Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Is your dog ready for the holidays?
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I spent the holidays with my in-laws, and we brought our young dog, Bugsy. He was social; had an excellent stay; came when called; had no history of food thievery; and would not lift his leg indoors, even on a tree, so my confidence in his visiting skills was high.
On arrival, as he occupied himself with a stuffed Kong so we could unpack the car, a possible problem occurred to me. Bugsy often tossed his Kong into the air and ate any treats that flew out of it. In our poor students’ apartment, it was endearing, entertaining behavior. But my in-laws’ decor included crystal, collectible figurines and an array of china teacups. Racing into the house in a panic, I caught the Kong in midair as it flew toward a set of porcelain miniatures. As I breathed a sigh of relief, it occurred to me that perhaps I had been a bit smug in thinking the trip would be stress-free.
This time of year generates tales of woe associated with bringing dogs to visit friends and relatives, and I get a lot of questions about this issue. Whether or not people fully anticipate the trouble that awaits them, taking a dog into someone else’s home for the holidays can cause stress. The best approach for assuaging this seasonal angst is two-pronged: Prepare your dog as much as you can ahead of time with the skills he’ll need to succeed during the visit, and make every effort to avoid other situations for which he hasn’t been prepared.
The preliminary step, of course, is to request permission to bring him along. Not everyone wants a visiting dog. Even dog lovers appreciate the advance warning that allows them to, for example, put away the Ming vase on display at the precise height of the perpetually swinging tail of your cheerful Great Dane. If your dog is not welcome, don’t bring him, or find somewhere else to stay. The strain of a visit with an unwelcome dog can permanently damage relationships. Plus, it’s hard on the dog to be Undesirable Number One in an otherwise festive home.
Training is a critical aspect of preparation. The better trained your dog is, the more welcome you will both be as guests. The key skills are to be able to sit, stay, come, leave it, greet politely, and stop barking on cue. It sounds like a long list, but these are also the basics of polite canine citizenship. I also recommend that you teach your dog at least one “show-off” behavior. This can be waiting at the door until told to proceed (easy to teach but impressive to most people) or a trick such as “roll over” or “high five.” Anything that makes your dog more charming will help ease tensions in case of a social gaffe. For example, I had a client whose dog jumped up on her father-in-law, but was forgiven immediately when she gave the cue “You goofed,” and the dog responded by lying down and covering his face with his paws, as though in embarrassment.
Common host complaints include barking, jumping up on visitors and stealing food. Of course, if he is prone to more serious transgressions such as biting, unmanageable destructive chewing or house-soiling, it is unfair to expect your dog and your hosts to co-exist peacefully, and it may be best not to go a-visiting with him in tow.
Teach your dog the skills he’ll need to be a gracious guest. If he’s a barker, teach him to stop on cue. Say “enough” the instant he starts to bark, and then put treats right by his nose. Do not let him have the treats until he stops barking. Many dogs quickly learn that quieting down when you say “enough” is a way to get treats. If he jumps up on people, teach him that if he does this, the people will leave, but if he sits, he will get treats and attention. Since the majority of jumpers do so out of an urge to be social, they quickly learn that jumping up makes people go away. They choose to sit instead, which results in the opportunity to socialize and get treats as well.
Even if you prepare ahead of time, there’s plenty to do during your visit to make sure that the holiday is remembered as a fun one rather than as the last family holiday to which you were allowed to bring your dog. Exercise, chews, toys and puzzles can minimize behavioral issues such as destructive chewing and counter-surfing, which tend to worsen when dogs are bored or full of pent-up energy. Bring a crate if your dog likes it and your hosts have enough space. Help clean up, especially if the mess involves dog hair or sloppy drinking at the water bowl. Seize the opportunity to put leftovers out of your dog’s reach, and volunteer to take out the trash.
