article image

What Your Dog Really Wants This Holiday Season

“I used to look at [my dog] Smokey and think, ‘If you were a little smarter, you could tell me what you were thinking,’ and he’d look at me like he was saying, ‘If you were a little smarter, I wouldn’t have to.’ ”

—Fred Jungclaus


Well, I gotta hand it to Smokey — he was right on point. We gotta smarten up people. Smokey has some words of wisdom for you.

With the gift-giving season in full swing, and as defacto members of The Congregation of Canines, we all get a huge kick out of giving holiday gifts to our beloved companion dogs. What a perfect time to up our canine cred and tune into what dogs really want this holiday season.

As promised, Smokey’s got a lot to say about what dogs desire and need. Here, in his own words, Smokey reveals the best gifts you can give to your dog:

Respect: “That’s right — respect for us as dogs. You know, the ‘fur-baby’ thing, although well intentioned, is much more about our owner’s needs than our own needs. We know you love us, and we love you right back, but please don’t treat us like a furry infant or anything other than a sentient, intelligent dog with extraordinary potential for learning, having fun, bravery, loyalty, and devotion. Please don’t diminish our capacity for nobility. Not to mention that my canine friends at Point Isabel tease me all the time about being called a ‘fur-baby’!”

Communication: “Every time someone says, ‘If only my dog could talk,’ I get all jammed up. Dude! We dogs are always talking. We are master communicators, with skills honed over thousands of years of predation where observing the twitch of a single whisker could mean the difference between eating or starvation. Your attentiveness and responsiveness to us would be the best gift ever. When you familiarize yourself with our body language and signals, our relationship will deepen and create lifelong mutual satisfaction.”

Time: “Yeah, all of us dogs know you’re busy. You’ve got a very full life, but we only have you. The highlight of our day is spending time with you. Look, you may only be a human, but you need mental stimulation and physical exercise just as much as we do. Let’s go on adventure walks together. Let’s play ‘tug’ and work on our ‘out’ command. Give me some new challenges to master like scent work, agility classes, dock diving — the world is our marrow bone. I’m also happy to share quiet time with you, relaxing at your feet. The quality time you spend with us is absolutely necessary for us to stay in a balanced state of mind.”

Autonomy and independence: “Micromanagement is really annoying. No, really, you don’t have to tell us dogs every little darned move we should make. How about giving us the benefit of the doubt and just let us handle the things on our own? You’ll be able to tell if we need some guidance here or there. Give us the opportunity to develop our character by encouraging healthy independence. And ease up on the ‘sit’ thing. Yo, less interest about where my butt is and more concern about my state of mind. When you tell me to go to my pillow and stay there, I can figure out how to sit and lay down. Let us show off a little and convince you that we can make good decisions all on our own.”

Rules and boundaries: “Hey, I’m living in your domain, and without consistent, fair, and clear guidance, I’ll probably make lots of mistakes. I’m not being a brat. I just need the 411! Please lemme know what the rules are, and with your patient, steadfast leadership, I’ll be able to manage in your world just fine — sometimes maybe even better than you.”

Proof of Trustworthiness: “All of us dogs ask ourselves this question: ‘Can we trust you enough to put our lives in your hands?’ Answering ‘yes’ is not enough. You need to show us this every day. Advocate for us. Don’t put us in situations that make us seriously uncomfortable. Protect us, and please do not force us to do something to cause us to panic. I promise you, that’s probably not going to end well.”

Well, that Smokey is one smart pup, and I’m definitely going to follow his lead — pun intended.

Susan Raymond is the owner of Calm K9 and a longtime Port Costa dog trainer. She also coaches people who want to be professional dog trainers. She can be reached at 925-408-8593, Susan Raymond,,

Each month, this column is written by a different trainer or dog professional. If you’d like to contribute, contact

 Ed. Note: The byline in print was incorrect but has been corrected here. The bio also contained a goofed name, which has been corrected here, as well as an improper website, also corrected now.