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.
For years, my friend Stacie, encouraged (practically begged) me to listen to the Dave Matthews Band. She was a huge fan and had been for many years. I heard the occasional DMB song on the radio, but didn’t pay it much attention, neither liking it nor disliking it. But Stacie is very persistent and for some reason, she knew that this music would resonate with me. How she knew that, I do not know…but she did.
Eventually I gave in and downloaded “The Best of What’s Around” off of iTunes. And I did like what I heard. But this was not good enough for Stacie. She now felt that I needed to “experience” DMB. To her, the magic of this band was in their live performances. I have later discovered that DMB is to their fans, what the Grateful Dead was to their fans. And actually many of those old Grateful Dead fans are DMB followers. So Stacie gave me several copies of live DMB concerts on CD. They were OK, but you couldn’t follow the lyrics and there was a lot of jamming, of which I have never been a big fan. Regardless, I was becoming a fan and expanded my DMB CD collection and began to get a feel for the style of the band and the message and sincerity of Dave Matthew’s lyrics. Next in Stacie’s master plan was a live show. And she did that with a bang. My first DMB concert was at Alpine Valley and I was smack dab in the middle of the experience. We were in general seating, right in front of the stage. It was a mass of people, all standing, dancing, and singing at the top of their lungs. We were just off center stage and about 5 rows back. Simply put, it was phenomenal! In addition to good music and lyrics, this band performs and the joy of performing their music is evident. And this is most apparent in the band leader himself. He plays, sings, and dances with wild abandon. If you’d like to see some fun examples of this, just put ‘Dave Matthews dancing’ in YouTube search.
Stacie has completed her mission of turning me into a DMB fan. My husband now regrets the day I met Stacie because he really gets tired of hearing the music. As you can guess, he is NOT a DMB fan. I know he wonders how his usually very serious and focused wife (at this time, I was still running a fairly good size medical practice) became such a fan of this band, who’s fans resemble Dead Heads. His conservative wife who rarely did more than sway a little bit now and again during live band performances was now dancing freely (albeit poorly…think Elaine on Seinfeld) every chance she got. And truthfully, I was wondering the same thing…what was it about this band that resonated with me?
The truth of it hit me as I have been considering “The Art of Being a Dog”. It struck me that Dave Matthews is very dog-like. Perhaps that is why I was so drawn to the band’s music and performances. The lyrics ring of living in the moment, living without regret, and pursuing personal happiness. One of my favorite songs, “Lie in Our Graves” speaks to the joys of simple pleasures such as splashing in the water and then ends with the thoughts of “I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our days well. I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves thinking of things we might have been”. It is a song of no regrets.
And to watch the band perform, it is very reminiscent of dogs at play. No one up there is worrying about their appearance. They are lost in the moment and the joy of what they are doing is evident on their faces. It is the same type of expression I see when I watch a group of dogs. They are lost in the moment and the joy on their faces is evident.
So maybe my sudden love of DMB is not so strange. Perhaps it is the soundtrack of my evolution. For those of you that have watched my dog videos on Facebook, you have probably heard DMB playing in the background. What you do not see in the videos is the woman behind the camera who is slowly melting away years of worrying, regrets, and anticipation. You do not see her getting lost in the moment and busting out a wacky dance move every now and again. But it is happening and it is joyful! Thank you Stacie.
The hummingbirds are very active now. I suppose they are loading up the calories in preparation for their upcoming migration. Their feeders are right outside of my kitchen window, so I have good views as I make dog meals, do the dishes, or prepare dinner. I also have a great view of them when I sit on my sun porch and relax. I enjoy them very much, but almost missed them this year.
In preparation for starting a new business this summer, I decided to cut out all of the unnecessary tasks so that I would not be overwhelmed as the business grew. One of the unnecessary tasks was feeding the hummingbirds. I am usually diligent about keeping the feeders full and keeping them clean and did not want this to be just “one more thing” that I had to do. In early May, my hummers arrived, hovering just where the feeder usually hangs and looking in the window as if to say, “Hey Lady, we’re here…where’s the grub?” I told myself that they would move on and find another food source, but they did not and I finally gave in and made their feeders a week later. I don’t regret it. It only takes minutes and I enjoy watching them. It is a small investment to make for the enjoyment I receive.