As soon as possible after you arrive, practice the skills your dog already knows so that he can learn to do them in new places, too. One of the things that separates professional trainers from novices is that professionals know that training doesn’t automatically transfer to new locations. For example, just because your dog has a rock-solid stay in your living room doesn’t mean he knows how to respond in the same way in your yard, at the park or at Grandma’s house. Even a couple of five-minute training sessions can significantly improve your dog’s performance and manners.
Obedience skills aren’t the only ones that may drop off away from home. Many dogs who are completely trustworthy when left at home alone are stressed, scared or mischievous when left alone in a new place, all of which can result in house-soiling or the aforementioned destructive chewing or counter-surfing. The change in routine, a new place and additional people may also make dogs more likely to exhibit these unwanted behaviors. Adjust your plans—and expectations—accordingly.
Faux pas may occur, but focusing on prevention will help your dog succeed. Don’t set up your highly food-motivated dog to fail by leaving him alone, even for a minute, while the turkey is on the table. If you know your dog has a tendency to find food or shoes, don’t put temptation in his way. Make some areas of the house off limits, or use a crate so that your dog never gets the opportunity to display anything but his best behavior.
No matter how things go, send a thank-you note to your hosts, perhaps accompanied by flowers, to express your gratitude that you and your dog were welcomed into their home (and, if necessary, to apologize).
Ideally, holidays are fun, not stressful. With thoughtful preparation and prevention, you can insulate yourself, your dog and your hosts from the dark side of this festive season. You will then be free to focus on the joy of togetherness for everyone, whether they sing “Fa la la la la” or “Bow wow wow wow wow.”
Dog's Life: DIY
A fun project for the whole family.
Making the Dog Shape
Lay two sheets of newspaper flat on the table, one on top of the other. Scrunch up three balls of newspaper and line them up on top of the flat newspaper sheets. Then roll the flat sheets around the balls, forming a tube shape, and tape the tube together with masking tape
Bend the tube into an L shape to form the head and neck. Use masking tape to tape the bend in place.
Shape a scrunched-up piece of newspaper into the shape of a snout. Tape the snout onto the head with masking tape.
Use cardboard for ears. Draw two triangular shapes on the cardboard, then cut them out and tape to either side of the head.
Tail and Legs
Use a toilet paper roll to make the tail and legs. Cut a toilet paper roll in half lengthwise, then roll each half back into a tube and seal it with tape to form a leg. Use another half roll to form the tail. If you’re making a larger dog, you can use an entire toilet paper roll to form each leg.
Cover Dog with Masking Tape
Cover entire dog with two layers of masking tape, being sure to cover all the newspaper and cardboard. Smooth the tape down flat, leaving no gaps or air bubbles. This will ensure that the papier-mâché paste dries hardened.
1. This is a messy activity! Be sure to cover table with newspaper, butcher paper or a big plastic bag.
2. To make your papiermâché paste, whisk together 2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups flour and 2 tablespoons salt in a bowl. Add more water if the paste is too thick.
3. Tear sheets of newspaper into long strips one to two inches wide.
4. Dip the paper strips into the paste. Slide your fingers down the paper strips to wipe the excess paste back into bowl. The strips shouldn’t be too heavy with paste.
5. Start to cover the dog with papier-mâché strips. Flatten down the strips to make your dog smooth.
6. Cover the entire dog with two layers of papier-mâché strips.
7. Let the papier-mâché dog dry thoroughly for one to two days. To avoid mold, do not let the dog dry in a humid or damp room. If possible, dry it in sunlight on a windowsill — or even outdoors.
Painting the Dog
You can use children’s poster paints or acrylic paint. Paint the entire body first. Once the body has dried, paint the eyes, nose, mouth and any other creative details! Send a photo of your paper dog to us — we would love to see your handiwork! email@example.com
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog-related plans for 2014
Years ago, my sister’s New Year’s resolution was to give up New Year’s resolutions, and she was one of the few people who stuck to her plan. (Success rates are generally less than 10%.) Her secret was resolving to do something that she wanted to do anyway. If your resolutions for 2014 are dog-related, make success more likely by choosing to focus on one or a few things that are of real interest to you.
