Is it true that the best things in life are free? Your dog may think so. Here are a few of my favorite gifts for dogs, none of which cost owners a penny.
1. The gift of respect
Just because a dog may tolerate a child climbing all over her does not mean she has to. Along with the gift of respect comes the gift of protection: Dogs make us feel safe, but are we doing our jobs of protecting them and making them feel safe? Love should always be characterized by respect, and if we love our dogs, we owe it to them to treat them well — to learn how to read canine body language and intervene on their behalf, so that they never feel the need to defend themselves with teeth or growls.
This is also a gift to children. Teaching them to respect dogs is a gift that they will enjoy for life, and it is one that will keep them safe around not only your dog, but all dogs they encounter. Check out Doggone Safe for useful tips.
Along with respect should come freedom from violence. Dogs do not need to be smacked, jerked around on the leash, yelled at, or shocked to learn good behaviors. If we assume our dogs are always doing the best they can with what we have taught them, it takes the confrontation out of the training partnership and lets us move along toward improving behavior.
2. The gift of health
This gift may include things that do cost money (such as veterinary care and a high-quality diet), but it also includes exercise, which is free.
Take your dog for a walk, get her together with favorite doggy friends for play dates, run around in the yard together, go for a hike or a swim, throw a tennis ball around at the park — whatever it is that your dog needs and loves to feel healthy. One of the biggest causes of behavior problems is boredom. It’s a big culture clash to lie around in the living room for most of the day — especially for working breeds who were meant to work in close collaboration with their handler all day. Dogs need exercise — so give yours some!
3. The gift of individuality
The sooner you stop comparing your current dog to your previous perfect dog, the sooner you can start helping her be the best dog she can be.
Maybe your last dog was perfect off-leash in all environments and your new dog will chase deer, squirrels, and other dogs all day long. But there are probably things your current dog can do better than your previous dog, like interact with small children safely.
Dogs are unique individuals. In a class situation, the Lab who pulls on the leash may require more leash-manners training than the Pug, but it may take the Pug a lot longer to pick up a reliable retrieve behavior. Which one is a good dog? They both are.
4. The gift of play
Almost all dogs like to play. Generally, our definitions are limited when it comes to dogs — we think that if a dog doesn’t like to fetch or tug, he doesn’t like to play. But fetch and tug are only two types of play. Dogs may like to play with food-dispensing toys or games. They may like sports such as Nosework and Agility, or “chase me” recall games. Or they may simply want to play with other dogs.
Playing is good for the body and the soul. Find new ways to play with your dog — some of Mokie’s favorite “games” are lure coursing and sheep herding!
5. The gift of an education
When we invite dogs to share our homes and communities, we are welcoming them into a human-controlled world full of human rules that dogs don’t necessarily “get” without training. We owe it to dogs to teach them the skills they need to thrive in our society.
If you have a dog who just needs a little work on manners, you may not need a professional trainer. Check out the Dogmantics Dog Training videos on YouTube for dozens of great videos on subjects like “leave it” and leash manners.
If your dog has severe behavior problems like aggression or destructive separation anxiety, this gift is not free for you. Hire a fantastic trainer to teach you and your dog new coping skills. Behaviorist Katenna Jones‘ awesome new book, Fetching the Perfect Dog Trainer — Getting the Best for You and Your Dog, can guide you toward hiring the best trainer. Trust me, it’s an investment in sanity for you and your dog!
6. The gift of patience
Be patient with your dog. You may not learn quickly if I tried to teach you in foreign language, either. Puppies’ teeth-training can go a long way toward teaching them to be gentle with their mouths, but the truth is that it won’t keep them from mouthing your hands — they are puppies! Adolescents will blow off their recall, usually when you least expect it, so expect them to run of all the time! Mokie turned perfect, I think, when she hit five years old.
So, if you’re broke this year and can’t afford presents for the pups, don’t sweat it. Enjoy them, spend time with them, have fun together — your presence is so much more important than any presents you could possibly buy them.