It seems like prices for everything have gone up recently. It is helpful to pause and reflect upon expenses periodically to make sure you aren’t wasting your money. One of our favorite ways to do this is by using a “no-spend” month, where only essentials are purchased for a month. We understand that this isn’t for everyone, so we created a list of our favorite life hacks for dog owners to help you save money (& some time)!
We have two large dogs (read: they eat a lot), and both are extremely vigorous chewers. Our recommendations are geared toward this situation, but our advice is applicable to all pups.
Life hacks for dog owners
Play fetch with your “indestructible” toy
One of the easiest life hacks for dog owners is to use your toys when you’re interacting with your dog, not just as an activity they do themselves. There are an abundance of dog toys that promise to be indestructible, even though most don’t last more than 10 minutes with our vigorous chewers. The truth is every dog toy is destructible.
Instead of letting your dog rip up a $15 toy and only getting 5 minutes of entertainment from it, we love to play fetch with them. It’s relatively easy to teach your dog the expected behavior for fetch. If they’re having trouble grasping the concept, keep the toss very short until they get the idea of chase and fetch.
Whenever you bring home a new toy, squeak or wave it a few times and then throw it. When your dog brings it back toward you, trade your dog the toy for a treat or an additional toy that is similar or identical. Repeat until your dog looks like they may be losing interest in the activity, at which point you trade the toy for something they really like. Put the toy away to create scarcity.
This will help keep your dog from losing interest in the toy, and the trade for something desirable helps your dog think you’re not just taking his or her toy.
Buy long-lasting toys like nylon bones
If your dog is willing, nylon or bamboo bones are another great life hack for dog owners. Ours love both, and they last much longer than even the longest-lasting treats. We have some nylon bones that are over a year old that our dogs still love!
Not all dogs are willing to chew them, but they offer a lot of entertainment for the cost. Our pups’ favorites are Nylabone.
Find an indoor enrichment activity that your dog enjoys
Having a cheap enrichment activity that you can perform inside with your dog is great for rainy days. One of our favorites is detailed in our post here. It’s a hollow bone stuffed with jerky and optional filling. Our dogs love it. It keeps them occupied for at least 15 minutes typically, and costs about $0.50 per use, even if you buy human-grade jerky.
We wrote an entire article on this one. This is one of Prim’s favorite of our life hacks for dog owners. If you want more information, check out the link here!
Teach your dog sniff work
Sniff work is a great low-cost activity that can be done inside or outside. It’s perfect for rainy days or any time you think your dog could benefit from something to do. Sniff work is a great source of activities that can be life hacks for dog owners! Most are easy to do, can be done inside, and are cheap. This is our definition of life hacks for dog owners!
There are a few different ways you can go about this. You could do the more formal method of using an essential oil or other smell to teach your dog to find it and get rewarded. If that’s not your style, there’s also the option of placing a reward (kibble or treats) around and having your dog find them.
The second option includes behavior like our favorite find-it pile or a snuffle mat. If you don’t want to create a find-it pile, you can still hide kibble or treats around a room and ask your dog to find it.
Make your own agility course
One of our dogs’ favorite activities is agility training. It doesn’t have to be the somewhat stuffy option that professionals teach their dogs for competitions. Our dogs love it, and it has the added bonus of burning a lot of energy. There are even modifications to perform similar behaviors inside if it’s too cold/rainy outside or you don’t have an outside space.
Prim’s favorite obstacles are tunnels and weaving while Goomba prefers the jumps.
We wrote a whole series on how to buy, make, or create your own agility obstacles for your dog to try. Here’s the link!
Trim your dog’s nails yourself
Of our life hacks for dog owners, we really think this is one of the best due to saving both time and money. Our nearest groomer is about 15 minutes away and $15 per pup, so saving 40 minutes per dog twice a month really adds up!
Depending on your dog’s level of comfort with this, it may take a while to get used to the trimmer. Here is our favorite. We’ve used this one for some years and haven’t had any issues, besides buying more pads (but they’re very affordable). Just remember to take the desensitization slowly to keep your dog comfortable and safe.
Before using this, we had multiple bad experiences with groomers hitting our dogs’ quicks. For us, it was a no-brainer.
