It’s somehow that time of year again. We’ve all known for a while now that Christmas is looming; with the gradual introduction of more and more Christmas paraphernalia in stores, taking over the black and orange Halloween décor with a discombobulating slam. Baubles, tinsel, garlands, stockings, biscuits, chocolates, Christmas trees, mini-Santas, large Santas, dog reindeer suits, squeaky penguins with Santa hats and more, more, so much more… Whether you are a complete Christmas fanatic, or you side with the grinch on the subject, if you’re here having clicked on this article, you may be wondering: what does my dog want?
With the current cost of living crisis, luckily this answer is simple, and probably applies to us too. If we take away the noise of the world, we all need and desire the same immaterial things. Your dog, whilst perhaps showing excitement at a novel squeaky toy or a great big deer antler to munch on, will be happy with the very simple things in life. You can go all out with toys and treats (they will always be obliging!); but you can also bring it back to basics with the following:
Dogs are inherently social creatures and desire connection. Although the level of sociability exists on a spectrum, just like people, studies show that by looking into human eyes, dogs experience a correlated spike of oxytocin (the love hormone!). So, cuddle your dog, pet your dog, and reap your own warm and fuzzies from the connection too. We’ve had thousands of years to cement this bond between human and dog. You may as well make the most of it at Christmas time.
Play is vital in practising useful skills and building relationships. A paper by the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies investigated theories relating to play. They demonstrated that dogs love to play with humans, and would choose to play with them, over independent play with a toy on their own. Regular play between dog and owner shouldn’t be based on commands and is important to develop and strengthen their bond. Playing tug-of-war, getting silly and going down onto the floor with them, and engaging with toys they already have is an easy way to give them everything they want and more.
It’s our duty to provide physical stimulation for our dogs. Whether it is a brief and slow plod around the block with your elderly pet, or a frolic across the countryside, it is vital that our dogs get walked. The benefits are endless. They have improved physical health, fewer behaviour issues, it helps strengthen the canine-owner bond, and it helps their sociability. It is also their way of reading the ‘daily news,’ with a sniff here and a snuffle there. Not to mention, it helps us too, both mentally and physically. Perhaps it is even actually us that are being walked by our dogs!
A full belly is a happy, contented being. You can use their normal dry food as treats, or you can freeze blocks of unsalted broth or lean meat. Some dogs will even get excited for a carrot or a bit of broccoli! If you have a Kong, you will be able to give them hours of entertainment, providing them with mental stimulation as a bonus. Just ensure to adjust the amount of food they’re fed for their main daily meals, as we want to avoid any weight gain over the winter months when they may not be outside as much and are happier to spend the colder days lounging around in front of the fire.
Which brings us to the next Christmas gift: warmth. Whilst this is a bit of a contentious issue with the increasing energy bills, ensuring that your dog has a warm place to curl up to sleep is important. Some breeds that naturally have a lower body weight or thinner fur may need more consideration than others who have a thick double coat and are designed for cold climates. Similarly older animals or those with underlying illnesses may need a little more help to stay warm. But largely, all they need is a soft, warm bed and perhaps some extra blankets if you’re needing to reduce the amount of time your heating is on this winter. If they are too warm, they won’t use the blankets (you can use towels too).
If possible, try choosing the least draughty place in your house and a room that will conserve as much warmth as possible. Carpets are better for this, and place their bed away from windows, doors, and vents. If they have got wet outside, dry them off and make sure their bedding isn’t damp. Signs that your dog is cold include excessive shivering, cold ears, and fatigue. You can also buy jumpers and coats for dogs that struggle with the cold (which can be good for your outdoor escapades) and pre-heat their bedding with hot water bottles if you think they need it – just make sure it isn’t too hot, and to remove them before they curl up to go to sleep.
It goes without saying that we never know how grateful we are for our health until it’s gone. The same can be said for our dogs. Ensuring that you have seen to any underlying problems, and that they are up to date with their preventative medicine (health checks, vaccinations, worming) will go a longer way for their well being than presents. Most vet practices have a pet health plan – a monthly subscription which covers all the preventative healthcare a dog needs, while saving money in the long run.
And, to conclude your dog’s wish list for Christmas, in the belting voice of Mariah Carey: ‘all I want for Christmas is…you!’ You are all they need. Wishing all your pets a happy, healthy Christmas full of play, walkies, cuddles and fun!