This incident made me stop and think about what I do invest in. We all like to think that we invest our time wisely. One investment that I never regret is my dogs. My biggest regrets come from not investing in them. They really do require so little from me in order to be happy. Taking 30 minutes to walk them on the grassy path behind our house means so much to them…to smell the smells, roll in the grass, run freely, and be with me. Its such a small amount of time but it means the world to them. When the weather is bad, we play hide and seek in the house or “find the toy”. Again this only takes minutes of my day, but the result is happy and contented dogs. It is so easy to just flop down on the couch for must deserved rest after a busy day, but the next thing you know, it is bedtime and neither you nor your dog has anything to show for the time. So, this week I encourage you to take stock of your investments. Are your dogs included?
Early morning at the daycare has become my favorite time of the day. The hotel guests greet you with enthusiasm, tail wags, and kisses. Today, puppy Sidney gobbles her food down as if she has not eaten in weeks…such enthusiasm (reminds me of a two legged house companion of mine). Murphy (puppy’s older brother) greets me with adoring eyes and leans his whole body into mine for extra lovins. And Cooper bounds down the hall seeking the tennis ball (in the exact spot he left it last night).
And then its outside for the dog’s choice of activities. Most times, this includes a thorough sniffing of the play yard to see what new smells have emerged since last night. Hotel guests get the privilege of putting the first marks on all of the posts and playground equipment. This is a very big privilege in their minds. One might expect exuberant play since the dogs have been in their suites all night. But actually, it’s a calm time. The dogs wander about, sniffing, lay on mats chewing their bones. Games of fetch are subdued. It is very peaceful.
And on days like today, when the weather is so pleasant, its exceptionally nice. We sit outside, watch the birds perch on the fence, feel the sun warm us as it comes up over the trees, and we are dogs…living for this exact moment in time.
Have you ever taken the time to just stop and watch your dog? I’m not referring to watching your dog to make sure he is safe, not getting into trouble, eating enough or too much, or any other basic care monitoring. I am referring to watching your dog be a dog. Watch your dog quietly in everyday life and you will see things you have not seen before. It’s the simple things like sniffing grass, lifting a leg to pee, romping with another dog or a person, chasing the cat, chasing a toy, running with wild abandon, or just sitting quietly. If we allow it, dogs come as they are. I like to think of this state as the “Art of Being a Dog”. The trick is to notice this state and to be an observer. For so many years, I was so intent on controlling my dog and molding him into a little furry robot. And because of it, my dog was not able to be himself and I missed so many of the joys that come from being around a dog. At some point in my life, this changed and I gave up the control. And a whole new world opened up to me. My dogs are now a part of my life, as they are. Sure, I teach them what they must know in order to be good citizens and to be safe…but beyond that, they are allowed to be dogs. The intent of this blog is to share some of my thoughts on the Art of Being a Dog, suggestions on how you might cultivate this type of relationship with your dog, and also to share interesting stories about dogs and their people. And I hope to share some of the interesting information that comes my way, as a dog lover who has chosen to make dogs my profession.
I have a confession to make. I’m a softie. No matter how much I try to keep the lines between home and new business separate, it just doesn’t happen. If I have a single dog boarding for the night, and I know that dog will get along with my dogs, he spends the night at my house rather than sleeping all alone at the daycare. In the case of Gracee and Walter, I’m a goner. They have me wrapped around their little paws. But they really are a special case…
In May of this year, the Jefferson family suffered a tragedy. They had a house fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt. And as fate would have it, their daughter was unexpectedly home and this is what probably saved Walter and Gracee. Had no one been home, their fates may have been different. Following the fire, the kids spent a short time with neighbors, but ultimately ended up staying at the veterinary clinic boarding facility as the family put their life back together.