Simple ideas for dog-related resolutions are plentiful. Here are 10 possibilities.
1. Leave that cell phone in your pocket on walks so that you are truly present and spending time with your dog. It’s the time you spend together that builds the relationship, and this is one of the easiest ways to enjoy each other’s company.
2. Try a new activity with your dog. Classes in agility, tracking, fly ball are common in many areas. Hiking, weight pulling, dock jumping, herding, lure coursing and canine freestyle are just a few of the other possibilities.
3. Provide better nutrition for your dog. This is a big task for most of us, but even a few simple steps can make a difference. Try a higher quality dog food, add fresh vegetables to your dog’s diet or vow to measure your dog’s food for every meal so there’s no risk of overfeeding.
4. Give back to the canine community. There are so many ways to help out such as walking an elderly neighbor’s dog, volunteering at a shelter or rescue, fostering a dog, or giving money to an organization that improves the lives of animals.
5. Teach your dog something new. Practical training skills such as walking nicely on a leash, waiting at the door or a solid stay all pay big dividends. Other possibilities are to teach your dog a new game so you can play together more. Fetch, tug, find it, hide and seek, and chase games are all options, though depending on your dog, not every game may be a good fit.
6. Make plans for your dog in the event that you die first. Financial planning so you can provide for your dog when you are no longer here as well as making arrangements for someone to be the guardian for your dog are two important steps.
7. Give your dog more exercise. This can be daunting so plan to make one small improvement to start. Perhaps add 10 minutes to a weekend walk or set up a play date with a dog buddy a couple of times a month. When it comes to increasing activity, every little bit helps, so taking one step in the right direction is a wonderful goal at this, or any, time of year.
8. Take better care of your dog’s teeth. Consult with your veterinarian about a dental cleaning or about brushing at home. Dental care helps improve overall health and can make your dog’s breath more pleasant, too.
9. Make plans in case of a medical emergency. Whether it is putting aside a little in savings each month or investigating pet insurance, the peace of mind that you’ve got it covered in the event of an emergency is worth a lot.
10. Go new places with your pet. Novelty is great fun for most dogs, so try to go a few new places this year. Perhaps a new pet store or a new hiking trail will provide your dog with an experience that is really enjoyable.
Love them or hate them, New Year’s resolutions are common this time of year. Do your plans for 2014 include any dog-oriented New Year’s resolutions?
A case for personalizing greetings.
For most of th e year I’m more than happy with my decision not to have kids. But then the holidays come around and I want to send out cards and realize I can’t because somehow this has turned into a thing that only parents are allowed to do. It didn’t used to be this way. It used to be that people just sent regular cards and if they wanted to stick in a snapshot or some school portraits of their kids that was a perfectly fine option. But it wasn’t standard. It wasn’t de rigueur. It wasn’t the kind of thing where if your holiday card did not include a photo of your kids it would be relegated to the pile of impersonal, pre-printed cards sent by your insurance agent and your dentist and the place where you get your hair cut.
In recent years, holiday cards are all about photo cards showing the kids. And let’s face it, if you’re a childless couple and you send a photo card featuring multiple shots of the two of you walking on the beach or hiking in the woods or laughing with your heads thrown back, you have likely created something that looks like an advertisement for herpes medication. If you’re a single person and you send a version of this card, you look like you’re selling lowfat yogurt (that is, if you’re a woman; if you’re a man it would PROBABLY never occur to you to do this at all.)
Or you can do a card like this one, which I made last year but never actually sent. I figured it was the kind of thing that represented the line between dog people and dog people, and I didn’t need those kinds of italics in my life. But now that I’m seeing it again, I actually think it looks pretty good. Maybe next year I’ll make a calendar.
Dog's Life: DIY
With reuse all the rage, old becomes new again!
