This article was awarded the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award by The Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA). It first appeared in The Royal Spaniels winter edition 2012. By Leila Grandemange
The Holiday gift hunt has begun and I’m already feeling a bit frazzled about what to wrap for my loved ones, including my dogs! I’m even shopping for my friends’ dogs—crazy, right?!
Recently I read that approximately 88% of pet owners consider their pets family members, so it’s only normal they be included in the holiday gift hunt. Stores are lined with gift ideas for our pets, but truth be told, our dogs don’t really care whether their toy is shaped like Rudolph or Santa, and they would probably pass on wearing jingle bell collars or antlers. For them, Christmas is just another day, and often a hectic day at that.
So what do my dogs really want for Christmas?
Well, after a quick trip to the North Pole, I returned to share what I found! Yup, Santa told me first hand, TIME spent with their owners was at the top of almost every pooch’s Christmas list! The best part is you won’t have to spend hours searching the malls for this gift—it’s free, it cannot be wrapped, and it comes straight from the heart!
We’ve all heard pet owners say, I LOVE my dog! I read somewhere that “love” to a child is actually spelled T-I-M-E. As a parent, I can attest to the fact that my children loved their toys, but what they really wanted was time spent with mommy and daddy, playing together, learning together, and sharing life’s experience. Similarly, I think it’s safe to say, “Love” to a dog is spelled T-I-M-E. Giving of our time is probably the single most important gift we’ll ever give our dogs, and it’s probably all they really want.
Here is what spending time with our pets might look like. I took each letter of T-I-M-E and shared my thoughts; each one being an expression of love:
Training takes time.
Understanding your dog and knowing how to control him, develop his potentials, and resolve behavior problems, emotional conflicts, and frustrations are no less essential than love and respect. —Michael W. Fox
This quote reflects the idea that training our dogs is intermingled with how we love and respect them. Most parents would agree that it’s natural to send their child to school at the appropriate age. I assume they do this not because the law demands it, but because they love their child. Actually, education begins the moment a child is born through daily interactions with his family—sights, sounds smells, touch, words . . . Whether the interactions are positive or negative, information is being transmitted that will affect the child for life. The same is true for our dogs. From the moment they enter our lives, we are training them. My goal is to be conscious of what I am teaching them and to make sure I am reinforcing desirable behavior and not undesirable behavior. Yes, training is priority, and it definitely takes time.
Keep in mind, like human children, not every child will achieve a 4 point GPA, or letter in varsity sports. Training our canine companions is not so much about achieving some goal others set or comparing our dog to the neighbor’s that’s titled in obedience and gracefully strolls in a perfect “heel” alongside his master. That is all wonderful, but training begins with understanding our dog’s unique make-up, discovering and unlocking his potential, and working within those boundaries (and ours), all the while believing that all things are possible! We set our own goals and take all the time we want! Here’s a beautiful story that will hopefully inspire you to invest time training your dogs, even if you think they’re hopeless . . .
My most satisfying aspect of animal training is a very simple moment. After a show when I leave the stage door . . . and there is a crowd gathered, sometimes I hear someone say the following and it makes it all worthwhile. “How did they make that dog do that?” I smile because I am the only “they” and I do it with love. (William Berloni, dog trainer, about transforming a severely abused dog from the pound into “Sandy” in the Broadway production of Annie.)
I’ve never met William Berloni, but I can only imagine he spent a lot of time with this once abused dog, which became a well known figure of hope and comfort. We may not be raising future doggie movie stars, but the time spent training our dogs is an investment that will not return void. Do you have some willing canine pupils at your feet? Maybe this year you can ask Santa to offer some training classes. In the meantime, how about a nice long walk with your dog or a game of fetch? Even a few focused minutes of learning integrated into your daily routine can do wonders! What about a “sit-stay” while you’re cooking dinner? Take advantage of every opportunity !
Involvement takes time.
In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog. -Edward Hoagland
I think anyone observing my silly antics running around the house as a young mom with my kids would agree, I became partly child! I never could have imagined as an adult getting so much pleasure with my kids molding Play Dough, baking in a little girl’s toy oven, playing “make believe” or squishing myself in a dark corner of the house for a game of “Hide-n-Seek.” Spending time diving into my children’s magical world of wonder was how I stayed involved in their lives.
Learning how a child thinks and understanding their unique developmental stages also helped me to be an effective parent, to relate to them and better meet their needs. Becoming partly dog—learning how dogs think and why they do what they do—will also help us to be involved in their lives in a more meaningful way. This is what “quality” time is all about: giving our dogs our undivided, focused attention, meeting their specific needs, and enjoying each other’s company without worrying about our “to do” list. Rolling in the grass while my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel pups crawl all over me and giggling to my hearts content while they lick my face is time well spent—it’s priceless! Unconsciously, I’m teaching my pups: it’s fun to spend time with Mommy. Mommy is gentle, Mommy can be trusted, Mommy loves me . . . Spend quality time being involved in your dog’s special world. You’ll discover an amazing adventure of wonder, joy, and bonding—and your dog will thank you!
Maintenance takes time.
