The Perils of Materialism

My dog Alfie recently illustrated for me an important lesson on how being overly attached to material things can be harmful to your well-being.

Alfie is a 13-pound Havanese and Maltese mix. Most of the time, he is a relaxed, affectionate, and happy-go-lucky little fellow. However, after we adopted him two years ago, we found that he would guard his toys to the point of biting you if you tried to take them away. As a result, we don’t usually give him toys.

Like most dogs, Alfie is very motivated by food. If you give him a small treat, he gobbles it up excitedly. However, if you give him a larger treat that requires more work to eat, he will run around the house with it in his mouth until he finds a “safe” place to guard it, such as one of his dog beds. He won’t eat it; he’ll just guard it and growl at you if you approach.


Alfie guards his toy in his dog bed

We generally avoid these situations because we hate to see our cheerful little munchkin turned into a growling, snarling, snapping beast. We’ve learned, however, to use it to our advantage. When we have visitors, he can be so demanding of attention — especially if there is food being served — that he becomes a nuisance. So we give him a rawhide treat made from sweet potato. He runs around the house with it, then settles down in a safe place to guard it, and we can freely entertain our guests.

The difficulty comes after the guests leave. Usually we want to take him out for a walk. But he won’t let us approach because he is guarding his prize. It takes some trickery — such as ringing the doorbell and grabbing the treat from his bed as he runs barking to the door. Sometimes, we just walk him with the treat in his mouth. He usually drops it once he’s outside and forgets about it (or another dog comes over and picks it up while he is doing his business!)

The other night, we gave him a rawhide treat, which he was guarding in the dog bed that we keep in our bedroom. Generally, he sleeps in bed with us, although he is too little to get up to the bed by himself. He comes over and stands on his hind legs to signal that he wants to come up. That night, when we went to bed, he refused to come over because he was afraid for his treat. So we turned out the light and went to sleep without him. I commented to my husband that it was sad that he was choosing guarding his treat over cuddling with his humans. His neurotic attachment to this item was preventing him from one of the highlights of his day.

At some point during the night, he realized that he was missing out. I woke up and and there he was with his front paws up on the side of the bed, asking to be picked up and brought into bed with us. I did so, and he settled in between us. When I disposed of his treat in the morning, he didn’t seem to notice.

Alfie’s unhealthy attachment to this material object made me think of so many of my clients who let their stuff get in the way of living the life they desire. Having too much stuff interferes with their relationships with those they live with, and prevents them from having guests visit.

I was glad that, in the end, Alfie chose to be with us rather than alone with his treat.

  1. Ellen Delap
    Oct 31, 2016

    Love this post! We learn so much from our pets!

    My clients have learned routines and responsibilities like clearing the little box regularly. They have learned how walking your dog and exercise go hand in hand. This post highlights how our some of our basic nature, holding onto stuff, is harder to overcome than we might think. It may be more instinctual than we think.

    I have a post on this concept too this week on my site. (’s blog), How A Dog Helps you be more Organized.

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