This summer, my Jack Russell Terrier, Jake, turned 13, which is 68 in dog years. Usually, I give my pets a special meal to commemorate their birthdays, but this year was different. It’s not everyday that a pup enters his teen years. So, I decided to throw him a birthday party.
Pets are family and, like the rest of our families, deserve to be celebrated. Some people may still balk at the idea of a birthday party for a dog, calling it excessive or strange, but it is becoming more common. T-pain even wrote a song about it, but your dog’s party doesn’t have to be as elaborate as his.
Picking the Right Kind of Birthday Party
The Guest List
Jake enjoying his birthday guests.
Consider your dog’s temperament. Are they a social butterfly? Do they hide under the bed when you have company over? Do they like other dogs? Some dogs thrive on being around people and other dogs. This type of dog may prefer to have a birthday party with their human and animal friends. Shyer dogs may enjoy a quiet celebration with just you.
As exciting as it may be to invite all of your friends and their dogs over, keep in mind that the party is for your dog’s birthday. If your dog is not comfortable with everyone who attends, they will not enjoy their party.
Since Jake does not play well with other dogs, he was the only dog to attend his birthday party. Jake is not a fan of crowds, but likes for there to be plenty of hands ready to rub his belly at any given time. So, I only invited my parents, boyfriend and two friends who he had previously met and was comfortable with.
The Activities and Venue
I rented a private dog park at Sandy Creek Park for Jake, since he does not play well with other dogs. It sounds expensive, but the park only charged me a dollar per dog per hour. So, his birthday party venue cost me a dollar. He enjoyed having free range to sniff every inch of the fenced-in park without his leash holding him back. He is still able to run much faster than me and likes to do so when he gets excited. I also brought his squeaky ball so we could play fetch.
Jake exploring his birthday party venue.
It is important to consider what your dog likes when you decide which kind of birthday party to have, as well as the weather. Keep an eye on your local forecast to make sure that your party won’t be rained out. If your dog has a summer or winter birthday, it may be better to have the party indoors.
–For the ball obsessed: You can make a ball pit by filling a cardboard box with different kinds of balls and using a box-cutter to cut out an entrance. Make sure that none of the balls are choking hazards for any of your doggie guests. A plastic kiddie pool can also be used to make the pit.
A fetch party is another good option. It can be a simple one-on-one session in your backyard or favorite park. You could spice it up by letting human guests take turns throwing the ball or letting multiple dogs chase the ball and race for it.
A flyball lesson is another fun activity for a ball-loving dog, especially if your dog is competitive, but gets along well with other dogs. Dogs compete in teams of four. They take turns jumping over hurdles, triggering the flyball box to release a tennis ball and returning with the ball. Many dog trainers offer flyball lessons.
–For the water-lover: Some cities have doggie daycares with pools where your dog can swim and socialize. If your city does not have this option, you can always take your pup to a lake or stream. A dog beach is another good choice, if you live near one. You can also buy a kiddie pool or sprinkler and have the birthday party in your backyard.
A more relaxed water-loving dog may like floating in a pool or down a river on a dog-friendly float, rather than playing in the water. Some dogs may enjoy a boat ride, as well.
–For the couch potato: Some dogs, like some people, are homebodies. These dogs deserve to be celebrated, too. More laid-back dogs may enjoy a movie night. You can buy access to a channel that is designed for dogs with your cable subscription or find some content designed for dogs on Youtube. Some popular Youtube Channels include DOG TV and Relax my Dog.
You can also just choose a movie or show with animals in it. Jake loves to watch Dogs 101, the Beethoven series and any Western that features horses. He barks at the animals on the tv and sometimes even brings his toys to the screen to share.
If your dog likes being groomed, consider a spa day. You can take them to a doggie spa, or do the treatments at home. Some ideas for an at-home spa day include a bath, a doggie massage, a doggie facial and a pawdicure. A pawdicure is a doggie pedicure offered by many groomers. It can consist of a nail trim, moisturizing paw pad treatment, polishing your dog’s nails and whatever else you want to add. This idea is only suitable for dogs who enjoy being groomed, though.
–For the athlete: Try out a new sport with your dog. You can take them to a local trainer to try out different sports or you can set up an area in your backyard.
TIP: Bring a cloth and some water. If one of the dogs gets too hot, douse the cloth in water and rub it on the dog. The water will evaporate and cool them down.
-For the hunter: Take your dog on a special hunting trip. If it is not the right season for it, take your dog lure coursing or scent-finding.
–For almost any dog: Try a walk in your local park. Most dogs enjoy fresh air and experiencing new smells. Bonus points if it’s a park you have never been to before.
You can also try a new dog enrichment puzzle to get your dog moving and thinking. There are plenty of store-bought and DIY options for every experience level.
A car ride is another exciting birthday party idea. This is especially ideal for dogs who do not want a large celebration with other dogs and people. You don’t have to go far. If you have a doggie drive-thru nearby, such as Bane and Vader’s, you can pick up some takeout for your pup. Jake and I like going to Chick-Fil-A and he gets a plain, grilled chicken breast. It might also be fun to stop by a drive-thru car wash and let your dog watch all of the colored soaps make patterns on the windshield.
These ideas can also be combined to cater to your unique pup. For example, you could have a fetch party in the pool or try an enrichment puzzle during movie commercials. Make sure to make reservations, if necessary.
One of Jake’s gifts was a new puzzle to add another activity to the celebration.
Feed Your Fiesta
It’s not a birthday party without a special treat! The options are limitless.
