The holidays are a crazy time for us all! Between Halloween and New Years', our lives become hectic, and this can often wreak havoc on our dogs, especially ones that already struggle with fear or anxiety. In contrast, some dogs are naturally social and enjoy the extra company, some pant, pace, and stress with every person to enter the house. You may have one dog that rests calmly on a bed while you cook and another who is under your feet waiting for scraps the entire time. For our fearful dogs, the holidays can be one of the worst times of the year!
So what can you do at home to help our nervous pups stay calmer and prevent our naughty pups from getting into something they shouldn't? Here are a few of my top holiday tips.
-DO create a safe place for your dog! A safe place could be a crate or a quiet room that no one else will enter. Your dog should enjoy going to their safe place and find it easy to rest there. Our dogs need a place to decompress from all their daily choices and need more time to do so when life is hectic. Note: your dog's safe place should be away from all of the company's hustle and bustle.
-DON'T allow every person who enters the house to interact with your dog. Unless you have a highly social dog, being forced to interact with a large group of people or many different people on the same day or even week creates stress. Even worse, forcing a nervous dog to "get used" to the company only creates more anxiety and can lead to a dog bite. Using your safe place and an interactive food toy when company comes over will be more enjoyable for many dogs and less stressful for you!
-DO know what foods are poisonous and which foods are safe for your dog to eat. Here is a link to the Animal Poison Control. They have a list of toxic foods for dogs and a number you can call if you think your pet has ingested something dangerous. (Animal Poison Control | (888) 426-4435 | ASPCA). You might be surprised by some things that can be extremely dangerous in small amounts like grapes, raisins, xylitol (artificial sweetener), avocados, and more. If you have a counter surfer, put up a baby gate to the kitchen to prevent any accidents from happening. The last thing you want to do on Christmas eve is spend it and the Animal Emergency because Fido at something he shouldn't.
Note: Dog that do not usually get table scraps will have a hard time digesting them. Getting too many table scraps or food high in fat like ham can cause diseases like pancreatitis in our dog. Pancreatitis is very painful, and for our dogs and requires medical intervention.
-DO place a barrier around the Christmas tree to keep curious pets out of trouble.
-DO use calming music or a white noise machine to help mask the sounds of things like fireworks or a crowd of people.
-DO search canine body language and watch a few videos. Even dogs that love to be part of the action can become overwhelmed. We want to make sure they enjoy the holidays, so knowing when to remove them from the excitement is essential. Canine body language can be very subtle. It's critical to learn the first signs of stress! Here are two charts you can follow to know if your dog is becoming overwhelmed! Canine Body Language Chart & Canine Stress Escalation Scale.
-DO use things like Adaptil© collars or diffusers or Thunder Shirts© (Only use a Thunder Shirt if your dog has already been conditioned to it).
-DON'T allow young children to hug or get in your dog's face. This is a scary event for most dogs and can lead to a bite, especially with the holiday's stress.
-DO show children how to approach your dogs safely and how to pet from shoulder to back.
-DO provide plenty of calming enrichment to help keep your dog stress bucket from overflowing. A frozen lick mat or frozen stuffed Kong in a quiet place can do a lot for a fearful dog or a dog that is starting to become overwhelmed. Licking and chewing are naturally calming for our dogs and help them lower their stress levels.
-DON'T take your dogs outside for walks during fireworks. This is a recipe for disaster. Dogs can get loose during the panic of fireworks and become disoriented and run away from you even when they have a good recall.
I hope that you found these tips helpful in keeping your dog safer and more relaxed over the Holiday season. I hope everyone has a great holiday season!
Harmonious Handling Dog Training
CPDT-KA, Certified Pro Dog Trainer, Certified Fear Free Trainer.