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Keeping Your Dog Safe and Happy During the Holidays

Read some tips to set your dog up for success this holiday season and help him to be more relaxed and calmer during stressful periods in our lives!

(Photo: Rhaúl V. Alva)

By Sandy Modell

Alexandria, VA – This holiday season may be like no other in our lifetime. There may be less travel, fewer large family gatherings, and more time spent in our homes. But what about our dogs? They don’t know what a pandemic is, but they can feed off our emotions. So although the Holiday Season may be less stressful for our dogs this year, with fewer visitors tromping in and out of our homes, if we are feeling stress, they can pick up on our emotions too.

Here are some tips to set your dog up for success this holiday season and help him to be more relaxed and calmer during stressful periods in our lives:

· Create a “safe zone” for your family dog and teach him a place cue. Teaching your dog to go to a mat or into his crate with a verbal cue can provide a chill spot for your dog, whether you have company coming or strangers entering your home for repairs. A comfy space in a room away from the activity or having your dog on the other side of a baby gate can provide a way to manage your dog’s environment without having to restrain him by the collar.

· Provide your dog with lots of mental and physical exercise during the holiday season. Play some recall games, ball retrieve, or tug. Most dogs have energy to spare, and often a few walks a day only make a dent in burning off a dog’s energy level. Remember that mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. “A tired dog is a good dog!”

· Although your holiday may be less hectic this year, you could be planning a smaller holiday feast. Holiday dinner is less enjoyable if Fido is at the table drooling, barking, and jumping for some of that tasty turkey, ham, or sweet potatoes. Prepare some frozen Kongs, stock up on bully sticks, or Himalayan yaks, etc. Before you sit down at the holiday table, designate a place for your dog to go so they can enjoy their smorgasbord.

(Photo: Joseph Pisicchio)

· Interactive food puzzles and treat dispensing toys can keep your dog relaxed while your family is having some holiday cheer. These toys challenge your dog’s ability to problem solve and lessen boredom while you’re enjoying your chill spot.

· Don’t tempt fate by leaving delicious holiday goodies in your dog’s reach. Mince pies, plum puddings, chocolate, and sugarless chewing gum all have ingredients that can be super toxic for pets. Christmas poinsettias are poisonous to dogs, so keep them out of reach too. Remember, even the most well-behaved dog can turn into a “counter-surfer” if tempted.

· Dogs are scavengers and very resourceful. Trash cans filled with turkey bones or other foodstuffs can be very tempting. Keep them out of reach or use a trash can with a locking lid.

· Keep small toys, wrapping paper, tinsel, ornament hooks, etc., out of your dog’s reach just as you would with a small child. Dogs investigate the world with their noses and mouths, so prevention is truly the best medicine. If eaten, gift ribbons and decorations can be very harmful.

· If your dog has a long waggy tail or is overly interested in the lovely tree you have in your home, you may want to put a baby gate or x-pen around it. Neither broken ornaments nor knocked over trees will add to your holiday cheer.

· A note about children and dogs. Always think safety first! Some dogs love interacting with young children, but both can be unpredictable. Never leave your dog unattended with children. Even if your dog loves kids, supervise all interactions. Instruct children on how to interact with your dog. If you know your dog is timid around kids, provide a safe and comfortable space for them away from the kids.

(Photo: Laura Beth Snipes)

Although this holiday may be different from seasons past, we can still find joy. Your dog is part of your family and you should include him in your holiday festivities. By following this list of guidelines, you can help set him up for success and keep him safe during the holidays.

Wholistic Hound Academy wishes you and your canine companions a very safe and happy holiday season!

Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head of Training at Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit to enroll in our programs, and like us on or Instagram at

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