All dogs should have a well-stocked toy box. Well, maybe not all. The ones that have a real job and daily mental and physical stimulation can contently live without it. However, most dogs in our society own a person who’s predominantly involved in human-only activities, which leaves the pooch on the sidelines, and that can lead to a variety of problem behaviors. Dogs that act out often do so to generate stimulation in a deprived environment, and a designated, always accessible – and that part is important, activity center counters boredom; offers mental stimulation.
Size, shape and contents of a proper toy box depend on the dog. Terrier types often like a deep basket filled with many things and a daily surprise they can dig up, for example a few special treats hidden underneath all the stuff or layered in between. Tons of stuff doesn’t mean it'll cost you tons of money. Provided your dog doesn’t swallow cloth, clean rags, holy socks or worn t-shirts, collected from friends and family, work wonderfully.
Very industrious dogs could find several stuffed Kongs in their play corner. In fact, most of their daily food ration might be served that way. I also like to put a few especially smelly treats in toilet paper rolls, fold the ends in to keep them in place and, again only if the pooch doesn’t swallow cardboard, hide them all through the house. That purposeful nose-work challenges even the busiest sniffer, and nicely tires her out.
Large, powerful dogs are often relentless chewers, so their toy box should include a variety of items that fulfill that need. Every good pet store offers advice what is delectable - and longer lasting with ambitious masticators. Bark and Fitz, and Global Pets are examples of a good pet store, and for dog’s sake, I never shop somewhere that actually sells animals, even if I could safe a coin.
Because the idea is to create self-reliant fun, anything in the box should be safe for the dog to have unsupervised. Said that, the wise owner does observe at first, and every time a novel item is added. You want to ensure that she doesn’t gulp down an antler chew, tied in two old cup towels, in one piece.
Does an always-accessible activity basket take the fun out of holiday gift giving? After all, the majority of owners include their furry family member into the Christmas Season, and we certainly belong to the majority in that regard. I say no to that question, and am sure that our dogs agree. With a little ingenuity one can find the perfect present even for the most indulged canine. I googled a bit and found a few things my pooches likely have on their Santi Paws wish list, and yours might be pleased with as well.
Nina Ottosson interactive dog toys are a hit with every dog, regardless of age, size, physical or mental abilities. You can check them out at www.interactivedoggames.com, and many pet boutiques, locally and on line, carry a variety. Don’t snitch it to Davie and Will, but I bought a “Tornado” at www.houndsaroundtown.com they get to gently unwrap on Christmas Morn. Your dog might even make it into the brainy-dog hall of fame, but keep in mind that games are for fun first, not competition.
Or how about home-baked cookies the little darling can sniff for under the Christmas tree. I found a great recipe at www.bullwrinkle.com I modified a little, cause I’m a health geek and white flour doesn’t enter my dogs’ tummies. Here it goes: 16 oz. raw liver finely processed – and you can substitute that with sardines or peanut butter, 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour, 8 oz. oat flakes, 3 beef bouillon cubes dissolved in app. 1 cup of warm water, 2 beaten eggs. Combine all ingredients, and for extra nutritional value I toss a handful of dried parsley in it, and add enough water to form a slightly sticky dough. Roll out on baking paper to about ½” thickness, cut out cookies in whatever shape you like, and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. You can fancy it up with bone or fire hydrant shaped cookie cutters, and you can find those at many places, for example at www.thecookiecuttershop.com. Our girls wish they had cat and veterinarian shaped ones, too.
Often overlooked are gifts that make the dog feel better. I found paw pads at www.pupgearcorporation.com our 12-year-old, arthritic Davie might find in her stocking this year. Our house is all matted out, but she still likes to travel with us and those pads might keep her from sliding on other people’s hard wood floors.
A gift that keeps on giving is a book. Not entirely for the dog, but indirectly because understanding canines makes you a better parent to yours. Dogwise.com is an on-line dog bookstore and has many great reads. Too many to list here, but two of my favorite authors are Suzanne Clothier and Patricia McConnell. I also like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, and each year, the beginning of December, I dig up my copy of “Certain Poor Shepherds”. We sit on the floor, the dogs snuggled close, with me reading the doggie Christmas story to them. Of course they don’t comprehend the words, but they understand the warmth and peace I feel when we’re all enveloped in a special kind of quality time that does not always come about during busier times of the year.
And that’s really it, isn’t it? To give of oneself to loved ones – canine or human. So, it doesn’t matter if you shop for an interactive dog game, sign your pooch up for a fun group class, buy something that makes her feel better, or order a “how to teach tricks” book for your frisky dog - and actually use it.
With that, I wish you all a Peaceful Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice.