Dogs trained for a specific purpose, whether to guard or work in the field, can fetch some surprisingly high prices, as Charlotte Lycett Green reports
A shooter’s companion, a best friend — our dogs are amazing creatures. Some of them are also worth a lot of money. In 2013, a sheepdog sold for £9,240, and in May this year another sold for just under £15,000 at an auction in Skipton – so what is the price of dogs?
Guard dogs and protection dogs are in a different league altogether, according to Matt Wiggins from Staffordshire-based WKD Trained Dogs, which trains, supplies and breeds family and working dogs. “They range from anywhere between £2,000 and £40,000, depending on a client’s requirements,” he said. “We train a lot of dogs to be family pets, and this usually takes us about six weeks. Many of our clients are country people, but not necessarily devoted to fieldsports. We buy a lot of failed gundog breeds because those that do not have the drive to hunt and find game make the ideal family pet.
“The police will pay about £3,000 for a quality, untrained German shepherd and spend 12 weeks training it. They need a dog that has a good nose and can be trained to bite. A protection dog will take six months to train. I usually source them from Europe, and will look at 50 or so dogs before I find the right one. It has to have a natural guarding instinct as it will be trained to bite or show aggression on command. However, it has to have the right temperament and be well balanced and sociable, as it will be a family dog essentially for the majority of the time. It must be tolerant of everything until it is commanded to flick the switch.”
The right fit
One man’s mongrel is another’s “designer breed”, and the increasingly popular crosses such as cockerpoos and Labradoodles can command a price tag to match the most well-bred pedigree, though not perhaps quite as much as the two dogs Irish terrier breeder Jean Soeters sold recently: he sold one two years ago for £10,000 and another last year for £13,500, which went to a Swiss watchmaker. Jean took six months to train the dog to the client’s exact requirements.
What of working gundog breeds? A senior spaniel judge, who preferred not to be named, said: “Cockers are very popular price. A good price for a trained cocker would be about £3,500, but I have never known anybody sell the best dog in the kennel, and I’d be wary of anyone who said that they had too many dogs.
“For a part-trained spaniel, at about 15 months old, I’d expect it to be stopping on the whistle, taking directions left and right, and to be under control. I’d also expect it to have picked game and to be steady. It shouldn’t be as wild as a kite. If I were to buy a fully trained dog, at around three years old, I would expect it to be able to do everything. For hunting spaniels to win field trials, they have to be on the edge. A dog should be able to think for itself. A handler should only be there to guide it. The dog must be able to go out and find game. The most important thing is that the dog has the right attitude and temperament. It has to have an interest.”
The correct temperament is the key attribute
For the Duke of Buccleuch’s gundog trainer David Lisett, the correct temperament is the key attribute when he is training a dog, as is being fit for purpose. “We don’t sell a lot of dogs,” he said, “but when I am contacted by people who are looking for a trained dog, the first question they ask is how much will it cost. I always say that the hardest part is finding the correct dog for the client.
“The dog must be fit for purpose. Make a wish list of what you expect the dog to be able to do and try to arrange to see a demonstration on the shooting field so that you can watch it being put through its paces. Consider its age, too. The amount of experience it has had in the field, how much game experience and how much life experience it has will also play a big part in how much the dog is worth,” he added.
“If I were looking for a fully trained peg dog, I would like it to have at least one season under its belt to give the dog the experience and patience to be in the shooting field. A part-trained dog should be a good bit cheaper, but you need to be prepared to put in a great deal of work to finish off its training. There is no guarantee that the dog will meet your expectations, whereas you can see what you’re getting with a fully trained dog.”
Price of dogs does add up
David also makes the important point that if you were to give an hourly rate to the hours spent training a dog, the true cost would soon add up to an astonishing amount. “Anyone looking to buy a trained dog should consider that fact,” he said. “The most important thing, though, is to make sure the dog has the correct temperament because it will learn quickly and will always want to be a team player. A dog with the wrong temperament will be wilful and harder to train, and temperament is a hard thing to gauge because training can mask imperfections.”
A dog’s temperament must match the capabilities of the handler, according to David. “A dog that is a bit softer may take longer to train but it will stay trained for longer. And it is important to consider whether the dog will be kennelled or whether it will live in the house and be the family pet. Dogs that are highly strung all the time need to be trained to switch off.”
If temperament is the factor that connects all these dogs that work and live in vastly differing roles and environments, there is surely no better example of a good dog’s trainability and adaptability than that of a Labrador called Endal, an assistance dog to former Royal Naval officer Allen Parton which was awarded Dog of the Millennium and the PDSA’s Gold Medal. Allen was involved in a road traffic accident while serving with the Royal Navy in the first Gulf War. It left him without feeling in his right-hand side and he lost half his memory. He couldn’t talk, read or write, and didn’t remember his wife or children.
I was privileged to interview Allen 10 years ago and wrote about the pair’s incredible story for Shooting Times. A chance meeting with Endal at a Canine Partners puppy class changed Allen’s life. Endal’s pedigree could be traced back 26 generations to Buccleuch Avon 1885, and his puppy parent took him shooting on the Cowdray estate. In the early days of their partnership, Allen developed his own form of sign language, which Endal understood and acted upon to carry out daily tasks such as putting the washing in the washing machine and choosing Allen’s breakfast cereal. Allen said that Endal was a perfectionist and extremely tidy, and he clearly showed incredible initiative. “I was staying in a hotel one night,” recalled Allen. “And I got into bed then realised I’d left the bathroom light on. I said to Endal, ‘Get off the bed and turn off the light, would you?’ He jumped off the bed and turned it off. It didn’t occur to me until the next day that I had no idea where the light switch was, whether it was inside the bathroom, outside the bathroom, a pull switch or what. He just worked it out.”
Endal also saved Allen’s life when he was hit by a car and knocked out of his wheelchair. As he lay unconscious, Endal dragged him into the recovery position, pulled a blanket over him and placed his mobile phone by his face. When he couldn’t rouse Allen, he ran to a nearby hotel to get help. Allen and Endal’s story was unforgettable and their devotion to each other was absolute. “There has to be team spirit,” said Allen. “The message you send down the lead will come back up it. I had lost all emotion and tried to commit suicide twice by the time I met Endal. Love, hate, happiness, sadness: all those feelings were alien to me. I was in the darkest, most soulless place imaginable. If there is any animal on the planet that can teach you love, it has got to be a dog. Everyone says guardian angels have two legs. Mine has four.” You can’t put a price on that.
How much are dogs?
- Police forces will pay around £3,000 for a good-quality untrained German shepherd puppy.
- You should expect to pay around £3,500 for a trained cocker spaniel —but caveat emptor.
- The record price for a sheepdog is £14,805, realised earlier this year for 16-month-old border collie Cap.
- A good guard dog, fully trained, could costs as much as £40,000.
- The record price for any sort of dog was realised by an 11-month-old Tibetan Mastiff named Big Splash. He was recently purchased by a wealthy businessman in China for $1.5million (approximately £1,133,716).