What the dog got for Christmas

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

It wasn’t so very long ago that the phrase “a dog’s life” meant sleeping outside, enduring the elements, living with aches, and sitting by the dinner table, waiting for a few scraps to land on the floor. Today’s dog has it much better. APPMA (American Pet Products Manufacturers Association) reports that 42% of dogs now sleep in the same bed as their owners, up from 34% in 1998. Half of all dog owners say they consider their pet’s comfort when buying a car, and almost a third buy gifts for their dogs’ birthdays.

In fact, Americans now spend $54 billion a year on their pets — more than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world. That’s double the amount shelled out on pets a mere decade ago. Pet owners are becoming increasingly demanding consumers who won’t put up with substandard products, un-stimulating environments, or shabby service for their animals.

Additionally, the rising status of pets started an unprecedented wave of entrepreneurship in an industry once epitomized by felt mice and rubber balls. There are now $430 indoor potties, $30-an-ounce perfume, and $225 trench coats–let alone the diamond-studded accessories for a celebrity’s dog — aimed solely at four-footed consumers and their wallet-toting humans. Thanks to passionate purchasers like that, the quality gap between two-legged and four-legged mammals is rapidly disappearing in such industries as food, clothing, health care, and services.

But what does all that bling mean to your dog? Absolutely nothing. Unless your dog is completely different from the thousands of dogs I’ve known, a plain old stick from the yard can be worthy of an hours’ attention and licking out your yogurt cup is epicurean nirvana. I know many dogs that will eschew the fancy, faux fur, orthopedically crafted, heated pet bed for a heap of the owners’ dirty laundry.

What your dog is looking for is attention from you: you throw the stick, you hold the yogurt cup and it’s your smell the dog is soaking up on the pile of your clothes.  This year, instead of spending money on doggie junk, give your Best Friend the gift of you. It doesn’t have to be much; dogs aren’t greedy, plus, they can’t tell time. Twenty undistracted minutes a day is all your dog needs. Mind you, that’s in addition to the utility time for potty walks, or the ride-along time you spend in the car when you pick up the kids. Twenty minutes of you-on-dog quality time.  Play ball (or stick) together, give him a comprehensive full-body rub, teach him a new trick or just sit quietly together and appreciate the end of the day. It doesn’t matter all that much to your dog, just as long as it’s with you.

But, if it doesn’t feel right that Murphy doesn’t have a package under the tree Christmas morning, consider getting a present that will last. In lieu of buying another, impossibly cute, $10 stuffed toy your dog will disembowel in a New York minute, spend the allotted gift money on a present that has practical use and meaning.  Honor your dog with a handsome leather collar with a sturdy buckle. Rivet on an engraved ID tag. Junk the stupid plastic retractable leash-y thing and get a good leather lead, (they’re called leads for a reason) one that feels good in your hand, doesn’t twist into knots and gets better looking with age. It will last the lifetime of your dog and beyond. I’ve had mine for 30 years and seven dogs.

Your dog will appreciate a heavy, stainless steel bowl with a rubber grip that he doesn’t have to chase all over the kitchen floor. He’ll appreciate a travel crate — his own special, safe seat for car rides. He’ll appreciate if you buy yourself a good dog book — “Dog Sense” by John Bradshaw, is a good place to start — so you will understand what he’s thinking and why he does what he does. And, I’d like to think that he’d very much appreciate it if you donated the money you saved on doo-dads to a local animal welfare organization for one of the brother-dogs that has not been quite so fortunate.