It’s like magic. Something old becomes new again. I have always been enchanted by this process of transformation, even before it became known as recycling and was recognized as good for the environment. As a child, I made milk cartons into doll houses and lunchboxes into pocketbooks. Paperclips became jewelry and my father’s old neckties became bracelets and belts. Now, when I make things for my dog, this is the creative process.
I discovered this idea for dog collars while refashioning a shirt for myself, and even though it didn’t fit me at all, it is almost impossible for me to throw anything away. So there I was on the floor with scissors, needles and thread, and of course Eloise. She always helps me sew by finding as many dangerous things to chew on as she can. As I cut and tucked and modeled the changes in front of the mirror, I caught Eloise disappearing around the corner with the collar in her mouth for a nice private chew. And then the moment arrived ... when I saw something become something else. I think I actually got a surge of adrenaline when it happened because it made me laugh out loud. I removed the collar from her mouth and slipped it effortlessly around her neck. A perfect fit. Tight enough to keep it away from her teeth and paws, but loose enough to be comfortable. The concept of “dog collar” took on a whole new meaning.
But I couldn’t stop there. The possibilities were endless for decoration and embellishment. Trims, embroidery, buttons and bows. I began asking all my friends for hand-me-down shirts and combing thrift stores and flea markets for different sizes, colors and patterns. I gave them to all my doggie friends and started selling them in my local pet store. At 48 years old creating fashions for my dog is almost as much fun as making things for my dolls when I was 10, but with an added bonus. It helps soften the blows of middle age.
1. Cut the collar off the shirt being careful to stay as close to the seam as possible but without cutting into the neckband.
2. Spread the fray block glue along the bottom seam. It will dry clear on most fabrics. When dry, trim loose threads and fabric.
3. If you want to use the button to open and close the collar, then make sure your new button fits the hole and replace the old one. Or you can sew Velcro in place of a button for easier access and then you can add a bigger button or other decoration to the front.
4. Decorate with trims and/or embroidery to your heart’s content! These can be sewed or glued with the permanent washable glue.
[Note: The collarettes are designed to fit loosely around your dog’s neck and are not intended for leash attachment.]
Culture: Stories & Lit
A man, a dog, a snowy mountain—deep-winter thoughts as a new year approaches.
New Year’s Eve already, again. Stepping out through boot-deep snow.
Here on Spring Mountain it’s traditional to celebrate the final evening of each calendar year with a good stiff hike, accompanied by whatever hounds are currently at hand and up to the effort. This year, I’m down to Mr. Otis, since Angel dog is 13 and on her last leg and that last leg is lame. While Otis is nine, which in big-dog years makes him a borderline senior like me, he, also like me, still thinks he’s a stud. In fact, old Oats frequently wins compliments as a supremely handsome example of the Labrador breed, even in his muzzled grayness. He’s been blessed with glossy black hair (recently, a visiting Alaskan trapper friend made my wife Caroline nervous when he stroked Otis appraisingly and remarked on what a “fine pelt” he has), long sturdy legs (Dr. Woody, Otis’s personal physician, calls them “mountain legs”), clean white teeth and a broad intelligent head (as opposed to the rat-nosed look of lesser Labs). So why ruin the ruse by revealing that his mother was a Golden Retriever?
Of course, for O and me to take an evening hike together is hardly unique, insofar as he walks me most every evening, the high point of most every day. The high point, at least, when the weather is pleasant and calming, or nasty enough to be exciting because it’s scary enough to offer a reminder that nature always bats last: say, a wildly showy electrical storm, wind like a low flight of fighter jets screaming through the trees, a blinding whiteout of blowing snow and swirling frozen fog. Barring any of that during the moody holiday season—deep in the white gut of winter, with its foreshortened days, crackling cold nights, delaying snow and precious little wildlife to animate the scene—a walk in the winter woods can often seem more effort than entertainment.
