In 2014, four scientists from the University of Sydney set out to estimate the value of a typical Australian herding dog in terms of return on investment.
They surveyed 814 herding dog owners with 4027 dogs and designed a 20 question questionnaire to answer the questions they had around the cost of acquiring and maintaining dogs, time invested in training, and dog workload and longevity.
To create a representation of time investment, a dog’s time was valued at AU$20 per hour (NZD $21.40) as this is the median rate paid to farm hands in Australia. However, they argue this equation does not account for the other costs related to human employment, such as a vehicle or horse for the farm hand and the associated fuel and insurance costs.
They also argue that a dog cannot be replaced by a human in terms of being able to negotiate land we can’t by foot or vehicle, climb over and through stock in yards and the stock sense that is hypothesised to be partly genetically programmed in these dogs.
The cost of owning one of these dogs was estimated to be AU$7,763 (NZD $8320) over their lifetime but their median value was estimated to be AU$40,000 (NZD $42,875), a 5.2 fold return on investment. These costs included a median purchase price of AU$500 (NZD $535), maintenance costs of AU$4-800 (NZD $429-860), veterinary costs of less than $500 (NZD$535), wastage costs and training costs. These were all decided on from the median of survey answers.
An important thing to note was that only 80% of dogs were retained long term, and that the decision to ‘dishonorably discharge’ a dog was made at over 6 months of age. Therefore, costs of these dogs were included in the calculations.
It was found that 91% of dogs were uninsured, though when asked to predict how much they would spend to treat their best working dog for an illness or injury to allow it to return to work, the median response range was AU$1,001–2,000 (NZD $1,071-2,143). Forty percent of respondents would spend over AU$2,000 (NZD $2,143) to save their best dog, while 12% nominated that they would spend over AU$5,000 (NZD $5,359) to ensure their best dog returns to work.
While this study was completed in Australia, it is useful to draw some comparisons with our dogs in New Zealand. Do we have the same loss of dogs? Are we investing in our best workers? Current research is being conducted into New Zealand working dog nutrition, health and surveys, with the intention to better the welfare and performance of our dogs.
For the full study search for: Estimating the Economic Value of Australian Stock Herding dogs.