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The Greatest Presents in Life are Free


I know–it’s late to be talking about gifts for pets and pet lovers the week before Christmas. But the adventure of life never ceases to remind us that plans are just that. Plans. Which have to be changed when life interrupts our carefully-constructed calendars.

I love the holidays, now that I’ve decided to focus on doing things that were loving, fun and kind, (including to myself). Most of what I purchase for Christmas presents are books for young people; I give home made food and a few beautiful things to adults. But what about our pets? What does Larry the Labrador want? Simon the Siamese? Skip and Maggie would like a 400 acre farm with more sheep and a much bigger field in which to work. Regrettably, Santa’s pockets are not deep enough to even dream of such a thing, and I know I’m not alone in there being a disconnect between dreams and reality.

That’s why I thought it would be fun for us to brainstorm what we can “gift” our dogs/cats/etc without spending any money. Money is tight for many, and material things cost a lot beyond the purchase price (manufacturing, shipping, etc.). Then, of course, there are the now infamous supply chain delays. (One of my local pet stores, Mounds, had shelves so bare I thought they were going out of business. Nope, just supply train troubles.)

So what can we do for our dogs and cats without spending any money? Lots. Here are some ideas, I’d love to hear yours:

A LONG WALK IN NEW PLACE:  Dogs are essentially predators who evolved to move over large areas and discover what’s over the next rise. New is fun for predators–who knows what you will find? It doesn’t matter how many activities you do with your dog; going on a walk in a new place can’t be replaced for mental as well as physical exercise. Yesterday Jim and I took the dogs on a walk in an area we rarely go, and even though they were on leash, they loved it. For that matter, so did we. Boredom is the killer of joy, discovery is a portal to it. (This, of course, doesn’t apply to shy dogs or dogs who are truly frightened of new places. For those dogs, the gift is accepting that, and settling for a routine that makes them comfortable.)

Here are Skip and Maggie on a trail we rarely use in Blue Mounds Park:

TAKING AWAY ACCESS TO TOYS FOR AWHILE: Everything that is routine loses some of its sparkle over time. We all know this from our own experience: The shower that felt amazing after camping for a few days. The comfy bed you thought little about until you slept in a bad one on vacation. I see no reason why dogs can’t habituate to pleasure as can humans, so it might be worth thinking about only leaving some toys out and keeping others back, then switching every month or so. That toy you bought six months ago will feel “new” if Sassy hasn’t seen it in months.

A MASSAGE: Almost all dogs love a good massage, especially if given mindfully. Just plain old petting is nice, but it’s a far cry from a carefully done massage. Chewy has a short video with a few different techniques that is worth a look (but wait, really, lighting a candle? Please don’t give you dog a chance to burn your house down if she jumps up and runs into the flame.) In my experience most dogs like long, slow stroking best, always with a lighter touch than you would use on a person. There are lots of websites that have ideas about massaging your dog, here’s one from PetMD with a variety of techniques. My own dogs adore having the area between their eyes stroked up toward their forehead, as well as continuous, slow stroking on the sides of their head, and on either side of their backbone. If you’re really into it, check out the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork. There’s obviously a lot more to therapeutic massage than I can mention here, but it’s a great subject to learn more about.  And, hey, it’s good for us too, right? (If there are any massage therapists reading this, please jump in here! If I got something wrong, let us know, or add other ideas; we’d love to hear them.)

Here’s Maggie after a brief massage. I think she found it relaxing. What do you think?

TEACH A NEW TRICK: Why not give your dog or cat the gift of a new trick to perform? Tricks are fun for all of us, in part because there is none of the judgement and stress if they don’t perform them. Aunt Polly may be invested in your dog learning “four on the floor” when she comes to visit, but if Sassy doesn’t “look sad” on cue, who cares? All you need are some really good treats (as defined by your dog), and an idea of what you want your dog to do. Need some ideas: I love the Kikkopup videos, which has some some great trick training videos for free on line.

SAVING SCRAPS You don’t have to buy food scraps, they just happen, unless you are Maggie and would eat the bowl your food comes in if you could. Of course, what scraps to avoid is important. No chocolate, onions/garlic, avocados, foods with xylitol, (some peanut butters, gum, candy, etc.), grapes and raisins, or foods with caffeine. (See here for a list from the AVMA.) That said, there is sooo much that dogs can eat, and love to do so. Our dogs get lots of meat scraps (not too much fat ever at one time please), potatoes, cooked green beans, broccoli, carrots, and on and on.

Here’s some turkey soup I made last weekend, after Jim stashed the turkey and bones in the freezer for me while I was in San Antonio. I show this because after I boiled the bones for the stock, I let the pile of bones cool and pulled off the remaining pieces of meat. (I’d cut up the best turkey meat to add to our soup later after all the stock and veggies were done.) All those meat scraps are now in a bowl for our pets, who get it as part of their dinners and as training treats. Granted this took time to do, and some of us don’t have it, but it if you do, scraps like this are gold for dogs. They beat a new tennis ball or stuffed toy every time. And the soup wasn’t bad either.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: I think our dogs are sometimes exhausted by how much we talk to them. I say this as someone who is sound sensitive herself, and who has famously sound sensitive Border Collies. But think about how tiring it must be to try to figure out what your human is saying, especially when they use synonyms, change their tone, and use words inconsistently. (Not that I would ever do anything like that myself.) How about deciding to say as little as possible for an entire day for your dog? (Emergencies excepted, of course!) Try it, I suspect you’ll find it interesting at worst, and at best, it’ll teach you a lot about your dog and how you can communicate more effectively. Now that’s a gift worth keeping.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? I’d love to hear your “no cost” ideas about ways that you gift your own dogs. I’m sure you’ll add to my dog’s gift list and they will be happier for it.

If you’d like to read more about Christmas gifts for dogs and dog lovers, you can go back to a post from 2015, HOLIDAYS SCHMALIDAYS, which includes gift ideas for dog lovers and my favorite recipe for dog treats. I wrote another post last year, GIFTS FOR ALL OF US, that has some more ideas. (And the same recipe! Ha, do I like to cook or what?).

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I’m back from Texas. It is heaven to be here, and was hell to leave my sister (who, fyi, had two huge surgeries one and two weeks ago, if you didn’t catch last week’s post). Thank you for all your kindnesses, it means a lot. She is on a very long road of recovery, but is a warrior with incredible spirit.

I thought you’d get a kick out of this photo I took of Jim and Maggie yesterday. The dogs get no treats from us ever while we’re eating. No exceptions. Except, uh, for popcorn. I have no idea why we made it an exception; perhaps because eating popcorn is a family event? What I love about this photo is Maggie’s paws on Jim’s leg. “Do. Not. Forget. I. Am. Here.”

Here’s another photo to smile about. It was taken a second after the one up above under “walk in new places,” and it’s pretty clear what the message is from Skip. “Yo. What’s the hold up? Can we get moving please?”

Here’s the lovely Maggie on another walk, underneath a great sky. Skip has returned back to me and is yet again wondering why I’m standing still. Patience, Skippy, patience.

That’s it for photos for this week, still spending a lot of time on life’s unplanned adventures. I hope your adventures this week are good ones, and remember, all you anyone really wants from you is your attention and your love. Unless you’re Maggie. And you have turkey.

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