15 Ways to Raise a Happy and Healthy Dog for Less

"Puppies free to good home!" 

These irresistible, hand-lettered signs decorate lamp posts and bulletin boards across America. But even a free dog can become expensive after you've paid for shots, dog food, veterinary care, dog grooming and all the rest. If such signs were honest, they'd read "Free puppy for sale, after you've paid for all the extras."

Still, who can resist such fuzzy little bundles of joy. There's a reason both little and big dogs are known as "man's best friend." That lifelong friendship is worth every penny: I just don't think you need spend every last penny to make sure your new puppy is healthy and happy. Read on for 15 lessons I've learned while raising my dogs that are the pride of their mother's eye.

1. Purchase From a Reputable Pet Rescue
Puppy mills are both expensive and unethical. Plus, reputable pet rescues offer a reduction in cost for spaying/neutering your pet. You'll either pay less or receive a rebate for the procedure. Ultimately, you're avoiding health complications and additional future costs if your pet decides it wants to have its own litter of puppies.

Potential Savings: Designer and purebred pups can run into the hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

2. Try Before You Buy
Before you sign any contracts, make sure you can return the puppy. The seller may guarantee their puppy is in good health but you should always check for yourself before guaranteeing you'll be able to raise this puppy.

Potential Savings: You could avoid paying high vet bills for a puppy with major health problems you can't afford.

3. Research a Dependable Vet
Talk to your friends, family and neighbors and research online to find a veterinarian you can trust. In my experience, you'll usually receive better discounts and value for your money by going to a smaller local vet with whom you can establish a one-on-one relationship. Set up an appointment immediately after purchasing your new puppy to "check under the hood" and get puppy shots. I have a great vet that's even willing to help me over the phone -- at no charge -- when one of my dogs has something they can easily diagnose. I've saved hundreds of dollars in emergency bills, thanks to this personalized care.

Potential Savings: A good vet can save you anywhere from $100s to $1,000s -- the same as with a human doctor.

Visit Petco

4. Visit Petco
Many Petco stores provide free coupon booklets for new owners of a rescued puppy. Just ask at the front desk for these booklets that offer great savings on food and total purchases for your puppies first few months.

5. Shop Online for Essentials
Sometimes that cute puppy face leads to impulse buying. Online merchants often offer great deals on necessities like collars, leashes, toys and even rawhides. Unless you purchased your puppy on impulse, I highly recommend buying these items in advance from an online store like Dogs.com.

Potential Savings: You can save about 20 percent on such items as collars, leashes and harnesses. Toys typically cost 20 percent to 40 percent less than what you typically see at brick-and-mortar stores.

6. Feed Them Quality Dog Food
Research the brand you're going to buy to ensure it's made of quality ingredients without fillers. A good rule is to avoid any pet food where meat is not the number-one ingredient, or that includes fillers like corn or soy. Feeding your pet quality dog food from stores like Pet Food Direct will help avoid expensive medical bills down the road and, in many cases, it costs the same or just a few dollars more.

Potential Savings: Once again, you can save expensive medical bills, this time up to the $10,000s (Yes, that does happen.) Your best friend also will enjoy a longer and happier life.

dog socalization

7. Use Free Socializing Resources.
This is more important for breeds that become more aggressive or protective as they age. But it doesn't hurt to accustom any dog to the presence of others. My local Camp Bow Wow has free puppy play afternoons each week, and the local Petsmart has the same service. Once your puppy has all of his shots, you can also take him to the dog park for free. Use these opportunities to socialize your puppy for free instead of paying for fancy puppy play groups. Also make sure to socalize your dog around humans that way they are okay when people walk up to pet them. This can be as easy as having a party while your dog is a puppy or spending a few mornings infront of the local starbucks.

Potential Savings: While free is good, proper socialization will also save you from dealing with dog fights and their complications. Paid socialization can cost anywhere from: $22 per day to $100s for private training.

8. Groom Their Nails and Teeth Yourself
I recommend setting aside one afternoon each week when your puppy is young to brush their teeth and clip their nails. As they grow older, experts recommend brushing their teeth daily. (I'll admit I still only brush my dogs once a week, but should really consider doing it more often.) It's not easy at first. Your little puppy will squirm all about or, in my case, will yelp with each nail you trim as if in great pain. (I promise it doesn't hurt.) Make sure you have on hand some "Quik-Stop which stops the bleeding immediately, before you start trimming to stop gushing, should you nick the wrong part of their nail. This won't hurt the dog but can lead to a rather large mess.

Potential savings: A professional $20 nail trim bi-weekly for 14 years = $7,280. A root canal can range from $500 to $1500 for the surgery alone, not factoring in lifestyle changes if your pup can't eat hard foods anymore, further surgeries if there are complications, etc.

small rawhides

9.  Stock Up On Small Rawhides.
I found a pack of 100 small rawhide bones for $10 shortly after purchasing my puppy. This investment prevented the destruction of my shoes, furniture and clothing because the rawhides redirected his chewing instinct. Granted, these ugly strips are somewhat annoying and can be embarrassing when guests come over, since I sprinkled them around each room for when the impulse would strike. But it's a small price to pay to avoid replacing much more expensive items during the teething and chewing phase. This also helps dogs develop the chewing instinct that maintains healthy teeth and gums as they grow older.

