Whoever said that agility was cheap?

If you are like most of us, you probably never admit to yourself how much money you spend on agility. The final sum would send you into epileptic shock. I would rather have my dogs than a Ralph Lauren wardrobe, and you can keep the Costa del Sol for yourself Ė Iíll spend my holiday at Dogs In Need. These days I make few purchases that are not dog orientated Ė whether they be a pair of shoes or a new car. Agility is not a hobby  Itís why I go out to work! Mary Ann Nester calculates the real cost.


You canít do agility without a dog. You think the dog is the cheapest bit? HA! If you want to amuse your vet, rescue a mutt from the M25 and name him 'Freebie.'  There is no such thing as a low maintenance dog and even the most routine health care can be expensive. Or are you going to let your dog become infested with fleas and worms?

Victoria Horsley of the NCDL points out that the cost of keeping a dog will depend on size and breed, but estimates that basic expenditure will be something like this. (See right)

Not too bad?
But how many agility homes have just one dog? According to the Pet Food Manufacturerís Association, the number of households owning dogs in the year 2000 was 5.1 million. Of these, 79.2 per cent had only one dog and the remainder had two or more.

You are in the majority if you are single pet dog householder, but you are in the minority if you do agility and have only one dog - 74 per cent of respondents to the Agilitynet Survey 2000 had two or more dogs. And the more dogs you have, the more you spend. Your vet may give you a discount for having your pack of hounds microchipped at single consultation, but donít count on it.

What you put into your dog is what you get out of him. Because agility demands a level of fitness above and beyond the needs of most couch potato pets, you want to shove as much goodness into your dog as you can. Not that supermarket stuff for you. You walk right by those cheap generic labels. For many of us, price equals quality so your hand always grabs the expensive stuff (Eukanuba Performance £37.99, Pedigree Advance £27.99 for a 15kg bag)

The Basics

Food £5 - 15.00 per week
Pet insurance £10 - 15 per month plus £50 excess to pay for every condition that has a claim made
Flea treatment £25 for six months
Worming treatments £8 for three months
Vaccinations £50 for initial course and £25 each year for boosters

Boarding kennel fees

£5 - 9 per day
Training classes £20 enrolment and then £3 per week
Grooming/clipping (if necessary) £30 around three times a year
Damage to home or possessions £various
Toys £15 per month

One-off Expenses

And when you are totalling how much you spend on dog food, donít forget those little gourmet treats for training Ė poached salmon, Camembert cheese, or braised liver. Not a dried up Bonio (1.2 kg box £2.29). Celebrate a good run and buy your dog an ice cream cone. No matter how hard you try, you will never been able to win enough dog food at show to feed your dogs throughout the year. You have too many dogs and half of them are on special diets.

If you do agility, you will extend your training beyond the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme. You will probably join not one agility club, but several. One of these will be at least an hourís drive from home. You have at least three doggie Christmas parties to attend and two of your clubs have offered to ring party at the same show. The only reason you agreed to instruct a class is so you can get a free lesson in return. And donít forget those one off training days or private lessons with the instructor who is this monthís favourite.

Initial price of buying or adopting dog

Free to various


£80 - £140

Microchipping £10 - 25
Collar, Lead and ID tags



£15 - 50

Be honest. You bought the video camera to film your dogís contacts, not the family get together at Christmas. Donít lie. You choose that wristwatch not because it was stylish but because it had a stopwatch mode. It all adds up. In fact, training fees are getting so expensive that in order to finance your dogís education you buy a complete set of agility equipment and set up your own private club. At least that will get the A-frame out of your back garden and you can have a lawn again.

How I envy those agility handlers who drive to a show with just one dog. Through the window Shep or Fido is quietly asleep on the back seat (on the wrong side of the tubular dog guard £23.99) re-charging his batteries for the next run. But the more dogs you get, the more difficult it is to keep the mud and dirt off the upholstery. You no longer offer friends a lift to the pub (no room with all your training clobber and too much dog hair). You upgrade to an estate car and then a van because you need a motor that is roomy and reliable. The AA (basic membership £42) is sick of towing you and your dogs back home from motorway service stations.

