetic line, and location, the price for that puppy in the window can be quite expensive.
Purebred Samoyed puppies—those gorgeous, white, fluffy dogs originally bred in Siberia—cost up to $4,000. To see a Samoyed living the high life, meet Harvard Dangerfield, the most famous dog in Boston, with a popular Instagram account and busy career as a therapy dog and philanthropist.
And remember the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels favored by Charlotte in HBO’s Sex in the City? Breeders charge between $3,000 to $5,000 per puppy. Other pricey breeds include English Bulldogs ($2,000 to $3,500), Rottweilers (up to $8,000), and the increasingly popular Australian labradoodles (around $3,000 per puppy).
Why the High Price Tags?
Breeders say stringent kennel regulations have dramatically reduced kennel sizes resulting in fewer purebred dogs available. “Between 30 to 50 years ago, people had kennels of 50 dogs,” explained Helen Sullivan, a Samoyed breeder in Massachusetts. “Now reputable breeders may only have three breeding dogs, which brings up the price.” Fewer purebred dogs on the market drive up the price. Top breeders regularly report long waiting lists with extensive questionnaires to determine owner fit and a required $200 to $500 advanced deposit.
Given the high cost for premium pups, is it safe to assume purebred dog breeding is a lucrative business? Hardly, say the breeders interviewed. Many described dog breeding as a hobby or a labor of love. Beyond costs of dog food and shelter, regulatory and industry standards also require significant expenditures for ultrasounds, digital hip x-rays, and echocardiograms. And, caring for the adult dogs and puppies certainly isn’t a walk in the park.
Jeff Nienhaus, a current TD Ameritrade client and former healthcare executive, now owns The Labradoodle Corral with his partner and wife, Wendy, in Wisconsin. Five years into breeding Australian Labradoodles they have a small staff of four part-time assistants to help care for and socialize the puppies. Around 80 percent of their clients have allergies. He says they are profitable, but they can’t go on a vacation. “I don’t regret putting away the corporate schedule in order to help families welcome joyful puppies into their homes, but we're like a farmer milking cows. The puppies require round-the-clock care. We do this because we love watching families with allergies finally able to welcome a dog into their home.”
The spending continues once Americans welcome their best friends home. First come the costs for basic supplies—crate, leash, dog dishes, food, and regular veterinary expenses. Then come the extras. Walk through a pet supply store and you'll see an ever growing array of designer dog services to reach the full circle of a pet’s life from seasonal holiday outfits and gourmet dog biscuits to pet photographers and insurance plans.
As a whole, according to the pet industry, over the last ten years, as reported by the APPA, spending on pets has grown from $38.5 billion in 2006 to an estimated $62.75 billion in 2016. Beyond the typical squeaky toys and kennel services for family pets, there’s also demand for products and services to cater to sporting dogs.
Keith Johnson, a sportsman in North Dakota, just purchased his second carefully researched Yellow Lab, Buster, to take with him on upland bird and waterfowl hunting trips. After the initial expense for the certified puppy—around $1,200 to $5,000 depending on the breeding line and location—he has purchased supplies to build a summer and winter kennel, specialized food, and assorted gear. “In the sporting world,” explained Johnson, “you can spend a small fortune on collars with GPS tracking capabilities, vests and chest protectors, hunting blinds, and training tools. And, personally, I see it as money well spent for the joy of watching your dog tracking and working outside in tall grass.”
But in the end, whether dog lovers pay a premium price for an AKC registered puppy or a nominal fee for a rescue dog, many point to a dog’s unconditional love as priceless. They are companions, confidants, exercise partners, and lap warmers on a cold night, which is why so many open their wallets to their four-legged friends.