Friday, October 24, 2014

Is it Cheaper to Train Your Own Service Dog?

I've heard from a lot of people lately that are training (or trying to train) their own service dogs.  Now, I suppose owner training, if you know how to do it.  I seriously considered owner training myself, which you know if you read this blog in its early does.  I am so glad I didn't try it, though, because I'm pretty sure I would not have done it well.  I don't know nearly enough about training a working dog. 

I think most people don't.  It's something that takes a lot of skill.  I hear people say things like "it just takes time and patience" and that's just not true.  It does take time and patience.  But it also takes knowledge and skill.

And then I hear people asking things like, "How do I teach my dog to retrieve things?  How do I teach my dog to lie down under a table at a restaurant?"  Well, if you have no idea how to teach those things, which are pretty basic things, then you probably do not have the knowledge or skills to train a service dog.

But is it cheaper?  Many people say, "I'd get a dog from a program but I can't afford it."  But let's look at the actual costs.

Dog - if you get a dog from a breeder (which increases your chance of success), that might cost you about $1000.  If you get a dog from a rescue, it would be cheaper.  Let's say $200.  But that increases your chances of the dog washing out.

Behavioral evaluation - unless you're an animal behaviorist, you should have a dog evaluated to see if he has the right temperament to be a service dog.  Let's say that might cost $200.

Vet exam - you should also get a comprehensive vet exam, including x-rays (to be read by an orthopedic vet) to make sure a dog is physically fit to be a service dog.  Let's say that might cost $400.  Now, if the first dog the vet examines doesn't make the grade, you'd need to have another dog examined.  So you might pay $400 a few times, but let's say you get really lucky and the first dog passes.

So you'll have spent somewhere between $800 and $1,600 before you even get the dog home.  Well, some programs only charge $1,000 for a fully trained dog!

Now, it takes about 18 months to train a service dog.  If you train your own, you'll have to pay for food, vet bills, everything for those 18 months.  If you only spend $100 a month, that would be $1,800.  If you get a dog from a program, of course, that's all covered by the program.

So now you've spent at least $2,600 or as much as $3,400 by the time your dog is trained.  Many programs charge less then $3,000 for a fully trained dog.

But you'll need to take your dog to obedience classes as part of his training.  Let's say you do beginning, intermediate and advanced obedience classes and each class costs $75.  So that's another $225. 

Unless you're very skilled at training dogs, you might decide (wisely) to hire a trainer to help you out for an hour a week.  Let's say that trainer charges $50 an hour.  An hour a week for 18 months is about $3,600.

Now you're up to at least $6,425.  Not many programs charge that much.

So which one is cheaper?

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