I’ve heard it said that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a fairly “low maintenance” breed. Well, I’m not so sure that any dog is truly “low” maintenance. There’s no way around it, maintaining our dogs will take time and even some money. But it’s a perfect opportunity to bond with our dogs and show them how much we care. There are many aspects to maintaining our dog’s physical and emotional well-being. Here are a few: bathing, brushing teeth, or providing something to chew to help remove the tartar, vet checkups, training, play time, exercise, maintaining their ideal weight, feeding high quality foods, and of course, grooming. A few years ago, I met a lady with a severely matted and obese dog. Those of us who own a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel know that this breed requires regular grooming in order to avoid mats and maintain a healthy coat. At first glance, I was convinced that she didn’t really care for her dog. But after speaking to her I realized that she deeply loved him—however she didn’t realize what maintaining a dog involved and recognized that she didn’t spend a lot of time with him due to her work. Thankfully, I was able to shave her dog down, explain more about the breed’s need for companionship, and direct her to a groomer who could help. Sadly, many dogs live in conditions where they are not regularly maintained, which often results in all sorts of behavior issues. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Time spent with a dog will usually reveal the solution.
Maintaining all of a dog’s needs might be a financial strain, but there are creative ways to minimize the costs. You can make your own dog toys or dog beds, shop around for the best prices in veterinary care, check out a training book from the library and train your dog yourself or with a group of friends. What about keeping a “doggie account”—putting a little money aside every month for that rainy day? Dogs, like humans, get sick, have accidents, and get old. It’s comforting to know we have a little nest egg to help them in their time of need.
Education takes time.
Our dogs are not the only ones who may need some training. Continuing education is a lifelong process of learning, practicing, and relearning new and better ways to do things as a “puppy parent.” But it’s time well spent and there’s always a great reward! Whether we’ve been in dogs all our lives or are just starting out, there’s always something new to learn. Experts in the field of dogs are constantly learning and advising dog owners of new and better ways to do things. Staying “up to date” is important in most any field—teacher, doctor, veterinarian, trainer… Years ago, the “Alpha Rollover” was an accepted training technique. This is no longer the case. It involved forcing a dog to roll over on its back and applying pressure to show that you, as its master, are dominant. About 12 years ago I remember my vet telling me to do this to my young Labrador puppy in order to establish myself as the pack leader. This could not be right, I told myself, and I embarked on a journey of discovery involving a lifelong commitment to continuing education—whether it is medical care, nutrition, or training.
Continuing education involves humility, because it not only involves the willingness to learn new things, but also the willingness to unlearn old things when appropriate.
Dogs are keen observers, watching for clues as to what we expect. The problem is, dog owners often give the wrong clues and unknowingly reinforce the wrong behaviors. This is why educating ourselves as dog owners and trainers is essential to help our students progress with the least frustration possible. Much like learning a new language, learning a dog’s language also takes time, but it’s essential to building the right relationship with our dogs. Thankfully there are many good books, seminars, and excellent trainers to help guide us in our endeavors for continuing education.
In closing, I will share a well-loved quote which has often puzzled me…
Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. —Roger Caras
Do we really want to offer our dogs scraps of “time” in return for all the amazingly wonderful gifts they give us each day? Of course life in the 21st century can be extremely chaotic. We’ve all been there. But with a little effort and creativity, I’m certain we can find time to spend with our dogs each day without making too much of a dent in our busy schedules. Every dog needs meaningful touch and daily one- on-one interaction with his humans. It goes along way to meeting his needs and reassures him that everything is okay. If you’re really too busy during the day, try sleeping with your dog at night, take him along for errands when possible, or delegate the kids to walk the dogs. No time to pamper your dogs fur after a hard day’s work? Try keeping a small basket of grooming items by your sofa. You can brush your dog while watching TV and both you and your dog can unwind. If everyone in the family lends a hand at giving the gift of T-I-M-E to your dog, I can assure you there will be one happy doggie camped out under your holiday tree knowing his Christmas wish came true!
I believe that LOVE to our dogs is actually spelled T-I-M-E: Time spent training, being involved in doing things they love, maintaining their emotional and physical well being, and embarking on a quest for continuing education. No doubt, what we put into our relationship with our canine companions is often what we’ll get out. If you’re lacking ideas for what to offer your precious canine companions for Christmas, look no further!Remember, Santa told me that TIME spent with their owners was at the top of almost every pooch’s Christmas list!
I leave you with my personal letter to Santa and wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!
If you could capture TIME in a bottle, and place it under our tree…
If you could sprinkle magic stardust so that everyone might see…
The treasure cuddled in our lap, a gift from Heaven’s throne,
Whether child, puppy, or kitten, never to feel alone.
If you could help us understand, that time’s a precious gift,If you could capture our attention, long enough to sit.
Ride upon your sleigh dear Santa, quick before it’s gone,Capture time in a bottle, this is my prayer and my song.
Precious moments with those we love, all the year through—This is my Christmas wish, dear Santa, please let it come true!
By Leila Grandemange
Copyright © 2010 Leila Grandemange. All personal writing, photography and video on this website is the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any manner without written permission. Thank you.