This New Year’s Eve, this final evening of yet another year of our whirlwind lives, we are healthy, happy and celebrating—a boy and his dog striding up this comforting old mountain while ruminating on the past, pondering the future and, with every step and breath, offering active praise for the blessings of the moment. And glory be, after the first hard few minutes and the catching of my increasingly elusive second wind, I sense that this is to be one of those sweet retro intervals when my aging mortal shell, rather than dragging behind and slowing me down, lifts me lightly along, like a buzzard climbing a summer thermal, up and up on a free ride to heaven. Suddenly I am young again, high as a hippie on the pure animal joy of self-powered movement. At least for the moment.
We climb eagerly on, Otis and I, running occasional short sprints, choosing the steepest routes simply for the sake of their steepness, running uphill in the snow. As we near the top, 9,500 feet above the sultry beaches of southern California and a vertical gain of 1,500 feet from the cabin—with only a few dozen minutes remaining in the day, less than a half dozen hours to go in the year, an unknown number of years left in our lives—a light of impossible beauty laminates the sunset sky. The churning, shifting spectrum of pastels—blue, lavender; purple, pink, red to fiery orange—seems almost sentient, somehow feminine, ineffably alive.
When we finally reach our goal—a rocky point overlooking a snow-covered lake—I stop for a look around. The awesome grandeur of such vertical landscapes makes one feel rightly small. And such feeling-smallness, by exposing the false front of our feeling-bigness, feels real good to me.
Impatient as a puppy, ever the anxious seeker, Otis flashes past, brushing against my snow-dusted pant cuff as if to proclaim, “Look at me, Dad! Here I go!” running in widening circles. On his third counterclockwise circumnavigation, the 80-pound goofball surprises a congerie of ravens, which in their panicked flush startle the hell out of me, as I had neither heard nor seen them there, clustered on the ground behind the low rise to my right. Righteously alarmed, the overgrown crows hurl themselves skyward as one dark body, a flapping black cloud that rises in brief solidarity then flies abruptly apart, like a fistful of scarves flung into the wind.
How I do love ravens! At once the most clever, adaptable and confident of birds and the most joyful heralds of death. Like Otis and me, ravens perceive themselves as far too handsome and wise for their humble lot in life as scroungers, kidnappers of robin chicks and carrion eaters. Yet they, like O and me, don’t merely endure but always find ways to enjoy. What most humans view as hardship, ravens see as play. Everywhere good I go, from Alaska to Mexico, ravens are there.
Even so—this late in the day, this deep into winter—these gregarious birds should by now have retreated to their nocturnal roosts to perch on limbs like so many lumpy black leaves, feathers fluffed for warmth, among the sheltering boughs of Douglas fir or ponderosa. Suddenly, it occurs to me that these preeminent scavengers may have been feasting late on a holiday gift of frozen flesh. Dead elk or deer? Dead coyote? Dead …?
Winter: the dying time of year.
I hurry over to investigate. Approaching the spot where the birds had been ganged on the ground I find … nothing.
Who knows? Who gives a flapping croak? Not Otis, who has already whiffed some new and intriguing scent and is off hounding after it, headed conveniently down-mountain, the way we need to go. With twilight fading fast I turn and follow his lead, the prints of my big insulated rubber boots shortcutting Otis’s switchbacking slashes in the snow, like a drunken slalom skier. Dogs, like preachers, politicians and real estate whores, never run straight unless they’re being chased. But Otis has disappeared, coursing far ahead. Perhaps he’s cut the pungent trail of a pine marten, like the one he and Caroline saw on this morning’s walk together. In fact, Caroline admitted to having seen the sleek, cat-sized, tree-climbing, rodent-hunting weasel only after Otis had tracked its scent to the base of a tree and his animated excitement, urgent whines, and upward panting stare had lifted her gaze away from its normally grounded fix. While a hunter, like me, peers up and away, scanning the horizon for broken hints of color, pattern or movement, Caroline, a gentle gatherer, focuses closer at foot, stalking wildflowers, mushrooms, animal spoor and other rooted prey. Alone, each of us is half blind. Together, we see near and far.
