Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Much Does it Cost to Rehab a Reactive Dog?

Last week, one of my friends texted me: her dog was becoming increasingly anxious, and could I help her train the dog? As I started to walk her through the process of rehabbing a reactive dog, I realized that I have put a LOT of work into Maisy. I knew that, of course, but when you’re in the midst of things, it’s easy to lose track of just how much work you’re doing.

So, what DOES it take to rehab a reactive dog? Well, each dog will be different, of course, but here’s what I did (or at least, what I remember doing) with Maisy:

I first realized Maisy was reactive in early 2009. I immediately enrolled her in a version of a Control Unleashed class at our training club. This class was 9 weeks long. Estimated cost: $100.

Starting in September 2009, and going through May 2011, we attended a weekly CU style class. I’m estimating that we attended about 90 weeks of class. I don’t remember the cost, but let’s say it was $125 for 6 weeks (less than what it costs at other places in the area). That’s about $1875.

Next, we saw a veterinary behaviorist. We saw her for the first time in October 2010 (approximately $550). We had follow ups in December 2010 ($160), June 2011 ($175), December 2011 ($80), and July 2012($80). Total: about $1050. (Edited to correct estimated amounts. I overestimated. And this is why I'm a social worker, not an accountant!)

Medication is cheap: less than $5/mo. So far, we’ve spent around $250 on meds. This will be a life-long expense for Maisy.

Medication requires regular blood work (every six months we get a bunch of bloods done to check liver values, etc.). Let’s estimate $200 per time, so about $1600 so far. Again, another life-long expense.

So far, this does not include time I spent training on my own (between 15 and 30 minutes a day). I also attended a Control Unleashed seminar (around $150 plus travel/hotel costs, and 16 hours in the seminar). If you add that in, it’s probably another 200 hours and $250. I also purchased a number of books to educate myself; let’s say $100 and another 40 hours in reading.

All told, the cost of rehabbing Maisy was 350 hours of my time and about $5225.

She has absolutely been worth it, but the investment was not insignificant. Many people do not have that kind of time or money available to them. Granted, this was spread out over the course of 3 or 4 years… which in itself is a huge undertaking. 


Did I need to go to such great lengths? Well, it depends on your goals and your dog’s behavior. I had performance goals, and anyway, Maisy never posed any real danger to anyone; there were no kids in the house and she was very low-risk for a bite. I probably could have gotten away with a lot less work and money – and indeed, many of the dogs and people I’ve worked with professionally can get away with less time and money.

Each situation will be different, and therefore, the costs and the decisions will be different. When deciding to work with a reactive dog, the first question always needs to be, “Can I keep everyone safe during this process?” If the answer is no, then it doesn’t really matter how much you can afford in terms of time and money. You need to deal with the safety issue first. 

But if safety isn’t an issue, then you need to take a long, hard look at the costs involved. If you're enrolled in a class, don't waste the money! Do your homework! Trust your instructors - and ask questions if you're concerned about their advice! Trust me, we love to personalize our instructions if you give us a chance. 

Understand that reactivity is not a quick-fix kind of thing. You really do need to hang in there through the disappointment. But also, know what your goals are. You're not going to "cure" your dog, so scale back your expectations to be a bit more realistic. Don't know what that is? Ask your instructor! Accept that the dog you have is not going to be the "good dog" that you've had in the past, or that your friends have. 

Follow up post: Click here to read about whether the cost is worth it. 

1 comment:

Chris and Mike said...

To rehab Habi (6 years so far): $225 for one behavioral vet consultation (we could only afford one, but it was the turning point in our relationship - truly life-changing); Reactive and focus dog classes: $150 each and helpful; Prozac for life: about $50/year; constant supply of extra-special treats - $$; library research, online research, behavioral modification work - in the thousands of hours. So we went a somewhat less intensive, less expensive route than you and Maisy, and our progress has been slower. However, we've persevered through all the ups and downs and plateaus and backsliding, and Habi is now able to cope with almost anything.

Thanks for this post - it's important for people to understand that working with a reactive dog requires a significant investment of time, money and emotion. Would I do it over again with Habi? In a heartbeat. Would I take on another reactive dog in the future, if I knew the depths of its issues? Maybe.