A couple of years ago, our family made the collective decision to get a family dog. I wasn’t particularly sold on the idea, but my wife and all of our children clamored to have a dog at home, so I agreed.
During the process of finding a dog and the subsequent process of owning and caring for one, I learned quite a few things about both responsible dog ownership and frugal dog ownership and how to make the two overlap. The thing is, much like a child, you can sink a ton of money into a pet, but the truth is that most of that money isn’t all that necessary.
Here are nine key lessons I learned about balancing caring dog ownership and frugality.
Do some serious homework first. This is the first step and, in my opinion, it’s the most important step. Know what your needs are and why you’re getting a dog. Identify breeds that match your needs.
We decided early on that we wanted a low-allergen dog that didn’t shed and was friendly around older children (we weren’t concerned about issues with younger children). We also preferred a smaller dog for space-related reasons and to keep food costs relatively low.
This led us to identifying a number of breeds and mixes that would be ideal for our family and we used that as the basis before we even started looking for a dog. We knew what we wanted and we did homework to identify breeds that matched what we wanted.
Get a rescue dog. One big factor in our search was that we preferred to get a rescue dog from a situation that wouldn’t cause violent behavior. For example, many rescue dogs aren’t necessarily directly abused (which can cause violent behavior) but are simply neglected, which can sometimes simply mean that they may have minor attachment issues. Rescue dogs are also typically pretty inexpensive, which means that a rescue dog is not only a caring choice but a frugal one.
After a few months of contacting animal rescue services in our area and explaining what we were looking for, we were matched with a wonderful little Yorkie Maltese mix that checked all of our boxes. He’s small (so he doesn’t eat much), he was rescued from a situation where he was almost permanently kenneled but not abused, and he’s friendly and energetic with older children and adults who know how to interact well with him.
Choose a non-destructive dog and preferably one that’s already potty trained. One important option to consider is to choose a dog that’s relatively calm and doesn’t have destructive tendencies. A dog that routinely destroys shoes and furniture will be an expensive pet to keep around, so look into this before adding a dog to your family.
According to this survey, chihuahuas, dachshunds, boxers, dalmatians, and bulldogs are the most destructive breeds, whereas Staffordshire bull terriers, West Highland terriers, Yorkshire terriers, spaniels, and whippets are among the least destructive. We chose a Yorkie mix and it turns out that this is very true – he has damaged very little of our property over the past two years.
When you’re considering getting a dog, ask about the dog’s tendencies towards things like chewing up shoes and damaging furniture, as well as the status of their potty training. Having a dog that leaves shoes alone and is already trained will save you a ton of money and headaches.
Learn how to groom the dog yourself. Many people choose to simply take their dog to a pet groomer to have basic grooming services done, but most such tasks can be done at home in an environment that’s not only as low-stress as possible for your dog, but is also an environment that saves a lot of money for you. Note, of course, that dogs typically don’t enjoy grooming, but it keeps them healthy and smelling good.
You’ll want to look up the specifics of dog grooming for your breed, but some common dog grooming tasks include trimming claws, brushing teeth (particularly the fangs), cleaning ears, trimming hair, and bathing. None of these tasks are too difficult and they don’t require many tools, either. They just require some time with your dog.
Visit the vet annually and keep up with vaccinations and preventative medications. Think of this as being like getting an oil change for your car. If you skip the regular oil change for your car, things will be fine for a while, but your car will break down eventually and it will cost you far more money and angst than if you had just kept up with the maintenance schedule.
Get into the routine of scheduling an annual vet visit (ours is in October, close to our dog’s birthday). Get on board with the annual vaccinations for your dog and also follow your vet’s recommendation when it comes to preventative medicines. The cost of doing this is far less than the cost of caring for your pet should that pet be stricken with many common pet illnesses like kennel cough or heart worm.
Talk to your vet about dog food, but shop around. I’m not going to make specific recommendations about feeding your dog because the best choice varies greatly from breed to breed and even from individual dog to individual dog (depending on tooth health, food tolerances, and so on).
What I will say is that you should follow your vet’s suggestions regarding feeding and then take those suggestions and shop around carefully for dog food that matches what your vet suggests as closely as possible.
Remember: there are a lot of salespeople in the dog food industry who will use emotional tugs to try to get you to buy incredibly expensive foods. The more you learn and know from actual trusted sources (and not salespeople and anonymous folks on the internet), the better off you are.
Exchange pet sitting and pet walking. Pet sitting and pet walking can be a pretty significant cost for a pet owner, so if you can find neighbors or friends who are also pet owners who will share and divide those tasks with you, take advantage of it.
Talk to pet-owning friends about sharing pet care when you’re each on short (or even long) trips. This will keep the pet in the house of a trusted friend and save a great deal of money along the way.
The same is true for tasks like pet walking. If your friend works somewhat different hours than you, perhaps your friend can walk your dog once a day and you can walk your friend’s dog once a day, saving you both from hiring a pet walker or some other such service.
Make sure your dog gets lots of exercise. One of the best ways to ensure sustained health in your dog is to make sure he or she is getting plenty of exercise. Don’t leave your dog in a kennel constantly. Take your dog on plenty of walks and find places where he or she can run and get adequate exercise as often as possible.
This can be difficult in some situations, I know, but there are few things better for the long term health and happiness of your dog than opportunities to run free and get some real exercise. A dog kept inside all day might be a loyal companion, but for that dog’s best physical and mental health, some outdoor exercise is essential – and free.
Time is the most valuable ingredient. The most valuable thing you can give to your dog isn’t some amazing gourmet food or a spacious kennel or expensive dog grooming. It’s time. Time spent with your dog just cuddling or playing or petting or simply sitting together is incredibly beneficial for both of you, emotionally, physically, mentally, and otherwise. Do it often!
Not only that, such play will help you identify any issues with the health of your dog when such issues are minor and still treatable at a very low cost. If you play with your dog and spend a lot of time around him or her, you’ll naturally notice these little changes.
Even though I was very apprehensive about getting a dog, I’ve found Dexter to be a great little companion. He spends a lot of days when I’m working at home curled up at my feet. He’s always excited to go on a walk with me. He’s also great at alerting me when the kids are almost home, as he spies them getting off the bus and begins to emit this wonderful little yelp of joy because the true highlight of his day is romping with them when they first get home. I’m glad he joined our family, and thanks to these strategies, the financial impact has been much lower than expected.