No matter. Wherever my dog-son has gotten off to, or why, he is out of my sight—an intolerable breach of Petersen doggy etiquette. I refuse to yell, clap or wolf-whistle in the woods, any of which would rudely shatter the tranquility I come here for, disturbing the critters and destroying the very treasures I seek. Instead, I stop and peer around—waiting, watching, straining my ears into the ringing silence for the rhythm of panting breaths, the soft thuds of paws on the snow. I chuckle out loud when I catch myself sniffing the air, as if I were a dog or a bear. This thought, in turn, reminds me of Dersu Uzala, the charismatic wild-man protagonist of Russian explorer V.K. Arseniev’s 1910 classic adventure memoir, Dersu the Trapper, a mostly true story beautifully made into the 1975 Academy Award–winning film Dersu Uzala by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Dersu is an aging aborigine of a dwindling hunter-gatherer tribe, the Goldis, who are animistic (nature worshipping) foragers of the Manchurian taiga. The scene I’m recalling takes place one bad winter day while Dersu is out boar hunting with the captain. When Dersu misses an easy shot at an animal he can pungently smell but barely see, the old woodsman wails in pidgin Russian, “Capitan! My nose sees better than my eyes!” in sudden realization that he is going blind.
The point being that that’s the way our big boy Otis see his world: nostrils first. Could we dwarf-nosed human animals experience for just one hour the world as a dog, deer or bear perceives it—in shape-shifting layers of Technicolor scents, far more vivid and varied than even the most stunning sunset sky—that brief, epiphanous window of wonder would alter our outlook and actions forever. For all our manipulative cleverness, we really know so little of life.
Growing uneasy with Otis’s ongoing absence, if not quite worried (he knows the way home from anywhere up here and would yelp for help if in trouble), I venture a soft, birdlike whistle, poorly imitating the bright spring rondo of a mountain chickadee. Inappropriate though it is for the bottom of December, it will alert Otis, if he hears it, that I am here.
Sure enough, within moments here comes the Oatsmobile, a graceful flowing streak of ink sluicing across the snow, sleek as liquid silk, contouring cross-mountain full-bore: big ears flopping, jaws agape and cheeks flared wide, gums spotted pink and black, long tongue lolling, ivory fangs flashing a delighted canine grin—four score pounds of pure animal joy.
As with the other animals in my life—and my life is peopled with animals—I envy Otis his freedom from burdensome ambition, from debilitating regret, pointless worry and egoistic longing for public recognition and personal immortality. For him, life is now, to be experienced—chased, caught and played with; chewed up and swallowed, digested, and always celebrated—not some Calvinistic adversary to be feared, conquered, intellectualized, rationalized, fantasized or dogmatized.
Panting and pleased with himself—“Here I come, Dad! Such a good boy, me!”—Otis stiff-legs to a stop at my side and raises his snow-frosted mug for a pat. Which of course he gets, plus a kiss on the head and a few soft words of encouragement to Stay with me, knucklehead!
Looking to our left, eastward as we go, light-years beyond the saw-toothed silhouette of the Continental Divide, we see Jupiter come awake: a blinking benediction in blue. At least I think it’s Jupiter, not being much on stars (or planets either, obviously). I mean, there are so many of them. And all so far away, untouchable, ultimately unknowable, thus largely removed from my life. “One world at a time,” said Thoreau on his deathbed to the hovering preacher. “One real world is enough,” echoed Santayana a century later. I feel much the same. Yet how gratefully each night do I greet Orion (a bowhunter, like me), who at the moment, still hidden below the horizon, is gearing up with bow and dagger for another night’s go-around with that ballsy old aurochs (a Taurus, like me), the two of them battling clockwise across the nocturnal firmament. Forever.
