How I threw my dog a wag-worthy birthday party

Dog in bowtie with birthday hat askew on chin

In the past year or so, I went from being a person deeply afraid of dogs to someone who takes three dogs out to do their business twice a day — to be fair, I *did* get chased down by two unleashed geriatric pugs at Golden Gate Park in college! Now, I celebrate overexcited pups by throwing them birthday parties (and occasionally yielding to them using my poor arm as a teething stick). 

Brown dog in birthday hat lying down
A happy birthday girl.

Anyway, my main girl Luna turned one. Well, this is my approximation of her first birthday anyway, because we don’t actually know when her birthday is. Being the Leo rising that I am, I went all out with the decor and snacks and gifts so that she and her brothers (the spoiled rotten shih tzus Benji and Coco) could have a woofin’ good time celebrating her birthday.

Dogs cuddling in dog bed
Cuddle time with Benji.

I kept a loose budget so as to not be too ruff on my wallet, and everything was affordable because I scoured my local DD’s Discounts, Dollar Tree, Target, Ross, and TJ Maxx! With the exception of Target, the inventory at these spots is always rotating, but you can generally find cute, celebratory dog merch virtually any time of year. And by the end of the season or quarter, you can usually find stuff in the clearance section as well.  

If you’re a frugal girlie like yours truly, here’s a breakdown of how I put together this fun birthday bash. I promise I’ll be completely honest with the misses…because there were definitely some misses!

Luna's birthday corner
Downward dog but make it with a mountain of dog toys.

Dog birthday party decor  

First and foremost, you’ve got to have the pawty favors. (No, I will NOT stop with the puns.) Basically, I ordered a dog birthday starter kit from a third party seller on Walmart, and while I’m not going to go to bat for Walmart, the quality was better than expected. That said, you could probably DIY the whole thing or order something similar from another retailer like Chewy. The particular kit I got included a conical hat, bandana, and bow tie—in addition to a cute “Happy Birthday” banner that we stuck to the doggy gate. Since the dogs are all roughly the same size, it’ll probably be easy to recycle this set down the road.

Balloon sticks next to yellow gift baggies
I appreciate that the stickers I had on hand kind of look like the shih tzus! (Even though, uh, these are *not* shih tzus.) 

To foritify the birthday mood, I got reinforcements from Dollar Tree, which is party supplies heaven, TBH. I really could have gone all out, but I stayed relatively conservative with two balloon sticks and a “one” balloon

Brown shih tzu and black shih tzu biting ice cream sandwich that says "yum"

Dollar Tree was also an excellent stop for forming my little doggie bag creations. I picked up a set of yellow kraft paper bags to put in small gifts for Benji and Coco. In retrospect, I’d probably get reusable fabric bags or just use the bags we already had at home. They are cute, though, and definitely reusable in their own right. 

Brown shih tzu eating donut dog toy

Coco’s a regular Dale Cooper.

Onto the contents: I found two tough squeaky balls and two squeaky dessert vinyl toys that I stuffed inside the baggies. To be frank, Dollar Tree dog toys aren’t  the best quality for super chewers (like Luna), but you occasionally find small-pup appropriate goodies in the mix. Benji and Coco have teeth the size of rice grains, so this worked out fine for them.

Dog birthday treats
Human taste tested.

Dog birthday treats

For a howlin’ good dog party, you gotta have treats. Again, in retrospect, I probably should have opted for the treats the pooches already knew and loved. I bought special birthday doggie treats from Petco (Bocce’s Bakery) and Target (Molly’s Bakery). We have dogs with special dietary needs, so the birthday-themed treats (esp. the frosted ones with wheat) didn’t work for the whole dog fam. To get into the deets, Benji had an explosive diarrhea phase when he first came home, and I’d rather not revisit that era. (This is not a vet-sanctioned recommendation, so please contact your vet if you have any dietary concerns.)

The treats were very cute and festive, but that’s probably the extent to which I can hype ‘em up. Ultimately, the Bocce Bakery treats and Target cookies were a bit too hard for our small pups to chew unless we really broke them up. I ended up spending about $10 or so on treats, so I wasn’t too devastated that they didn’t quite meet my expectations.

Do not try this at home but…I actually ended up eating some of the birthday cake Molly’s Bakery Target dog treat — which tasted like vaguely cinnamony cardboard with really tasty sweet icing. The wheat-free Bocce’s Bakery birthday treats were just cardboardy, but all the pups have enjoyed them so far, as long as I break them up finely anyway. They dogs actually enjoy soft PB & Bacon Bocce’s Bakery treats during their routine snack time!

Luna lying next to a pile of dog toys
I went overboard.

Dog birthday gifts

With Luna being my first dog and all, I went bonkers with the gift giving (one of my stronger love languages, unfortunately), and thankfully, the discount spots always have the CUTEST assortment of dog toys for great prices. For the sake of my ego, I am going to pretend that Luna will not chew everything up to shreds. 

From DD’s Discount, I got her:

  • A dog bed with a cute floral motif and pillow
  • A daschund/beagle dog with a pumpkin beret and body 
  • A set of roses with three squeakers, a krinkle bouquet, and tug rope stems

The last two are unbranded and don’t have shells that feel as tough as your typical GoDog or Zippy Paws toys, so I’m a bit wary of how long they’ll last. 

From Dollar Tree:

  • A very cute dog puzzle toy (which ended up being acquired by Benji)

Of all the dog toys to buy at Dollar Tree, I’d recommend their puzzle toys for stuffing in treats. The plastic isn’t as tough as something you’d find at PetSmart, but the intricate detailing does make it a great deal for $1.25. 

From TJ Maxx:

  • A purple latex piggie by Multipet (also acquired by Benji)
  • A pumpkin spice latte with a krinkle cup and squeaker

These were hands down my favorite! I also think they’ll last a little longer, as I paid more money for higher quality.

From Ross: 

  • A Zippy Paws banana (which Luna has used to repeatedly whack me)
  • A Zippy Paws pizza slice 

Zippy Paws toys always fall in the middle of the road for us in terms of longevity, but these were too cute to pass. 

From Target:

The only cake I’d recommend, TBH.

Everything went inside of two bags: an upcycled Tigger birthday bag and a dachshund birthday bag from Dollar Tree!

Anyway, you definitely do *not* have to go overboard like me to show your pups a good time! Point is, you can source down pretty cute dog accessories without breaking the bank, and you can probably even just jazz up what you already have at home. (I’m a little embarassed by this baldfaced display of overconsumption.) It’s really all about making your furbaby feel loved on their special day, and that ultimately boils down to spending time with them. I can’t wait to find another excuse to celebrate my pups — the anniversary of Luna’s first day home is coming up…

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