The Staggeringly High Costs of Adopting a Neurotic Dog

Dog lover Robin Hartill was not prepared for the costs of adopting a dog with behavioral issues—such as paying for a new passport.

Written by Robin Hartill CFP® / December 7, 2021

Quick Bites

  • The average dog owner will spend $3,221 during the first year of pet parenting, according to the ASPCA, including $200 for training.
  • Some studies show that interacting with animals decreases levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol and can even lower blood pressure. But a pet’s constant destruction can cause its own stress.
  • Unless you catch your dog in a destructive moment, they won’t understand why you’re disciplining them.
  • Training can be expensive but may help curb many of your dog’s most destructive tendencies.
Couple adopting a dog
Robin Hartill

My dog, Kermit, ate my passport. Replacing it will cost me $110.

In the grand scheme of pet ownership, $110 isn’t so bad. But the one thing I know about Kermit is that there’s more destruction to come.

My passport was easily accessible to my dog because it was in my purse for ID purposes. You see, Kermit had just destroyed my driver’s license. I’d paid $25 to the state of Florida for a replacement. My new license had yet to arrive.

Kermit has a talent for spotting items of value fast. I was on the phone when I saw Kermit and his big hound dog nose rifling through my purse. I snatched back my purse. I started plugging away at work.

A few minutes later, it struck me: Was something missing from that purse? Sure enough, there was my passport scattered in bits and pieces across my couch.

I wish I could say the incident was an anomaly. But Kermit has destroyed the cord to my massage chair, countless books, my mattress Memory Foam topper and the one piece of clothing I’ve ever paid more than $200 for. He even shredded three rolls of toilet paper during the great TP shortage of March 2020. All four corners of my coffee table have been chipped away by dog teeth.

I’ve owned dogs for most of my life, so I thought I was prepared for every pet cost imaginable. You can budget for $500 dental cleanings and fancy $80-a-bag grain-free salmon food. You can even plan for the worst-case scenario vet bills. But nothing will prepare you for the damage a dog with behavior issues can do to your finances.

The staggering costs of a destructive dog

In 2021, the average dog owner will spend $3,221 during the first year of pet parenting, according to the ASPCA, including $200 for training.[1] I’m pretty sure those averages don’t apply when your dog can open drawers and closet doors with his mouth.

I adopted Kermit in July 2019 from a local animal shelter. He was a 3-year-old black mouth cur mix. Back then, Beaker was his name. I’d lost my 13-year-old chocolate Lab rescue, Huckleberry, when I spotted Kermit/Beaker on the shelter’s website.

He had huge brown angelic eyes and an odd nub of a tail. The video showed him splashing around the kiddie pools of the shelter. The ad described him as “high energy.”

Before I even went to the shelter, I worked out a budget for him in case I decided to adopt. My past three dogs had been too old to qualify for pet insurance. Because Kermit was young, I’d be able to buy pet insurance for around $30 a month.

I expected to pay another $150 each month to cover his premium dog food, his heartworm preventive meds, and the occasional toys and treats. I’d put an extra $100 a month in a Kermit-designated bank account to cover additional costs.

When I brought him home, he immediately jumped on my coffee table and peed all over it. Homecoming day jitters, I thought. Within an hour, he’d destroyed a purse and a pair of boots. Clearly, I had some dog-proofing to do.

I realized the magnitude of Kermit-proofing needed when I got out of the shower that night. In just a few minutes, he had chewed a giant hole in my couch. The next morning, I discovered his penchant for opening drawers. I woke up to find half the clothing in my dresser scattered onto my bedroom floor.

I drove to PetSmart as soon as it opened and paid $100 for a crate. I also ordered a cover from Amazon to throw over my couch. No sense replacing the couch just for Kermit to chew another hole in it.

Three days after Kermit’s adoption, my mom called to ask how things were going. I started to cry.

“This dog is HORRIBLE,” I sobbed.

Learning to live with Kermit

I’ve made Kermit sound like a holy terror to this point. But there’s lots to love about him, I swear.

Two years after his adoption, I love listening to him howl whenever I sing off-key. He’s practically famous among my co-workers. He loves standing on his back two paws with his front two paws on my shoulder so he can eavesdrop on Zoom meetings. He gives me slobbery kisses whenever I’m upset. As a single woman living alone, I can’t imagine what pandemic life would have been like without him.

But the costs of a dog like Kermit go beyond money. Some studies show that interacting with animals decreases levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol and can even lower blood pressure.[2] Kermit has brought companionship and laughter to my life, but I can’t say my cortisol levels or blood pressure are the better for it.

