The Gift of Dog


Erin at Sunrise

As the holiday season descends upon us, there is the usual rushing about to buy gifts for relatives, children and friends, and yes, some even buy gifts for their dogs. I have seen some really elaborate gifts for dogs along with monogramed stockings for them hung with those for all the other family members. I don’t see anything really wrong in having a little fun and including the dog in the family ritual of opening presents on Christmas day but I believe it’s good to keep this in perspective—to be more precise, in the dog’s perspective.

In the words of M. Fackla, “We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare, and love we can spare.  And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.”

Most of the year, the average person gives their dog precious little time, devotion and, as the quote suggests, space. People have jobs, they commute; in a family with children, often the only free non-work time is spent chauffeuring the kids to various activities. The dog may get a ride in the car, a short walk (human walks are never long enough by dog standards) and a pat on the head. People expect them to be on their best behavior all the time, especially in public, even though the poor dog gets little in the way of dedicated training for this—mostly, it’s on-the-spot training. We expect a lot from our dogs. The service dogs I train are expected to perform all the time regardless of circumstances. I never hear people talk about the dog having a day off, or having a sick day; we expect them to be there, always ready to give their all.

Dogs honor and revere humans for who we are. Do humans venerate dogs in a way and manner that fully embraces their “dogness”—that is, all the things that dogs do and all the ways that dogs act out in accord with their species’ culture? Or are we too busy trying to get them to be our furry little children, forgetting that at times they just want to roll around in something smelly.

Where I am going with all this is that we humans are lucky to have the gifts of dogs in our lives. They enrich our lives in so many ways: Their love and devotion are legendary. What we need to remember during this holiday gift-giving season is to give back to our dogs what they give to us—unselfish devotion, unconditional love and satisfaction just to be in our company whoever we are, wherever we are. In thinking about it, perhaps that is the gift we should be giving to other people, too.

Happy Holidays everyone, and many thanks for all the lovely emails and stories about your dogs. Next year I’ll be writing about the education of my new puppy, Bailey, with some insights into handling and training puppies in particular. Please join my pack after the holidays and stay tuned.