Pet-proof your dog’s area
Admittedly, this is more of a preventative measure than more traditional life hacks for dog owners, but we still think it’s worth touching on. For example, getting a dog ramp so your pup won’t injure themselves by jumping off too tall of a surface can save you a lot of grief down the road.
Here’s an example of something we had to deal with. One of our pups, Prim, thinks that toads are the same as squeaky toys since a lot of the toys she likes have squeakers. One day, she mouthed a toad and started dry heaving and foaming at the mouth. I’m talking about what poisoning looks like in movies. So after calling the poison hotline and an emergency vet visit, we found out that she was fine and that the worst that can happen with toads in our area is a lot of GI upset, but nothing that leaves damage behind.
We didn’t want to deal with that again, so after some research, we were able to find ways to minimize or eliminate the possibility of that happening again (i.e. prevent toads in our yard).
Your issue may not be as large or traumatic, but it’s much easier and cheaper to get ahead of issues before they turn into larger ones. Something as simple as putting your shoes in a closet so your puppy doesn’t chew them or reducing your dog’s calorie intake can pay off later when you don’t have to deal with costly issues down the road. One of our favorites is using Petsmile dog toothpaste instead of paying the vet to clean our dogs’ teeth. Our dogs love it and it’s a lot less work and money!
An easy place to start is by dog-proofing your plants. You can shift any toxic plants so they are harder to reach for your pups to help prevent a bored pup from finding a new chew toy. If you want to go further, we have guides to help give you a place to start with dog-safe plants for your home, such as flowers safe for dogs, indoor plants that are dog-friendly, and outdoor plants safe for your pup.
Use vegetables as treats (if your dog likes them)
This may seem odd at first glance, but some of us with food-motivated dogs can feed our dogs healthy human snacks, like dog-safe vegetables and fruits.
For example, Prim is the definition of food motivated. She loses any concern for her well-being when chasing down even less desirable treats or kibble. As you can imagine, we have to watch her weight more than a normal pup. Enter vegetables. She loves vegetables and fruit (check to make sure whatever you’re feeding your dog is safe for them). Her favorites are bananas, apples, carrots, zucchini, and blueberries.
This works perfectly for us. All of these are extremely cheap and things we usually purchase for ourselves, which is what we’re going for with life hacks for dog owners. In limited quantities, they’ll be quite safe, generally low in calories, and useful for helping motivate your pup to learn a specific behavior.
Some dogs, like Goomba, are picky eaters. He only likes carrots from the list of Prim’s favorites. Every dog is different.
Using kibble for training & rewards
Similar to the vegetables/fruit option, if your dog is very food-motivated, you don’t have to use as many treats to reinforce behavior. Treats are typically more expensive, higher in calories, and can have worse ingredients than standard dog food.
For most of our training, we’ll use regular kibble to reinforce the new behavior. If one of our pups is having issues with a command, we may use a higher-value treat to help encourage the new behavior and then swap to lower-value ones or kibble as soon as we can.
Make your own dog bed
This is for the more craft-oriented types, but it’s easy to make your own dog bed! All you need is a foam mattress topper and some material to sew into a box shape.
It’s simple, even for me, and I am probably one of the least craft-inclined people out there.
What we did for ours was to pick a size (we did 28”x42” since we use them in our pups’ crates sometimes) and then choose to single or double-stack the foam material. If you want to make life a little easier, you can secure the double stack (we used some fabric adhesive) to help keep the two sections from moving.
The cover is just as easy. Take the same size you used for the bed and add the height plus 2” extra for the material. For our example it would be 34”x48” since our bed was 4” tall. Sew the edges. If you want to make the cover removable/washable, you can add a zipper or leave one side open (like a pillow case) for easy removal.
If you can make one or more beds from the mattress topper foam and snag some discounted yards of fabric, this option can be very cost-effective!
If you’re caring for a pup, there are plenty of life hacks for dog owners that are easy options for saving some money without sacrificing fun! Our personal favorites are agility and sniff work, which will help your dog be active and thinking.
We’d love to see or hear your favorite life hacks for dog owners! Share your photos of your dog trying them out with us on Instagram by tagging @therulybully.