In our first month together, I contacted a couple of local trainers. But I balked at the cost: more than $1,000 that I would have to charge to my credit card. I tried watching dog training videos on YouTube and taking the DIY approach. You can guess how that worked out.

My extra bedroom used to be my refuge when I wanted to read or do deep work. Overnight, it became my Kermit-free zone. There I’d try to stash everything that piqued his interest: books, clothes, shoes, makeup.

Knowing anxiety is at the root of many negative dog behaviors, I adapted my schedule to Kermit as much as possible. When I worked in an office pre-pandemic, I’d start my days first from home before going into the office so I wouldn’t have to leave him alone for more than a few hours.

I looked for ways to burn off Kermit’s energy. We’d go for jogs first thing in the morning and again at night, plus two long walks during the day. I gave up on jogging with him after Kermit, an 80-pound ball of muscle, saw a squirrel and made me fall hard. Had my spare hand failed to blunt the fall quickly, I easily could have knocked out my two front teeth.

Kermit also became deeply protective of me and our house fast. He’d bark incessantly whenever someone unfamiliar approached. That’s great if someone is breaking into your house, but not so much when you’re a single lady who just wants a social life.

Kermit’s destructive tendencies improved a bit over time, though they certainly didn’t disappear.

He probably outgrew some puppy habits—but he was also suddenly getting more attention than ever when I started staying home 24/7 because of the pandemic. It got easier for me to ignore some of Kermit’s bad habits, like aggression toward any stranger who approached the home. For the foreseeable future, it was just me and Kermit alone together.

The best $1,820 I ever spent on my dog

Kermit and I rang in 2021 together alone at my house. We celebrated on the couch with the hole—with a cover that now also has a hole. By that point, I was really sick of that couch.

I was also ready to leave lockdown mode behind. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout was beginning. A world where we could safely socialize again was in sight.

A couple of days later, I called a training school. This time, I eagerly agreed to the $1,580 price tag. Because of pandemic protocols, training would be conducted via Zoom. For an extra $40 per hour, our trainer could meet us at an outdoor location for a socially distanced session.

I tried to be cheap at first. But after two disastrous Zoom training sessions, I forked over an extra $240 to have our remaining six lessons in-person, bringing our total cost to $1,820.

Our trainer taught me how to give Kermit positive reinforcement. I was so used to telling him “no” that I was neglecting to praise him for his good behavior. She also taught me that unless you catch your dog in a destructive moment, they won’t understand why you’re disciplining them. The damage is done at that point. If you scold them, you’re only stressing out the dog, as well as yourself.

She taught me proper leash handling, something I hadn’t needed to learn having owned elderly arthritic dogs in the past. I felt confident enough to jog with Kermit again.

After eight sessions, we celebrated graduation on my porch. Technically, both of us were graduating—owners need the training just as much as dogs. I bought matching graduation caps for the two of us. Kermit had a big smile on his face as our trainer presented us with a framed certificate.

Kermit’s post-training report card

A few weeks post-training, I had enough faith in Kermit to spend $700 on a brown faux leather couch. So far so good.

His destructive ways didn’t disappear altogether, though. The passport incident happened a couple of months post-training.

We also haven’t made progress on the stranger danger front. Because of COVID-19 protocols, our instructor couldn’t enter my home in the spring. So I’ve resolved to spend at least another $1,000 on home-based training in the near future. Whatever the cost, it’ll be well worth it if I can enjoy the company of another human in my home in peace.

In the meantime, I give myself a Kermit break from time to time. I budget about $200 a month to send him to day camp a day or two each week. I take him there when my cleaning lady comes over or I have lots of work deadlines, or just because a friend is coming over. On occasion, I’ll send him to camp for no other reason than I want to sleep in without a 6 a.m. wake-up call from Kermit.

No matter how much I shell out for training, I’m never going to mold Kermit into a docile dog. Each dog is a wild card. When you adopt one, you’re adopting their history as well. That often includes trauma.

But guess what? When you adopt a dog, they aren’t getting the perfect owner, either.

There are still probably chewed books and shoes in our future. Hopefully, no more destroyed passports or couches. With Kermit, I’ll settle for progress over perfection.

Want to learn more about the costs of pet ownership? Read about life with a former racing greyhound, or learn the ins-and-outs of pet insurancehow it works, what it covers, and what to do if you have an exotic pet or a pet with pre-existing conditions.

Article Sources
  1. ASPCA. Cutting Pet Care Costs.
  2. National Institutes of Health. The Power of Pets.

About the Author

Robin Hartill

Robin Hartill CFP®

Robin Hartill is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and a personal finance writer and editor. Her work has been featured on The Motley Fool, The Penny Hoarder, the Tampa Bay Times, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance and more.

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