Dog-friendly ice cream and ice cream substitutes: You can purchase dog-friendly ice cream for your dog in your local grocery store’s frozen department. If you’re feeling fancy, you can find local businesses that sells dog-friendly frozen treats. Jake and I love going to Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Pelican’s SnoBalls for a pup cup after a walk in the park.
You can also make your own healthy dog-and-people-safe ice cream by freezing bananas, breaking them into chunks and blending them until smooth. If making your own is appealing, but you don’t want to deal with making it, you can buy an ice cream mix. For the mix, you just add water, mix it up and put it in the freezer.
Birthday Pupcakes: The internet is littered with recipes for dog-friendly cakes and cupcakes. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just purchase a boxed dog cake mix online or at your local pet store. Not a baker? Many pet stores have pre-made treats that are decorated for birthdays. Some cities even have special bakeries for dogs, where you can have a custom cake made.
Treats: If you want to keep it simple and make sure your dog will eat the food you choose, just buy a bag of their favorite treats. You can also make your dog some homemade treats or buy a mix. Again, there are options galore.
If your dog prefers meaty flavors, you can buy their favorite dog-friendly jerky or make some from scratch.
TIP: You may want to choose snacks and sweets that are safe for both dogs and humans if you are inviting human guests. That way, you will not have to provide separate food.
I made cheese pupcakes with no icing from scratch for Jake’s birthday. I used a mini-cupcake tin since he is a small dog and still broke them into little pieces for him. Keep in mind that, if you are making your treats from scratch, they will go bad faster. Jake’s pupcakes only lasted a few days after the birthday party. If you are having a small party, like we did, you may want to cut the recipe in half or freeze some of the pupcakes for later.
Jake getting ready to dig into his cheese pupcakes.
Whatever treat you choose, make sure that your dog has had a chance to try it before the birthday celebration. Most dogs can eat all of the things I listed above with no problem, but the dog ice cream that our local grocery store sells, as well as regular ice cream, makes Jake sick. I know plenty of dogs who have no problem with it, but Jake is an older dog with a sensitive stomach. Every dog is a little different and your dog will enjoy their special day a lot more if they do not have a bad reaction to the food.
It is also important to be wary of recipes that you find online. Make sure it is from a reliable source or run the ingredients by your vet before you make it. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about what is and isn’t safe for dogs to eat. Some commercially-sold treats even include unsafe ingredients, like garlic. I always read the ingredients before purchasing a new treat for Jake.
TIP: Make sure to have cold water on hand to keep your pup and their guests hydrated! Bring bowls for the dogs or cups that they can stick their heads in to get some water. Jake loved drinking out of the party cups we bought.
Traditions that Fit
Those cute photos floating around online of dogs reacting to birthday candles or songs may make you want to add these traditional elements to your dog’s birthday party without considering how your dog might feel about them. Doing so can be very dangerous. For example if your dog scarfs down anything remotely edible that is put in front of them, lighting candles on their food may not be the best idea. If having all of their guests surrounding their food is likely to make your dog bite, it’s better to leave that tradition out. Some dogs may be afraid of fire or hate singing. Remember, it’s their day.
I held Jake while we sang “Happy Birthday” to him and I helped him blow out the candles. He behaves well when I hold him and is used to being sang to, so he did just fine.
If your dog is likely to dislike your favorite birthday traditions, that doesn’t mean that you can’t adapt them or come up with your own ways to make the day special. You could use candles without lighting them, if the fire frightens your dog, or sing “Happy Birthday” before the treat comes out if your dog guards its food.
Present the Presents
I intended for the party to be Jake’s birthday gift, but changed my mind when I got to the store. If you do choose to give your dog presents, it is fun to let your dog unwrap them. Remove the gift from any packaging. Take the tags off. Put the gifts in a bag. I don’t recommend using tissue paper or wrapping paper because some dogs may eat the paper. Using a bag also makes it easier for your dog to unwrap.
Jake opening one of his presents.
When it’s time to unwrap presents, sit on the floor with your dog. Show them the bag. Some dogs will naturally stick their head in and pull the present out, especially if it is a toy or bag of treats. If you went with something that is less obvious, like a puzzle or collar, put some treats in the bag with it to encourage your dog to look in the bag. Don’t get discouraged if your dog does not want to open their presents in front of their guests. It took Jake several holidays before he got the hang of opening his own gifts.
The nice thing about having a dog birthday party is that it requires less supplies than a human child’s birthday party. Dogs don’t need party hats. In fact, most things are optional. You can spend as little or as much as you want on the party. The key to sticking with only the necessary items is remembering that this day is about your dog and dogs are pretty easy to please. Sure, a photo booth may be fun for you, but does taking photos with fake mustaches make your dog happy? Some supplies, such as balloons and noise-makers, may even scare your canine guests, so it’s better to leave those items out.
Below is the supply list I made for Jake’s birthday party. I bought some of the things and others I already owned.
Pupcakes made from items I already had handy
Cupcakes for the human guests
Plates, cups, birthday candles and napkins
Dog tag for Jake’s present from me
Jug of water and a 2-liter of Sprite
A bag of ice and a mini-cooler
Candy and “Save our pets” emergency stickers for party favors
Squeaky ball for chasing
Prices will vary based on where you live and how much of each thing you need, but I spent about $30. The list of items and the total cost will also vary based on what kind of birthday party you choose to have.
If you are overwhelmed by the idea of making your own list, you can buy dog birthday party kits.
Even though I initially felt silly for throwing Jake a birthday party, I am glad I did. We created a beloved memory with our family and friends. Given the amount of fun we had, I think it was well-worth what I paid for it and the birthday party fit Jake’s preferences well.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.