Holiday Season with dogs

Dec 09 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

It’s the holiday season. I deeply miss my sister at this time of the year. She used to set up a tree and we put I gifts under the tree. We spent a whole evening laughing and feasting. Eventually, we would open our gifts. We always put a lot of thought into our gifts and it really helped us bond. Our dogs would also have their gifts under the tree. They would be quite excited by all the laughter around. Then they would sniff curiously around the tree. When they got their gifts, they would be over the moon. They would take their little gifts to a different corner of the house, tear open the wrapper and the packaging and find their gifts inside.They would then quickly inspect each other’s gifts. They would eventually settle with what each of them liked most. Some gifts would lead to tension and we would have to put the gifts away. But most times, they were quite happy with what they got.

Gifts do make dogs happy. Packing them can be a lot of fun for the humans and ripping open packaging can be a lot of fun for dogs.Things that make great gifts for dogs include toys, dog tr ea ts, ch ew s or bones. Dog puzzles that contain dog treats make for fantastic gifts too. Ripping open packaging for treats provides dogs mental stimulation and is very satisfying.Being part of family traditions and celebrations helps them bond better with the family.
If the dog is not stressed and well integrated into the family, she will easily respect boundaries of gifting and will not want to take other’s gifts. In the canine world, there are strong rules around what belongs to who. So a mommy dog will not allow puppies to take away an object from her. As long as it’s hers, the puppies need to respect that boundary. But she will go ahead and give the object to the pup and once she gives it voluntarily, it belongs to the pup. She will not take it back.
When dogs have sufficient objects, they are very good at respecting this rule of ownership. But it is incumbent on us to recognise this and respect this rule. It’s important not to take away things from dogs. If puppies grab objects that they should not, it’s better to distract them to drop the object and quietly take it back. A few seconds later, replace the object with some toy or puzzle to occupy the puppy’s mind. It’s important to maintain a few seconds’ gap between taking away the undesirable object and replacing it with a toy. This will ensure that you are not rewarding bad behaviour. However, when the dog has one of his own objects, respect that and do not take it back from the dog. Even if he tears it up, it’s his object to tear. Dogs like to tear things. It is natural behaviour for them.
One year, I was part of a community project where we all pooled in gifts for shelter dogs. That was a gratifying experience for me. I got to be the one who delivered the gifts to some of the dogs. We had people wrap the gifts and put names of the shelter dogs on them. So I actually looked at their names and gave out gifts. Each dog waited his or her turn patiently and was gracious about walking away with their own gifts. Of course, there was a lot of exchanging that happened. But not a single fight broke out, even with such a high density of dogs. It was a pleasure to watch them. If you get a chance, I highly recommend this. Go to your local shelter and gift something nice to a few dogs. Yes, they need supplies. But once in a while, it is a lot of fun to get a gift too.
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