The lick of the face; the wag of the tail; the shake of the paw - most people can agree that man's best friend is a loyal and accommodating companion. And, for the most part, we treat our dogs as such, with regular walks, occasional grooming and treats for a job well-done.
But something interesting has happened in the last 30 years, or so. While we're working 10-hour days, struggling to pay our mortgages and feed our kids, somehow our pets have become manic-depressive, furry balls of stress. At least, that's what the pet pampering industry would have you believe. As a result, many gourmet and luxury businesses dedicated exclusively to spoiling animals have emerged. No, we're not talking about the $3 million dog collars that are out of the question for the average person, but the items and services that are, technically, within reach. (Ever wonder how much owning pet will really cost you? Read The Economics Of Pet Ownership.)
Canine Spa Therapy
It's a stressful life, being a dog. Thankfully, many massage therapists catering exclusively to canines have been opening their doors. And some established spa and massage therapy clinics are even allowing owner/dog appointments. These bookings go further than the usual muscle-relaxing rub - they often include hot stone treatments, mud baths and full pedicures, and (on average) can cost approximately $45 per half-hour.
Therapists believe that the mud - when combined with specialized oils and conditioners - replenishes the dog's skin and coat. The pedicures are purely to make the other dogs jealous.
Poor Owner's Alternative: There are many books available on the art of canine massage and grooming, and its benefits - often costing under $30. Then again, if you have at least one hand and are willing to pet your dog for a few minutes a day, it's unlikely that he will even notice the difference.
Doggy Yoga (Doga)
With the rise in popularity of yoga in the Western world over the last couple of decades, it was inevitable that we would eventually find a way to transfer our need for physical and mental balance on to our pets. Dog yoga (or doga) is a newer practice that involves the owner and the dog in collaborative poses that, in theory, promote proper breathing, balance and health. So far, classes in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have grown significantly in size, and the practice has begun expanding to smaller markets.
Critics of doga argue that it turns a traditional practice into another modern-day fad, and that it buries the fundamental values of yoga and the cultures that have embraced it. Also, it makes the assumption that dogs and humans share the same physiological needs.
Poor Owner's Alternative: For your puppy, the "downward facing dog" pose is completely natural - also, it's almost certain that he will gain as much entertainment value from just watching you.
Believe it or not, your dog isn't happy with the bagged food you buy from the store, or the pork chop you pass him under the table - your dog wants more … much more. According to many food manufacturers and chefs, your dog wants individualized, hand-prepared meals. Pastas, turkey dinners and gourmet soups are just the tip of the iceberg for this industry.
Perhaps this is why dog-friendly restaurants and bars have been popping up as of late.
And thus ends the era in which pub owners encourage you to leave some waste on the floor after the meal.
Poor Owner's Alternative: There are many local manufacturers of organic, healthy dog treats. Farmer's markets and health food stores often stock food that will make your puppy feel like a king.
Animal boarding is nothing new. Most pet owners, at one time or another, have dealt with the dilemma of finding lodging for an animal when going on vacation, or when an emergency arises. But many of the more extravagant hotels for animals are now offering premium services in their facilities - a far stretch from the typical concrete and cage boarding kennels.
Private rooms that feature flat-screen TVs showing the "best" in canine entertainment - say, "Lady and the Tramp" (1955), Hotel for Dogs (2009) and Snow Dogs (2002) - are not uncommon. Neither are pet-centric exercise facilities that include treadmills and tumbling mats. But the newest trends in pet lodging include treatments for which most humans wouldn't even shell out, like stress-relieving aromatherapy sessions and oxygen capsule treatments to aid the respiratory system after a good workout. All of this for the reasonable price approximately $220 per night.
Poor Owner's Alternative: The most common (and cheapest) alternative is to simply leave your puppy with a friend or family member. Of course, you won't see the same four-star treatment, but most dogs will learn to manage. Plus, if your dog is really having a hard time breathing after a walk, you've got bigger problems on your hands.
The Bottom Line
Most pet owners pamper their companions to some degree - whether that means simply walking them each day or eating from the same plate, à la Mickey Rourke. The majority of companies that cater to lavish canine treatment are privately or family-run, but if these services move from the "luxury" category into "necessity", we may see larger companies enter the fray.