You need a large van not only to transport all your dogs safely around the country, but to store waterproofs, wellies, and spare vet beds (someone is always sick). The custom made cages (approx. £500) you order for the van will stop your terrier perching on your shoulder to point out passing pheasants. You become a snail that carries his home on his back and you pack everything, just in case. You may be seriously over drawn at the bank, but you wonít starve if you break down in the Peak District.

There's no business like show business
Well, thatís why you do all that training. When you begin your agility career, you attend only local shows. Who in their right mind wants to get up at the crack of dawn? There are still engagements in your diary for weekend trips to the cinema or museums.

As your commitment to agility grows, you book more shows and start to buy envelopes and stamps in bulk. The Agility Aid Organiser (£7) lists all the qualifiers you want to attend and helps you prioritise your entries. You subscribe to The Eye (£21.00 per year) and The Voice (£21.50 per year) so you can see how you are doing in the league tables.

Can you really justify the expense of a computer just so that you can download schedules? Choosing between an agility show or your sisterís wedding is a major headache. You start booking your holiday so you can attend weeklong agility extravaganzas. No matter, the weather will be good and your friends at work will see your tan and think you have been to the Med, not Ipswich.

You may have saved yourself the cost of a foreign holiday and kennelling fees, but donít delude yourself. With entry fees averaging £2 a class and the amount petrol you are using, you could have circled the globe. And when you canít get to a show in a single journey, you book a B & B (£15-£35) the night before.

When the proprietors refuse to let your six dogs sleep in the bedroom with you, you consider buying a caravan (Caravan Club membership £27.50 per year). You can save a little bit by offering to ring party at shows in exchange for free camping, but Iím so sorry. You will have to do a lot of pole picking up if you want to recoup the price of you caravan.

Clothes - You are what you wear
Are you one of these people that can wear a sweatshirt with a different club logo for each day of the week? If I bring home one more fleece (Result Active Fleece £17.50) from a show, my husband has threatened to lock me in the wardrobe. Mind you, itís bursting with all my other agility clothes, and heíll never get the door shut. 

No matter what the weather, I have something appropriate to wear on my head or on my feet. I have shoes to wear when the ground is dry, wet or lumpy. Did you really want Dita Terminators (MRRP £34.99) instead of those kitten heels? But, what the Hell. Youíre going training instead of whooping it up at the workís dinner dance. Once again, you can do your best to qualify for the big finals and get a sweatshirt or fleece free. But you will have to take what you are given and you wonít be able to choose your favourite colour. 

Miscellaneous costs
Look carefully at the categories where Victoria Horsley has use '£various.' She means the items that can be potentially the most expensive. I had a dog that destroyed my settee in the time it took a kettle to boil. 

And my latest puppy was allowed home only if I promised to replace it with a new one. This pup has chewed through two leads, two collars and a Halti in the space of ten days. The only time I get any rest is when I lock the dogs up in their cages (Barjo Folding Kennel 24 x 18 x 20 inch £40.50 and Vet Bed 20 x 14 inch £7.95). I suppose the next step is to build outdoor kennels with runs. Itís really a question of semantics. You donít buy 'toys' (Exelpet Fun Ball £3.99), but 'training aids.' How many rubber bones has your dog dropped in the river? Ever loose one of those balls on a rope up a tree? Do you buy new squeaky toys when the old ones stop squeaking?

Economy drive
How far will you go? Your house is probably the most expensive item you will ever purchase. The last time I moved I told the estate agent I wanted a garden big enough to throw a ball and set up a dog walk. I described the ideal location as near a motorway so I could get to shows easily.

