By Susan Spisak
It’s December and we’re into the holidays. It’s a wonderful time to start new traditions with your dog—after all, he’s a valued member of the family. For those who don't celebrate the holidays,” remember it’s snow season in Maine, and there are plenty of activities you and your pet can enjoy during the winter.
Do you receive lots of greeting cards starring dogs? You know the ones—owners have decked their pets out in cute (or ugly) sweaters—or they might be wearing antlers? They’re great to receive, so why not jump on the bandwagon and send out cards featuring your bestie? There are many professional photographers holding picture-taking events throughout the area. Or if you prefer, take his picture and upload it to an online store or “big box” photo center that will create the cards for you.
If you head to a Christmas tree farm to pick out the perfect pine, call ahead. They may allow your leashed bud to come along. This can become an annual tradition, and it’s stimulating exercise for you both. It gets him out in the fresh air and there are tons of scents to sniff!
Years back, our son and daughter-in-law gave each of our four dogs a personalized stocking. My husband and I were so touched that we’ve continued that tradition for our pups, Teddy and Banx. We stuff them with fav treats like bacon snacks, cookies, and jarred peanut butter for their Kongs. This is a neat gift idea for family members or friends who have pets.
Donate to a local animal non-profit in your dog’s name. Many shelters have important funds for urgent and specialty veterinary care such as Midcoast Humane’s Columbo Fund. (It is named after rescued pup, Columbo, and was initiated by his mom, Andrea Shaw, to give back to the community.) This is an awesome tradition that helps a nonprofit.
If you’re a Christmas aficionado, buy matching pj’s for you and your dog. Don’t neglect to purchase presents and bake him healthy cookies, too. Nice tins filled with extras are thoughtful gifts for dog-lovers as well. (See thecookierookie.com/pb-dog-treats/ for easy recipes.)
Rounding out this month is New Year’s Eve. First, consider beneficial resolutions that fit his needs for the upcoming year. For example, if your dog isn’t up-to-date on shots and preventatives, schedule an appointment with your vet or a low-cost clinic. If his manners need tweaking, vow to work on them regularly.
Add routines such as bi-weekly toothbrushing. I use vet recommended over-the-counter vanilla-mint Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Dog & Cat Toothpaste. If your dog is toothbrush-shy like my Teddy, use your index finger, squeeze the paste on and run across the teeth and gums. To keep him looking his most handsome self, brush several times a week to avoid matts. The thing that I’ve learned about resolutions is that you must follow through. I keep Teddy and Banx’s grooming and oral hygiene stuff on the “dog counter” in the laundry room to remind me.
Finish off New Year’s Eve with quality time. Snuggle on the couch and stream a canine-themed film before the ball drops. If these movies aren’t your thing, watch one that fits your mood. Pop some popcorn, share a few pieces with your guy, and enjoy the evening. As for New Year’s Day, take a brisk walk together to start the year out right.
If you skip the holiday fuss, focus on the snow season. One of my favorite ideas comes from my friend, Scout. She takes her Golden, Sully, sled riding. Sully loves to drag the sled to the park. He occasionally jumps on for a ride downhill but prefers to race alongside his mom. Scout admitted she’s not sure who has more fun. After walking home, they’re both ready for a nap.
Have a camp or large yard with a firepit? Host a bonfire for your friends. Ask them to bring favorite warm beverages, blankets, and dogs. Make sure they have flashlights to get to the seating area safely. Serve snacks for 2-leggeds (think S’mores), have plenty of water for the 4-leggeds.
If you’re altruistic and have a well-behaved, gentle dog, volunteer at a nursing home with your special friend. It not only makes the residents feel good, but you will as well. As for your dog, he’ll relish the attention, plus the interaction is important for his well-being, especially during the winter months when activities may be limited.
Have outdoorsy friends and family who love the cold? Get a group together for a trail meet-up. Stop by your favorite donut or sandwich shop for coffee and bites for the gang, then hike to your heart’s content. This is a terrific way to spend time together and can be scheduled all year round.
If you’re looking for an invigorating activity to share with your medium- to larger-sized healthy energetic canine, look no further than skijoring, a combo of cross-country skiing and dog sledding. You control the skis and poles and get a speed boost thanks to one or more attached dogs pulling in front. While there are competitive classes/races, you can head to dog-friendly trails on your own—but hit sled dog clubs for lessons first. If you get hooked on skijoring, there are similar sports such as bikejoring for year-round entertainment.
Whatever you celebrate—holidays, snow season, or both—enjoy this time creating traditions and memories with your dog, family, and friends!