best holiday gifts for your dog

These 6 gifts don’t cost much and will last all year

  1. Time. I can almost guarantee that quality time spent with you is more precious to your dog than a new puff coat or a nail art kit or a bag of freeze-dried liver.  It is too easy to get caught up in our daily busy lives, and struggle just to take care of the basics like breakfast and a quick walk around the block. Rather than going out shopping or to the movies with the family, do something that involves your companion. Take a walk, play an extra-long game of fetch, stay in and watch a movie together. Dogs make excellent movie-buddies because they don’t care whether you watch a sappy chick-flick or a creepy psychological thriller or Transformers. 
  2. Attention. As we all know, it is possible to be with someone without really “being” with them, without being fully present. Like our children, our dogs need some of our undivided attention—some time each day when we simply stop trying to get stuff done or think about an unfinished work project or a sink full of dishes. Last Christmas we bought what I thought was a very nice present for our dog Bella who, being part border collie, is obsessed with chasing balls. We got her an automatic ball thrower. All you have to do is train your dog to drop a ball into a bucket, and voila: you have instant entertainment, without having to lift a finger. We imagined ourselves sitting in the hammock while Bella’s ball-robot kept her happy and occupied for hours on end. She likes the ball-robot okay, but only when we sit next to it and feed the balls. For Bella, throw-chase-retrieve is a two-person game, not solitaire. She wants to play with us. So, this holiday find a toy or game that provides an opportunity for interaction. Leave the cell phone or Ipod at home when you walk your dog—consider your walk together a joint adventure, not a chore.  
  3. Patience. This holiday, take a few moments to remember that the things our dogs do that we might find challenging or annoying or even hair-pullingly frustrating, are not their fault. They are doing their best to adapt to our environments, our schedules, our families. And God knows, we don’t make it easy for them. So if you find yourself getting impatient with your dog, take a couple of deep breaths and try to see things from their perspective. Behaviors that we label “bad” are usually matters of miscommunication—our dog may not understand what we want, or we may be asking for things that he or she cannot realistically achieve.  “Bad” behaviors can also be a manifestation of frustration, boredom, or anxiety—all of which are forms of suffering and should be addressed with the help of a veterinary behaviorist
  4. A veterinary appointment. I met a dog recently whose only veterinary visit during his entire life was his final euthanasia appointment. He had a large tumor in his mouth, which had metastasized throughout his body. This dog probably spent months if not years suffering from untreated pain in his mouth. And he is not alone. At least a quarter of dogs never see a vet in their lifetime—never once. And many more only see a vet when they are badly injured or are in the advanced stages of a serious disease. It would be far better for our dogs if we took the money we were going to spend on doggie sweaters, Thinkers treats, or new toys, and invested in a yearly checkup blank(and maybe even pet insurance). As with humans, preventive care is the best medicine. You might take your dog to the vet for a well-ness visit and spend $100 on “nothing”—the vet will tell you that your dog is perfectly healthy. Rather than thinking, “Dang, I just wasted a hundred bucks,” think of this as an investment in your dog’s total lifetime health. Annual check-ups once an animal becomes “geriatric” (which is around age 7 for an medium sized dog) are especially important. Regular visits, with blood work, can identify chronic and acute health problems early, when treatment is most effective. And many older dogs suffer from painful conditions like degenerative joint disease and need pain medications to keep them feeling comfortable.
  5. A healthy set of chompers. Brush your dog’s teeth as regularly as you can possibly manage. It will do wonders for their long-term health and happiness.
  6. Unconditional love. This is what we want from them. And it’s what they want in return. Plus, it’s free and in unlimited supply. 

Originally published on Psychology Today and republished here with the kind permission of the author, Jessica Pierce, Ph.D.

Author’s Books on Amazon

The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Livesblank

Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Petsblank

Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possibleblank

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Bioethicist and writer Jessica Pierce, Ph.D., is the author of Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets (Chicago, 2016) and The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the Ends of Their Lives (Chicago, 2012). Additional authored and co-authored books include Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (New World Library, release date of Feb. 6, 2019, with Marc Bekoff), The Animal's Agenda: Compassion and Coexistence in the Age of Humans (Beacon Press, 2017, with Marc Bekoff), Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals; Contemporary Bioethics: A Reader with Cases; The Ethics of Environmentally Responsible Health Care; and Morality Play: Case Studies in Ethics. Some of the questions she explores in her writings on death and dying in animals are: Do animals have death awareness? Why is euthanasia almost always considered the compassionate end point for our animals, but not for our human companions? Is there ever a good reason to euthanize a healthy dog? Why do people often grieve more deeply for their pets than they do for people?
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