Dog happiness has zero to do with fancy dog gear.
It’s hard to believe dogs used to be fairly low maintenance. They ate what they got, slept where they laid down, and even drank tap water! The horror! However, now people are out there buying their dog’s “things” in an attempt to replace actual dog-centered training and enjoyment. A fancy vest and the world’s best treat pouch doesn’t improve your training ability or timing, and the cutest collar and leash combo has zero to do with how your dog walks. If you’re going to spend all that money on your dog, here are my 10 most worthwhile things to invest in that actually WILL make a difference.
1. Buy the absolute best food you can buy. If Fido has to sleep on an old comforter
of the $180 orthopedic bed in the pet store flyer, it’s worth it. Your dog’s nutrition is one of the most controllable factors in their long term health, and one of the easiest to obtain. It’s never been simpler to find a quality food and there are a ton of websites talking about the best and worst foods out there. If you’re interested in raw feeding, great! But do your research, feeding raw correctly isn’t always straight forward. If you’re a scoop-measure-pour kind of person, find a good kibble and give’er.
2. Training classes are a must! At the very least a basic puppy class, but there’s so much more out there I don’t even know where to start. A common misconception seems to be that you need to be a “dog sports competitor” to take dog classes beyond puppy obedience classes, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Nothing replaces the kind of stimulation and partnership that is built through training with your dog. No amount of fancy squeaky toys in the world is going to keep your dog as tired as they will be from a training session, and tired dogs are good dogs! Take the $25 you would spend on the above mentioned squeaky toy and buy a trick book to play with at home, or veto buying 3-4 toys and take a full class or training seminar. Building a relationship with your dog and learning how to work together can be a lifelong journey and the most fulfilling part of owning a dog.
3. Veterinary care. I’m not entirely sure why this isn’t self-explanatory, but just in case anyone is confused I’m including it. If your dog owns 3 beds, 4 food dishes, 2 matching leash/collar sets, and has the entire KONG lineup of toys, but DOESN’T have a yearly vet check up with shots and deworming, a current rabies tag, and a license for your town/city, you’re not responsible enough to own a dog. Enough said… Go to the vet.
4. Healthy chews, because sometimes variety isn’t the spice of life. It seems cheaper and more exciting to buy various types of rawhide and 13 kinds of dollar store treats, but from a health aspect it’s far better to buy one or two quality treats and a couple of durable healthy chews. Ditch the rawhides and look into antlers, buffalo horns, and Himalayan chews. Bully sticks and pig/cow ears are great too. Yes, they’re 2-3x the price but they last far longer and have the benefit of not being dipped in formaldehyde, so drop the coin. For a training treat, look for single ingredient treats processed by a responsible manufacturer. Freeze dried liver treats are great, as are some natural jerky treats. I use lots of beef liver treats and ‘pork chip’ bulk treats from Homesalive, but I’m Canadian so I have that luxury. Another option for training treats is to make your own. Google the recipe for tuna fudge, but make sure you make it on a day you can keep the windows open…
5. Food dispensing toys are the greatest things ever. If I’m going to spend money on dog toys, they’re going to be durable, dispense food, and keep my dog entertained. The best ones out there are durable, easy to load with food, and are consistently entertaining. Some of the standard food puzzles aren’t really reusable once they figure out the trick to getting their reward so I ten to skip those. Good ones to looks at are Kong Wobblers, Starmark Bob-a-lots, and Tricky-treat balls. They hold a decent amount of food, aren’t horrible to load with food and make your dog work for their meal.
6. A solid, simple, 6 ft leash is worth its weight in gold. Leashes don’t need to be 6-way-adjustable, bungee, glow in the dark, or have quick release anything. They don’t need to be kangaroo leather or diamond studded, just get something in a plain colour that’s made of decently thick material, and you’ll be able to use it for years. Forego the retractable lead and the desire to match it to every accessory your dog owns. Leather leashes are quite nice once you work them in, don’t cut up your hands, and are easy to clean. Biothane material is awesome too, super easy to clean and strong. Having a solid, plain, leash is better than replacing it every few months once whatever fancy gadget they’ve attached to it breaks.
7. Quality nail clippers are a solid investment that most people don’t think of, but getting your dog’s nails cut is an essential part of dog ownership. If you don’t feel comfortable cutting them yourself that’s no problem (and super common) but go find a groomer now. Don’t wait until the dog’s nails are so long it can barely walk, nails should be trimmed frequently. If you’re willing to cut them yourself, invest in a pair of decent quality nail trimmers (I own a furminator set I like) and start making it a regular part of your dog’s life. You don’t know how thick your dog’s nails could be as they grow up, so don’t go buy a dollar store pair that barely cut and make it hard on everyone. Decent clippers will last a really long time, and are handy to have around.
8. Experiences! Experiences are great ways to build relationships with other people and the same is true with your dog. Save your pennies and do a road trip on a day off to somewhere you both would enjoy. Maybe a different dog park, maybe a national park, maybe just find a pond and go swimming. Pick something you can go out and conquer together. I guarantee your dog would prefer you spend the $50 on gas going somewhere cool than on engraved food dishes.
9. Professional grooming for some breeds is optional, but for some it really, really isn’t.
(Yes, I’m looking at you, all you insert-whatever-doodle mix breed here.) Hopefully you’ve researched your breed and have an idea of whether or not they’ll require regular professional grooming, but if this has come as a surprise to you, don’t shirk your responsibilities. If you're dog's breed requires regular professional grooming, then
bump this one up the list to be as necessary as veterinary care. Grooming
is super important to keep a dog healthy and happy. I own 4 dogs that don’t REQUIRE
professional grooming, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t benefit from it. A
professional de-shed treatment is very very different from just brushing
your dog a lot one Saturday trying to prevent the hairballs from taking over your house. It’s worth the money, trust me.
10. You can never go wrong with an airline crate. I prefer using airline crates over wire crates for several reasons. Primarily, they’re far harder to break out of if you accidentally brought home MacGyver with fur. Secondarily, and almost as important, they contain mess waaaaay better. If you have ever owned a dog you’ll know that, on occasion, dogs eat things they shouldn’t and get sick. A dog that gets sick in an airline crate means you’re bathing a dog and washing a crate out at 3 in the morning... A dog that gets sick in a wire crate means you’re washing the dog, the crate, and everything that was within a 4 ft radius of the crate. Your choice. The last reason I like airline crates is because they’re, you guessed it, airline approved. If you ever have to travel with your dog, move across the country, or fly Fido on his dream vacation, you’ll be ready and won’t have to buy a second crate all over again.
You’ll notice that nowhere on this list did I include random stuffy toys, “dress up” gear, or fancy supplements. There's no dog goggles, limited edition collars, or "doggy tactical" gear. To be honest, none of that stuff will necessarily make your dog happier. If you’re on a budget, it might be more fun for YOU to buy a bunch of cute toys than it is to buy a Wobbler, but that’s more fun for you not your dog. A lot of the stuff that really benefits dogs can be, well, pretty boring for humans. Having matching accessories, a décor-approved end table kennel, and holiday theme toys are all things that mean nothing to your dog. And owning a dog can be expensive enough when you buy the right stuff, so make sure you own quality essentials before branching out into the realm of ‘wants’.
TL;DR - Stop wasting money on things your dogs don’t need and have never wanted, it doesn’t replace training or quality time spent with your dog.