Shaking me from my reveries, Otis suddenly stops, goes stiff-legged, raises his muzzle, sniffs and licks his slobbery chops—tasting some delicious promise that’s as yet invisible to me. Explaining himself with an excited Whoof! he deserts me and bounds ahead, barreling down the hill. Following quickly after, I, too, soon smell the spicy incense of aspen smoke, perfuming the lucent night.
Excerpted from On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life © 2005 David Petersen, published by Henry Holt and Company. Reprinted with permission.
Bark contributors share a few special holiday moments!
Everyone knows that a cheeseball enhances a Christmas party more when it is brought to room temperature beforehand. Everyone, that is, except our St. Bernard, Amy, who enjoyed it just fine right out of the refrigerator. We never figured out how she snagged the cheddar bowling ball from the middle of the kitchen table, or where she took her cheesy prey to devour it. But the incident ended the Age of Cheeseballs for us—we switched to imported cheese for holidays.
My best dog-Christmas ever was the one I spent at my mother-in-law’s house. Their family has a long-standing tradition of ordering hand-knit stockings for new additions, and that year, Judy had a special stocking made up for my dog, Rex. The thing is, my dog wasn’t even that nice to Judy. But that didn’t stop her from stuffing his stocking with chewy toys and tug-a-ropes. If that isn’t Christmas spirit, nothing is!
Every holiday, my four dogs want to again hear about how, years ago, my dog Bob successfully maneuvered an 11-pound frozen-solid turkey down off the kitchen counter (surviving the dog equivalent of a free-falling piano), buried the carcass in the yard and then dragged it back into the house when our replacement dinner was served. It is, for dogs, the ultimate Seasonal Tale of Hope and Renewal.
Sasha was a Shar-Pei with whom I shared my formative years. She dearly loved three things in life: her Nylabone, her tennis balls and assisting with the Christmas tree. She would watch as we hung the ornaments, and as soon as we moved on to a new section, she would gently take one in her mouth and beat a hasty retreat with her prize. Eventually, we gave up decorating the lower third of our Christmas tree.
For a holiday work-party, our colleague’s wife, Mimi, set a tray of sliced brick cheese, festively felled like rows of dominos, atop the coffee table, while Howard scrawled on the flipchart. Their Springer Spaniel, Ginger, expressed the only interest in the seasonal refreshments: She licked the entire arrangement and then, oddly satisfied, left us to our deliberations. Ever the hostess, Mimi returned just moments later, and throughout the meeting, to pass the tray among her husband’s associates. Oddly: no takers.
Stockings hung, candles lit, a quiet and snowy Christmas Eve. Then a noise from outside. I couldn’t believe the faces at the door: my Gordon Setter Leo’s brother, Riley, and his Bernese Mountain Dog pal, Spin. They’d somehow slipped out their back door and trekked two miles to ours, a journey they’d only made once, back in the fall, via a winding woodland path. What else could I say? “Leo, your relatives are here!”
I went to pick up my mother to bring her back to our home for the holidays. My dog Dooley—a lanky, mixed-breed, snow-white-and-liver-spotted bird dog of sorts—came along. Let me make it clear that he’s infallibly housetrained. We arrived at my mom’s, and Dooley went over to her Christmas tree, sniffed around and lifted his leg on a package. It ended up being a fruitcake. Good dog, Dooley, good dog.
Dog's Life: DIY
This year, try the traditional Japanese art of wrapping gifts in fabric squares—furoshiki—as an attractive and functional way to reduce paper waste. Not only is this an eco-sensitive option, the fabric can be put to other uses, doubling the gift.
For furoshiki wrapping directions, watch this video or download the PDF, which was created by the helpful folks at the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.
When it comes to gifts, many of us struggle to find something for loved ones who have everything. When the loved one is a dog, selecting presents is way easier—as far as dogs are concerned, there’s no such thing as enough of everything, especially things to eat and play with.
