Saturday, 24 December 2016

A Christmas Wish List from Your Dog

It's almost Christmas, and if you're like me, you enjoy shopping and getting presents for your dog(s).  The retail world knows this too, and there is no shortage of gifts marketed for your dog, from fancy collars to high-tech toys.  I like those types of gifts (just ask me how many collars my dog has!) but they are often more designed to appeal to the humans rather than the dogs themselves.  For this Christmas Eve, I'm going to offer you a list of low tech, mostly immaterial gift ideas that your dog will *really* appreciate.

1) Take a Class Together
Fun Scent Games is Fun!
It's true I'm a dog trainer, so this might seem a bit self serving, but classes can be really wonderful for your partnership with your dog.  I teach fun classes like Scent Games, but a basic obedience class can also be fun, providing you have a skilled teacher who uses positive reinforcement and is concerned for the dogs' mental wellness.  The bonus is that the homework will give you incentive to spend more time together at home!  And you don't have classes near or your dog isn't suitable for group classes, check out an online class, such as at the Fenzi Academy.

2) Fillable Chew Toys
There are many different kinds of these toys available now, but my main go-to is the classic Kong.  You can stuff almost anything your dog likes in a Kong, and you can make it easier or harder to un-stuff by how tightly you pack it and whether or not you freeze it.  Dogs need to chew, and with a freezer full of Kongs, you will keep them happy and keep your things safe.

3) Learn about Dog Body Language
You can get books on this subject, or you an access any one of a number of excellent internet resources on dog body language.  When you understand how your dog is feeling by observing their non-verbal communication, you can be a better guardian by either protecting them or protecting others by intervening as needed.  Most dogs already have an excellent understanding of human body language, so help the conversation be two-sided by listening to them too.

Do you know what these dogs are saying?

4) Invite Your Dog to Some "People Food"
I've written a blog on the idea of "people food" for dogs before, because I believe this is kind of a non-distinction.  All food is food for dogs and for people, it's up to us to teach our dogs manners around all kinds.  Dogs do have taste buds and they can find it really enjoyable to sample different types of dog-safe foods, from meat to veggies and fruit.  Offer up some new things to your dog here and there and let them tell you what their favorites are!
Photo by Creature Focus

5) Learn to Play

I love asking my students about games they engage in with their dogs because their faces light up as they describe the ways they play together.  Games with food and toys are excellent, but games you can play with nothing but the two of you are a special type of interaction.  Hide and seek, tag, chase and wrestling are all things that you can try.

6) Tell Your Dog "Thank You"
Pick a day and set aside a cup or so (depending on your dog's size) of small treats or kibble.  Throughout the day, every time you see your dog doing something good (inside or on a walk) offer them a small token of your appreciation.  As humans we tend to focus on what our dogs do wrong, but by setting a "thank you" goal, you'll soon start seeing more of what you like.

7) Be Present on Your Walks
A good present for your dog is your presence - not just physically but mentally.  I see many people walking their dogs but not paying attention to them, or they go to the dog park and ignore their dog while visiting with other people.  Dogs definitely need time to be a dog and socialize with other dogs without us butting in, but when you take your dog outside, it should be another opportunity for the two of you to interact and enjoy things together, not time for your dog to switch you off.  Explore with them, do some short training sessions, play with them, and provide them feedback for good behaviour.

8) Learn Some Tricks Together 
Many tricks are simple and easy to teach, but learning them together is fun and your dog will love the time spent with you!  If you're not sure how to get started, a quick google search will bring up many video tutorials, including some on using a clicker (my favorite way to teach tricks).  "Step Up" as Marlo is doing in the picture, is very simple but he loves it so much!  Tricks can also help shy or reactive dogs gain confidence (Marlo used to be very scared of the goats).

9) Work on Husbandry Skills
The veterinary, grooming and training worlds are realizing more and more how important it is to make medical and husbandry procedures as low stress as possible for our animals.  A huge number of dogs are stressed at the vet or for procedures such as nail trims.  Instead of the mindset that dogs should just be held down and forced to deal with it, many of us are now taking time to teach our dogs to be comfortable with and even enjoy such things.  Considering how vet care is an inevitable part of every dog's life, we owe it to them to help them cope.

Marlo likes to hang out
no matter what I'm doing ;) 
10) Just Hang Out Together
We sometimes worry that our dogs are bored, and try to fill every minute with activities, even if those activities are not with us.  However, just being with you is sometimes all your pup wants, especially as they get older and less active.  Snuggle on the couch while you watch TV or read (yes, it's OK for your dog to be on the couch), have a bed for them in the kitchen while you cook, hang out in the yard and enjoy some coffee, or take them for a car ride.  Having your dog with you even when your activities aren't dog-centered is good for bonding and for fulfilling your dog's need for social contact.

 Bonus Gift Ideas for Dog People!

What to get that dog person in your life who has anything?  Perhaps you could buy them a gift certificate for a class, online or in person.  Maybe you could pay for them to do a project, like get a Trick Dog Title through Do More With Your Dog.  What about baking them some healthy but delicious dog treats? (you can never have too many treats!) And of course if you're really stuck, a dog person can never have too many Kongs ;)

So what is Marlo getting for Christmas?  He's definitely a bit spoiled this year.  He's getting some new Kongs, and a book on trick training because he really loves that.  We're working on nail trims with an online class, and of course we spend a lot of time hanging out together at home.  What are your pups getting this year?

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