In early July, as Play All Day was just opening, I received a Facebook post from Michelle Jefferson, inquiring about our facility as a possible alternative for Walter and Gracee. Over the next weeks, we put things together, and on July 21, they came to stay at Play All Day. As it turns out, Gracee did not like confined spaces and was our first escapee in the hotel. This was when I knew that I needed to change my hotel suite doors to glass front doors (Thank you Gracee). So unfortunately, she had to be crated and Walter was free in the suite. While she was safe, this was still very stressful to Gracee and she would bark until she lost her voice. One can only imagine the stress that these kids had gone through and this behavior was not at all surprising. It was my husband Will’s idea to bring them up to the front office space to live. It made a great difference for them and Gracee’s stress level went down significantly. She loved to greet visitors by putting her paws up on the counter and wagging her tail.
During the first few weeks, both Walter and Gracee were excellent additions to our play groups. Walter even developed a fan following on Facebook. But as Walter got more comfortable, his “bully” nature came out and he had to be in timeout more than he was in play time. This is nothing bad about this; it is just the nature of the breed. They are very strong and stout, and often don’t know their own strength. And to top it off, we discovered that one of his hips might be bad, and all of the hard play was making him sore. So we decided that Walter was not a great candidate for play groups. We moved him back and forth between the front office and a crate in the play area so that he felt like a part of it all, but was safe. Gracee continued to be an excellent play mate and even helps some of the shyer dogs to come out of their shells a bit.
Two weeks ago, Michelle informed me that it may be another 8 – 12 weeks before their house is done. This is just too long for dogs to be living in a facility (no matter how nice it is), so I asked Michelle if she would be OK with Gracee and Walter moving in to our house. The change in Gracee is most noticeable. Her whole body posture is more relaxed and her eyes are shining. She is thriving in a home situation again. Walter surprised me. He seemed a bit stressed by the change. He really liked living in the office at the daycare. And he really did not know what to make of that strange cat that “owns” the house. I told him not to worry…most dogs are terrified of him. Now, two weeks later, he is his normal cute, obnoxious self that you can’t help but love.
So, this softie is now living in a household of 4 dogs and is always grateful to her understanding and compassionate husband. But I sleep well at night knowing that these two kiddos are living the best life they can until they get to go back home. I can’t wait to see Gracee’s face when this happens.
Our family is grieving. Our beloved Gussie died a few weeks ago. We guessed her to be about 14 years old. She had lived with us for more than 11 of those years. She came to us as a scared and starving stray, who took three days to catch. Her fear was so great that she could not bear to be touched. But once in our home, she blossomed into a confident and loving companion (although sometimes misunderstood by those she tried to bite).
Most affected by the loss of Gussie, is Sting. Gussie was his constant, his North Star. His entire 8 years of life has included her. I think he is feeling a bit adrift now. His grief is palpable. I want to be in his head right now and understand what he is feeling…to know if he understands what happened and why she is no longer in his life. While Sting is grieving, he still has that ability to live in the moment. He can be enticed into animation with the word “squirrel”, or the toss of the Wubba Kong. He still groans at a good ear or belly rub. Again, this is proof to me that dogs are masters of living in the moment. He is experiencing grief and acknowledges his grief, yet he is able to enjoy life during this process. I, on the other hand, can let grief consume me. I work hard each morning to get out of bed. I find myself distracted during conversations, realizing I have missed entire pieces of the interchange. And mostly, I find myself looking at Graham and Sting, already living through their future deaths. How morbid!
Last week, I was having a good cry with Sting, and in melodramatic fashion, told him that I just couldn’t take it if he died and that he had better live forever. And I swear to you, if the dog could have talked, his expression and look to me would have said, “I’m right here….I’m alive. I’m not dead yet.” He got up, picked up his Wubba and we had a good game of fetch.
This household is grieving and we are sad. But, we are all alive and fortunate to have each other. We just need to pick up our Wubba Kongs and get on with life.