On the edible A List: antlers (so holiday-appropriate!), yak milk chews, dried fish skins or high-quality, nutritious treats (choose smaller-sized goodies to offset potential overindulgence). And don’t forget that treats are among the easiest things to make at home. There are lots of great dogcentric cookbooks, and the Bark website also has an eclectic collection of recipes (at thebark.com/recipes). If you have a dehydrator, put it to use by making jerky treats—we also happen to have an excellent recipe for chicken jerky sweet potato chews on our site; find it at thebark.com/jerky.
When it comes to toys, those that the two of you can play with together are reliable faves—especially tug toys, especially if you let the dog win occasionally. These are also easy to DIY, and give you an excellent way to finally use those old tube socks cluttering your sock drawer: tie a few knots in them and you have a toy with a scent only a dog can appreciate. Find more possibilities at thebark.com/diy. Or, for a two-fer, choose a Kong-like toy that can be stuffed with treats or more complex puzzle “enrichment” toys that entice your dog to find hidden rewards.
If you’re purchasing a toy, avoid those made from hard plastic (or packaged that way), and remove all tags, fabric hanger loops and plastic bits, especially from soft toys, before handing them to the canine giftee. It’s also a good idea to inspect the toy carefully and consider removing anything that a dog might be able to pull off and swallow (“eyes” or other nonessential elements, for example). If you’re sharing the holiday with friends or relatives, save everyone’s sanity by going the no-squeaker route.
Of less interest to dogs but very appealing to their people are accouterments such as new beds, warm sweaters and jackets, sturdy leashes, decorative collar tags, or other little luxuries. For a handy multitasker, check out dehydrators, which can be used to make delectables, like fruit chews, for everyone. Dogs won’t enjoy unwrapping this stuff quite as much, but their people will appreciate them.
Speaking of unwrapping … some dogs like to open their own gifts, so choose wrappings that are safe for them. Any kind of paper—even newspaper—lightly taped, works best. Ditch the ribbon or string, which can cause big problems if swallowed. If your dog’s an “unwrapper,” it’s probably best not to leave gifts on the floor around the tree unless a spot-on “leave it” cue is in place.
And, of course, there’s a No List: No surprise live animals (like a new dog friend); holidays are the worst time to introduce a new dog into a family. No China-made toys or treats (especially treats). No chocolate or other dicey-for-dogs ingredients; check the ASPCA’s poison control pages for details: aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.
Now, what are you waiting for? Make a list, check it twice and reward both naughty and nice with a present that’s sure to be well received.
Dog's Life: DIY
A homemade toy to enjoy.
Crafty dog lovers will find lots to inspire them in Mike Spears’ new book, Silly Dog Toys, which includes 12 easy projects. Safety first: Spears notes that it’s important to use materials that have not been soiled or coated with toxic substances, and that it’s also essential to supervise your pup’s play—or better yet, play with her. We couldn’t agree more! The Handy Tugger will satisfy the toughest of tuggers. Use different types of gloves for the tugger ends. You can also vary the tube, using socks or other materials. If you have two or more dogs, they’ll certainly learn quickly what the tugger is all about.
2. Insert a 4" length of elastic into the sleeve and sew it 1/4" from one edge.
3. Stuff the sleeve lightly with batting, surrounding the elastic.
4. Find the free end of the elastic. With your free hand, push back the sleeve and batting until the edges of the sleeve and elastic are aligned.
5. Pin together the sleeve edges and elastic, 1" from the edge. Sew the elastic to the sleeve 1/4" from the edge.
6. Stuff both gloves with batting and add a squeaker in the palm of each glove. Stuff the thumbs and fingers fully and the palms about three-quarters full.
7. Remove pins from the sleeve. Insert a sleeve end into one of the gloves. Sew the sleeve inside the glove 1/2" inside the glove cuff. Repeat for the other glove. (Double-check to be sure all pins have been removed.)
8. Tug away!
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