Happy dog standing on hind legs holding gift wrapped in green paper with white ribbon and bow

Is Buying Gifts for Our Pets Silly?–Psychologists Weigh In

Last updated on December 22nd, 2023 at 08:25 pm

Most dog owners consider their pets to be part of the family. So, as holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions roll around, a lot of people want to include their furry friends in the celebrations by giving gifts to them along with other family members. But do dogs really understand what our celebrations are about? Do they care? More to the point, do they realize something special is going on and is it silly to give them a gift?

I personally do think that dogs get excited when we have holidays and other celebrations. They know something is up, and as with most things we do, they want to be in the midst of it. So, I don’t think it is silly to buy gifts for our special pooches like we would for any other family member, and many experts agree.

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The Trend Toward Multi-Species Families Which Include Pets

Cute brother and sister sitting on the lawn with their puppy and kitty.

Yes, it is true–we now consider our pets to be part of our family! This has probably been the case for as many years as dogs and humans have lived together. However, the status of pets as part of the family and not just domesticated animals who live with us, has risen significantly over recent years. As a result, we want to celebrate with them and give them gifts as we do with other family members. Be sure to see my recommended luxury gifts for dogs if you really want to treat yourself and your pooch this year.

During 2017, 33% of millennials were buying homes with the goal to also accommodate their pets. Pet-friendly homes became just as important for young people who were just starting out as families who were searching for a home where they could raise their children. We consider dogs as part of our clan just as dogs perceive us to be their pack. See my post Tips for Buying the Right Home for You and Fido to learn more about this.

According to Bankrate.com, pet ownership in the United States rose from 56% in 1988 to 70% in 2022. Part of this may be due to younger people opting to adopt pets and postponing having children as they focus on careers and finances.

So, it is no surprise that we want to include our furry wards as part of our holidays and special events. After all, we engage with them every day by feeding and caring for them, as well as through exercise and playtime activities.

Why Buying Gifts for Our Dogs is Good for Us

“. . . researchers found that participants who spent money on their pets reported feeling happier than those who spent money on themselves. People who spent money on their pets were also happier than those who spent money on someone else.

Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC

Giving gifts is usually something we do as an act of caring and love. It is part of our DNA to nurture those close to us. As with friends and family, we feel good when we take care of our pets and make sure their needs are met. And this includes gift-giving. Sometimes nothing makes us happier than seeing a happy dog with a wagging tail playing with a new toy. In fact, some people enjoy giving gifts to their dogs more than to their co-workers. Stands to reason, their co-workers are not part of their pack!

Medical experts have long recognized the benefits of owning a pet, which include companionship as well as health benefits. An article at CNN.com points to the benefits of pet ownership for a multitude of reasons. According to psychologist Harold Herzog, a pet-loving professor at Western Carolina University who has long studied the human-animal connection, “I have a list of 10 health benefits [that] studies have shown pet owners have.” He continues to say that the benefits of having pets include, “higher survival rates, fewer heart attacks, less loneliness, better blood pressure, better psychological well-being, lower rates of depression and stress levels, fewer doctor visits, increased self-esteem, better sleep, and more physical activity,”

In a Psychology, Today post, Why buying a Gift for your Dog is Good for You, author and psychologist, Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC, points to research that was done with a team headed by Michael White of the Columbia Business School at Columbia University regarding how owners felt about buying gifts for pets. He summarizes it this way:

Again, as predicted, the researchers found that participants who spent money on their pets reported feeling happier than those who spent money on themselves. People who spent money on their pets were also happier than those who spent money on someone else.

Our Dogs Love to Be Part of Everything We Do!

My dogs seem to be in the midst of anything I try to do. If I go into the kitchen to make a sandwich, they are right there in the center of the kitchen to the point I have to step over them. If I go upstairs to my office they follow me. When a friend comes to visit they join in with happy licks, and wagging tails, and listen intently at our feet as we talk.

Keep in mind that we have friends, work, and places to go, but our dogs only have us. So, It is no wonder that they look to us as their primary source of socialization and entertainment. As we prepare for the holidays, they sense our excitement and want to be part of it. A lot of dog owners include their pets by dressing them up in holiday costumes, which is a lot of fun for them and us if not overdone.

When I had Beagles many years ago, we had a nice brick fireplace with a long wood mantle. It was perfect for hanging Christmas stockings. So, each year there were four stuffed Christmas stockings hanging from it — two for us and two for our dogs. They got pretty excited trying to sniff them and figure out what smelled so good. We stuffed them with their favorite chew toys and treats.

This was many years ago, and I am amazed at how many options pet retailers now offer. Chewy has some really cute and useful pet stocking stuffers which you can see here which include both Christmas and Hanukkah dog gifts. You can also see some great holiday gifts on Amazon as well as on my recommended Dog Toys page. I really love the pumpkin Portland Petfood Dog treats which you can get at Amazon and Chewy. Portland Company bakes handmade, human-grade food in small batches, which my dogs love as special treats.

The Shiny New Object Syndrome

A variety of brightly colored toys purchased for my two rescue dogs. Bones, balls, squirrels, tug-of-war rope toys.

Dogs love presents because it is something new and exciting. In another post about toys that dogs prefer, Stanley Cohen points to research showing that dogs have “transient neophilia towards novel objects”. Neophilia is a psych term for having a tendency toward something new. This is why dog trainers often suggest rotating your dog’s toys in and out of their toy basket. They become delighted when you add back a toy they haven’t seen for several weeks. They may even think it is brand new!

Dogs are like perpetual two-year-olds. They need and demand a lot of attention. The best way to do this is to keep them engaged, stimulated, and entertained and let them periodically be the center of attention. I do this by making a big deal of their birthdays each year by giving them their favorite dinner, treats, and new toys. And of course, I always include them in our holidays. They can’t wait to tear into their packages under the Christmas tree, which I conveniently wrap in tissue paper. Finally. after days of sniffing, they get to rip open their gifts and discover new fun toys and treats.

Closing Thoughts

You are not crazy or silly if you buy your dog gifts. In fact, you are probably more emotionally healthy if you do. Science has demonstrated that giving presents to our dogs makes our dogs and us happier. And if you don’t believe in science, just ask your dog!

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