In the end, almost every item on the household budget is agility related. Few decisions are made without considering how they will affect the dogs. I know that there are lots of short cuts and savings that can be made, but as I get older, I crave my creature comforts more and more. Iím tired of getting in the passenger side of my car because the driverís side is stuck and I wonder how much it will cost to get a TV for the caravan. 

I confess that every penny I earn is spent on agility. You may think Iím a nut, that Iím blinkered, or that Iím wasting my time. Well, you donít know what youíre missing and you couldnít even begin to imagine what a good time I have with my dogs - theyíre worth it! So, come on down. The price is right!

About the author...
Mary Ann Nester
is a member of APDT. Born in the USA, she came to Britain in 1972 as a student. She has pursued a mixed career - fruit picker, gymnastic coach, keep-fit instructor and academic librarian. In 1997 she set up Aslan Enterprises, a dog-training school named after her first agility dog.

Running Aslan, a lurcher dog, at agility competitions got Mary Ann hooked on the sport and Bounty, a German Shepherd Dog, and Tam, the Border Collie were soon added to the household.

Mary Ann's most successful dog to date has been Brillo Pad, a Miniature Poodle who took her to Olympia and Crufts. Brillo also competed in the Draw Challenge on National Lottery Live!, winning Mary Ann the privilege of pushing the button that released the evening's lottery balls in front of millions of television viewers.

Daz, another miniature poodle and most recent addition, was bought for competition in the Mini ring, but grew too tall! He has proved that size doesn't matter. He entertained the crowds at Olympia as one of the 'fun dogs' and has strut his stuff in the ABC competition (Any Breed but Collie) at Crufts. She and Daz placed second in The Agility Club Midi Dog of the Year 2001.

Mary Ann is a member of the first British Team to compete in the FCI World Championships 2001 in Portugal.

She has recently moved to Northamptonshire and writes regular articles for both The Agility Eye and Agility Voice as well as Agilitynet.

From Jane Gemmill
Such a true article! When my daughter started agility I said 'I hope this isn't going to be as expensive as the pony hobby.' No no, they all said - no special clothes needed! We now have seven dogs, one caravan, one camper van and several pairs of running shoes. (30/05/02)

From a first timer...
After reading this I may not now be taking Murphy, my pointer/collie cross, to our second agility training tonight! It's like the health warning on a packet of cigarettes, I may not know what I'm getting into and it will be too late when I have.  (12/03/02)

From Di Poingdestre
Having just read Mary Ann Nester article about the expense of having a dog - which was excellent and so close to the truth, can you add that if you live in Jersey - you also have the added cost of getting to the Mainland so we can enter the shows.

For one vehicle and two adults on the boat - it will cost us £300 at Easter and £400 at August. Also if we brought the caravan back with us that would be another £250/£300 on top.  At least the dogs go free.

We work all year - so that we can enjoy and afford our trips away. (01/03/02)

From Liz Stedman...
Loved reading your article. I am sending it to a friend who has just started agility so as she will know what she's letting herself in for.Although I suspect she already knows, having heard it all from me.

I well remember a couple of years ago meeting a stall holder who was surprised to see me although the show was less than an hours drive from home. Apparently a few years earlier when embarking on my new hobby, I had remarked to him, as my obedience trainer, "oh I will only do local shows".

When he reminded me of this I replied 'but this is a local show, I now travel 2-3 hours to get cold, wet and disheartened!' I started with a Standard Poodle which necessitated changing my Mini to a VW Polo and then, as the three Vizlas were added, I had to get the standard agility car, Vauxhall Astra Estate. The 3-man tent became a trailer tent and then a small caravan. (25/02/02)

From Penny Cockerill
What a hoot! I laughed out loud. It is all so true and I can see just How I am going to end up - no retirement in the sun but a motor home to tour the UK shows! (22/02/02)

From Sam Butchart
Thank goodness there was not a calculation at the end! Loved it but... the really sad thing is that I can relate to the whole lot. LOL. (22/02/02)


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