Potential Savings: Your savings will vary, depending on the cost of your furniture and clothing; anywhere from $20 to $5,000

10. Frequent Baths and Brushing
The scheduling of such grooming will depend on the breed, your allergies and how dirty your dog will get. Developing this habit early will avoid costly grooming appointments in the future. There's nothing like realizing your paying $50 per month for the rest of your dog's 14-year life to grooming Lil' Fido because you were too lazy to teach him some manners early on.

Potential Savings: We will conservatively guess $50/mo for 14 years: $8,400 (some breeds will require more frequent appointments than this or will cost more to groom)

11. Crate Training
You can look up the basics to crate training online, but essentially dogs' pet carriers should become their "happy home." Put your dog in her crate with toys, a comfortable bed or cushion every night and whenever you leave. Your dog's natural tendency will be to avoid having an "accident" in its crate, which will assist you in potty training.

Also, as they get older, your dog will look to their crate as a safe harbor. One of my dogs runs to her "house" whenever she's gotten sick of the two younger dogs in the house to have some much needed down time. (She's even learned how to lock and unlock the kennel!)

Crate training also alleviates the stress of leaving your new puppy or dog alone at home for long periods of time. They'll be happy hanging out until you return in their secure home with a toy and water (essential if you will be gone for long); and you can leave with peace of mind that your buddy won't tear apart the house while you're gone.

Potential Savings: Damages while you are out and potty training can run from $1 to $1,000s of dollars.

Dog on a walk

12. Exercise Your Dog Regularly
Regular exercise is obvious to some and extremely odd to others. The assumption can be: Well my dog likes to lay around all day so I don't need to walk him. This is wrong. All dogs need exercise and activities. Some dogs, like Australian Shepherds, need it even more than others.

Get into the routine of walking your dog each day for at least a mile or more; or play ball in the yard for a half hour. Such exercise will greatly improve its quality of life. You'll get exercise for yourself while bonding with your furry friend and helping it avoid potential health concerns from being lazy, overweight, unhappy and bored.

Potential Savings: Conservatively we'll guess a dog walker seven-times per week for 14 years at $20 week would cost $14,560. Add on overweight dog bills (due to extra stress on joints) for potentially  $100s to $1,000s. Finally, you're looking at several $100s to $1,000s for miscellaneous other vet bills (like from the dog chewing on itself out of boredom).

13. Pick Up The Poop
This one isn't as important if you have your own yard, but it's important for those of us who frequently walk our dogs. It feels like police roam our neighborhood frequently with the sole purpose of catching those of us who forget our doggy pick up bag at home. These fines are hefty and can add up. I recommend purchasing one of the slightly tacky doggy-bag holders that attach to a leash and loading it up with some left over grocery bags. You'll find these at pet shops like Pet Mountain and, because they attach to leashes, you'll always have it with you.

Potential Savings: You're looking at a police fine of $300, or there about, depending on where you live.

14. Keep Down the Noise Level
I'm currently unlucky enough to be living in an apartment with very thin walls. Since I just adopted a puppy, While for months I've been annoyed by my neighbor's booming bass, it turns out they can just as easily hear my lil' guy barking as he plays in the apartment. Fortunately, I learned of this behavior early on and trained him not to bark; but just in case we invested in a bark collar for when he's home alone. Now that my little one is 8-months old, the collar's batteries have long since worn out, but he still doesn't bark for fear of being shocked. I have friends who've been forced to leave their apartment -- and pay hefty fees for breaking a rental contract -- due to noise violations from their dog. A bark collar is a small price to pay in comparison.

Potential Savings: A place to live: priceless. But noise violations range anywhere from $50 to $500.


Dog with tennis ball

15. Look for Free Toys
Not all dogs like toys you can easily find when you're out and about, but such freebies can be a great cost saver. One of my childhood dogs LOVED tennis balls more than anything in the world. It's easy enough to walk by your local tennis court and pick up some of the balls that have flown off the courts. One note: Make sure these balls truly have been abandoned. Many dogs also enjoy chewing on sticks as much as a good rawhide. When your hiking or on a walk, pick up a few good-sized sticks to entertain your dog at home. I'd suggest you only let your dog chew on these tasty morsels outside. My experience has taught me the clean up can be quite a pain!

Potential Savings: Tennis Balls are around $2 for three balls, so about $336 if you bought one can per month for 14 years. Rawhide bones prices vary greatly, but range from $3 to $20 dollars per bone, as opposed to $0 per stick.

What other ways have you saved money raising your dog?

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