Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Some Christmas gift ideas for the dog and dog owners on your list
Each year at this time, I review the American Pet Products Association's estimates of what we spend on pets, which this year is expected to be nearly $53 billion (yes, that's with a "b").
The estimate covers birds, fish, cats, reptiles and horses, as well as dogs. Despite the economy, this estimate is up nearly $2 billion over last year. This might seem like good news for those of us in the industry, but as a dog trainer, I'm at the tail end of this receiving line. In fact, training doesn't even qualify as a category.
Spending breaks down into these categories:
Food: 39 percent;
Veterinary care: 26 percent;
Supplies and over-the-counter medications: 24 percent;
Pet services (boarding and grooming): 8 percent;
Live animal purchases: 4 percent.
Even though the APPA estimates an increase in spending this year, I suspect quite a few readers are looking for ways to economize as the holidays approach. So let me once again offer some suggestions for low-cost (and even free) gifts for your dog, your dog-owning friends and you!
Rather than consumable items such as rawhide chews, bully sticks and pigs' ears - many of which are potentially harmful or could even be fatal to your dog - consider a "recyclable" chewable that is not only less expensive, it's way better for your dog.
A hollow sterile femur bone lasts for years (and can be put in the dishwasher for cleaning). Stuff it full of soft cheese or peanut butter mixed with your dog's own food, and your dog will happily spend loads of time working on it, both chewing and getting the goodies out. You can even freeze it and give it to your dog when you leave the house to keep him busy while you're gone.
Numerous, reasonably priced toys on the market will not only keep your dog entertained and busy, but also will provide an outlet for your dog's mental and physical energy.
A number of quality toys can be filled with your dog's dry dog food, which is slowly released, piece by piece, as your dog plays with it, such as: the Tug-a-Jug and the Busy Buddy Twist & Treat (Premier Pet Products); Monster Mouth (Jolly Pets); Kong Stuff-a-Ball and a wide variety of Kong toys (Kong); Bob-A-Lot, Everlasting Fun Ball and Everlasting Treat Ball (Starmark); and Tricky Treat Ball (Omega Paw).
Of course, you need to reduce your dog's daily meal by the amount you put in the toys, so you're not overfeeding. Or use it as an entertaining way to feed your dog her entire meal.
I love books, and there are countless wonderful books for any dog lover of any age. Of course, I think the best gift book this year is an autographed copy of "The Thinking Dog" by um . me! Contact me if you'd like a personalized autographed copy for yourself or a dog-loving friend.
Time and training
If you ask your dog what he or she wants for a gift, most dogs would tell you they really want a gift of your attention - a gift of your time. And it's free!
Consider making a commitment to your dog (accruing benefits and enjoyment for you, too!) to take a regular walk or spend some time three or four days a week teaching your dog a new trick or enjoying her repertoire of already learned ones.
If your dog is untrained or could use some additional training, a gift of a training class is something both you and your dog will value and benefit from for years to come.
And for something to do this winter, consider giving you and your dog an enrollment in a dog sport class such as dog Agility or Rally. Dog sports are fun, as well as a terrific way to sharpen your dog's skills and reliability, while providing a healthy outlet for his energy. You don't have to be an athlete, and neither does your dog.
Not sure what to give someone? How about a gift certificate to their local dog day care, kennel, grooming shop, training school or pet store. They'll appreciate it and so will their dog. Happy holidays to you and your pets!
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.