Your dog does not understand the concept of holidays. She doesn’t have any idea what all the seasonal decorations collected in your house are meant to represent (although she probably enjoys smelling all the fragrant trimmings). She doesn’t know that a bunch of humans she rarely sees have gathered together for the purpose of celebrating their love for each other. She isn’t aware that her very presence at a holiday gathering is supposed to make her feel loved, safe, and socially-connected.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t share the holiday spirit with your dog this year. You are quite capable of making her feel loved, connected, and excited, but not until you start looking critically at your anthropomorphic preconceptions about the nature of her experience in the world. If you want to make your dog happy this holiday season, the first thing you need to do is admit that you don’t know too much about how to do that.
I know from experience that this is easier said than done. It has been very difficult for me to face the fact that I know very little about how my “best friend” sees the world and thinks about me. I don’t like having my world-view challenged any more than you do. But please believe me when I tell you that it’s worth it. Because once you’re able to make the difficult admission that you don’t know very much about your dog’s experience in the world then you’ll see that there’s a readily-available gift that you can give this holiday season in order to meaningfully improve your dog’s life — the gift of knowledge.
Yes, that’s right — if you want to be kind to your dog this Christmas then you should be giving material gifts to yourself, not to her. (Save the $46 per pet that pet owners are expected to spend on gifts for their pets this holiday season!) Deliberately expose yourself to scientifically-valid information about how dogs perceive and experience the world. Your improved understanding will allow you to make better decisions about how to treat and relate to your dog.
In your effort to acquire such knowledge, do your best to disregard unproven theories, so-called “expert advice,” self-serving recommendations, and invalid conjecture packaged in tidy and compelling narratives. Turn off your TV. Put down your doggie magazine. Think critically and independently. Go out and discover what the unbiased scientific community has to say about the matter — you live in the “Information Age” so this is kind of pursuit has never been easier.
Here, we’ll even get you started. Just register for our e-mail list (the link is on the right side of this page) and Varsity Pets will send you a holiday gift in the form of a compilation of online and print resources that will further your understanding of you dog’s mind and body.
Happy holidays to one and all. Thanks as always for reading.