Before I begin this post, I’d like to offer the disclaimer that I sincerely hope to not offend anyone. What I’m about to write is simply an observation I’ve made in my work.
Over the years I’ve found that the most experienced “dog people”—whose who train dogs, handle dogs, or simply spend a lot of time with their dogs—have the least amount of “stuff” for their dogs. They don’t have a lot of toys, accessories, and gizmos. I can think of a handful of exceptions, but for the most part people that understand dog behavior don’t buy a billion things for their dog.
That might seem counterintuitive at first, but it can be very important. While speaking with a group of dog trainers at work the other day, I noticed a common thread: phrases like “My dog has hardly toys” or “We barely have any of that!” In general, most of these trainers give their dogs only what they truly need.
Oftentimes, when owners don’t give their dogs the leadership or structure they need, they nevertheless sense that their dog needs more. They have a bond with the dog and want to be able to give it what it needs. But because they don’t know how to give their dog the right training, they end up giving material things. Now, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with material things such as toys. But when you buy a lot of them, that often means that you’re not providing some other things.
Now, I know that there’s someone reading this who does everything right for their dog and also buys them a bunch of trinkets. However, I’m hoping that some other people identify themselves in this description, and realize that they might be giving their dog material stuff because they aren’t actually providing the right leadership. A dog might have every toy you can buy, treats with his food, treats after his food, treats for when he poops outside, thirty different Halloween costumes, and twenty leashes—but no understanding of right and wrong! That’s not healthy.
So don’t fill your dog’s life with stuff until you’ve filled it with leadership, rules, and structure. All that other stuff is fun for you—and probably fun for your dog, too!—but it doesn’t replace the things that your dog really needs. This isn’t meant to be a finger-pointing session. Rather, it’s meant to be a gentle reminder about the difference between what we try to give our dogs and what they actually need.
So if your dog has every toy under the sun, but no structure or leadership, then you might want to change some things. But if your dog has all those toys in addition to that structure and leadership, then you’re good to go. Just maintain the things that your dog really needs, and you can buy him all the toys you want!