I love to buy my dogs new toys. I know that the toy will be destroyed within days of purchase, sometimes hours. But I still love to watch the joy and excitement on Sting’s face when he sees me pull it out of the bag, take the scissors out of the kitchen drawer to remove tags, and talk in that silly human voice….saying “What does Mama have for her good boy? Is he a special boy? Yes he is!” And I love to watch Graham in the background, looking dismayed that one of his own species is so overtly animated over a stuffed toy. Graham would be equally animated if I brought in a live rabbit, but not so much for a stuffed one. But he loves his brother so he forgives him for this tiny transgression.
Neophilia (preference for novel objects) has been described in research studies. Kaulfus and Mills undertook a study in 2008 that showed that dogs gravitated towards novel toys the majority of time. This does not necessarily mean that they preferred them over their tried and true toys, but they definitely recognized novel toys. It is always great when research supports what you witness anecdotally. So what does this mean to us? If I think of novelty as it relates to dogs, I think of more than just the toys that I bring home to Sting. I think of food, activities, people, and many more things. Take a moment to think about your dog’s daily life. Then take a moment to think of yours. You see new things, eat a variety of foods, try new activities, go new places, and on and on. What does your dog experience? If your dog is like mine….not a lot unless, I put a lot of thought into it.
So, not to fill us all with guilt, I would suggest that our dogs do not experience the angst that we humans do when we are not fulfilled as Maslow described so many years ago. But do they deserve the satisfaction that novelty brings? I would say yes, they do. And its not that hard to achieve.
Diet; who said we have to feed our dogs the same thing every day? How would you feel if you ate the same thing every day? People food is not evil for dogs. Granted, we don’t want to create beggars at the table, but what’s wrong with sharing a little bounty from the leftovers? And who knows, you may actually be balancing out some of the deficits from your dog’s daily diet of kibble.
Exercise; change it up. Take a different route for your walk. What’s that, you say you don’t walk your dog, you just let them out in the yard to potty? Get out there and walk your dog. Let him see new things. And let him smell as you walk. Your dog’s nose is his window to the world. If he is not allowed to sniff, he is walking blindly through life. And if you want to get into your dog’s “Dog Owner Hall of Fame”, teach him to be reliable off leash and take him to a nature preserve to experience all that nature has to offer. It can be done and it is awesome for your dog.
Is that too big of a step to take right now? Understandable. There are simple things you can do at home. Buy new toys and introduce them one at a time. Only bring out specific toys for special times and then put them away for a later time. This makes them more special. Play ‘find the toy’ in the house on rainy days or outside in the yard on nice days.
People; if your dog loves people, do they get the opportunity to meet new people and interact with them? Make opportunities for this, either at your home or with visits to others’ homes or dog friendly businesses.
Know that as I write this, I am as guilty as anyone of keeping my dogs in a rut. I know that they need novelty in their lives, but forget this as I get busy with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are a few of my clients (John, Crystal, John & Amy) who I admire greatly for the time and effort that they put into their dogs and ensuring that they lead fulfilling lives. Its not that time consuming to give our dogs what they need, but it does take some thought.
So next time you unpack that new toy and see the joy on your dog’s face, use that as a reminder that novelty is as important to your kiddos as it is to you. Let it inspire you to take more steps to provide novel situations for your beloved friend.