Happy New Year everyone! I'm sure that many of you, like myself, have some canine-related resolutions on the agenda for the year ahead. For me, one of these is getting back to the habit of daily decompression walks (weather permitting). If you aren't familiar with decompression walks, no one has said it better than Jenny Efimova of DogMinded, so head on over to her blog post on the topic to learn more.
Daily decompression walks are relatively easy for me to implement. I just hitch up my dog on her long line and head to the woods near where we live for a 20-30 minute jaunt. She gets to sniff as much as she pleases and I get some much needed nature time. While these walks are my only directly dog related resolution for 2022, there's something else on my list that impacts my training endeavors to some degree. That something is my decision to finally undertake Cait Flanders' "Year of Less" challenge, translation: going on a yearlong shopping ban!
Don't worry, I'll still be buying all the essentials, but my extraneous and impulse purchases are going on hiatus for the year. Admittedly, a lot of those purchases are dog training related: toys, gear, webinars, online classes, the list goes on and on. In the name of making do with what I have (which is more than plenty) and saving some money along the way, I'll only be spending money on the basics this year - mainly food, training and dental treats, and medical expenses. This is with the exception of a special treat and toy for my dog's 13th birthday in November, as a trip to the locally owned doggie boutique, Dandy Canine, is a tradition at this point.
The main reason I'm checking in with you today is that if you're looking to scale back a bit on your training gear budget this year, without doing a full blown challenge, I have a few budget friendly ideas to share!
#1 - Replace ready-made lick-sticks with the DIY at-home variety
While ready-made lick-sticks have the advantage of zero prep time, they can make a dent in your bank account, especially if you use them often. In the past I have tried using camping tubes for this purpose, but found them to be a bit cumbersome. The main issue being that the dogs had a difficult time accessing the food inside unless I was actively squeezing out the contents - meaning I was less concentrated on what it was we were working on. Fast forward to August 2021 when I was introduced to using empty twist-up deodorant containers as DIY lick-sticks. Little did I know that there are people out there that concoct their own deodorant at home and then fill up these twist-up tubes with the mixture they've created. Instead, I advocate for filling these tubes with dog-safe peanut butter or wet dog food, then sticking them in the freezer to use at a later date for training. They can be easily carried with you on walks or used when training duration behaviors at home. I find them especially handy for working with leash reactive dogs, as the flow of food is constant.
#2 - Substitute canine specific platforms for cinder blocks
Traditional plastic platforms are cute, light-weight, and often come in a variety of colors. However, they are generally not easy on the wallet, especially if you find yourself in need of multiple, such as when doing fitness training with your dog. Cinder blocks may not be cute or lightweight, but they can easily be stacked and moved around to fit your needs. At a few dollars a piece they are also a great substitute to use while you are saving up to buy something more portable. If you are worried about the texture being harsh on your dog's paw pads, use cut up pieces of a yoga mat to drape over or adhere to the blocks. For the price, you can buy a whole doggie gym's worth of platforms for less than twenty dollars. If you're looking for a shorter platform or something for your small dog, you may want to try kneeling pads for gardening or an adjustable aerobic step-up.
#3 - For balance work, opt for human equipment instead of dog specific accessories
Continuing with the theme of canine fitness, it's also possible to break the bank on brands that market specifically to dog owners. It seems we generally end up paying extra for the dog on the box! When it comes to inflatable equipment that comes in contact with nails, it is important to get the thickest material possible, so be sure to scope out all of your options. Some balance peanuts are even made to be used by both people and dogs, saving you money by way of being a multi-purpose item.
Dog training on a budget is all about being creative, shopping around, and talking to other dog lovers, guardians, and trainers in your area to find out what sort of equipment they use. To keep the conversation going, please let us know in the comments below what sort of gear substitutes you've found to be helpful (and thrifty) over the years!