Alexandria, VA – The Holiday Season is filled with excitement, merriment, and cheer. Although the holiday hubbub can undoubtedly be stressful to us humans, dogs can be particularly vulnerable to holiday stressors because they can’t prepare for what may be in store: visitors they’ve never met or only see a few times a year, decorations and lights hanging down, sometimes a large evergreen tree planted right in the middle of the living room, and of course, the glorious smell of food wafting from the kitchen. And then there’s the dining room table, covered in all sorts of treats, meats, and desserts.
Dogs are carnivores and opportunists, especially when it involves food. If you taught your dog to lay quietly on their mat or bed with a frozen Kong or chewies, they might think you’ve prepared this savory meal just for them.
Because the gaiety of the holidays can be overwhelming for many pups, here are some tips and guidelines to keep your canine companions safe and happy so that everyone can have a very merry holiday:
- Create a “safe zone” for your family dog, such as a crate (if they like their crate), a comfy room in your home, or on the other side of a baby gate. Kids running around, doorbells ringing, noise, and strangers coming and going can be stressful for your pet. If the doorbell or knock triggers your dog, ask your guests to text you when they arrive. This will also give you time to get your pup comfortably situated in their “safe zone.”
- Give your dog vigorous mental and physical exercise before your guests arrive. Play some recall games, treat search, ball retrieve, or tug. To work their brains and olfactory senses, provide some of their meal in treat dispensing toys like a Barnacle, Bobalot, or snuffle mat. “A tired dog is a good dog!”
- Prepare some frozen Kongs or Toppls, stock up on bully sticks, Himalayan yaks, no-hides, etc., and before you sit down at the holiday table covered with mouthwatering smells and goodies, designate a place for your dog to go so they can enjoy their own buffet.
- Never leave your dog unattended with children. Even if your dog loves kids, be sure to supervise all interactions. Always think — safety first! Many dogs don’t like to be hugged or patted on the head. If you know your dog is timid around kids, provide them with a safe and comfortable space away from them.
- Interactive food puzzles and treat-dispensing toys can occupy your dog and keep him relaxed while your guests are in the next room having some holiday cheer or ringing in the New Year. You will engage him mentally, challenge and build his problem-solving skills, and lessen his boredom while tending to your guests.
- 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, unfortunately, be super toxic for our pets. The Christmas Poinsettia is poisonous to dogs, so keep them out of reach. Remember, even the most well-behaved dog can become a “counter-surfer” if tempted.
- Trash cans filled with turkey, ham bones, or other foodstuffs can tempt your dog. After all, dogs are scavengers and resourceful animals. So, keep trash cans 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 a small child’s. Dogs investigate the world with their noses and mouths, so prevention is the best medicine. Gift ribbons and decorations can be very harmful if ingested by pets.
- The beautifully decorated tree with sentimental glass ornaments can pique the attention of even a mildly curious dog. Be proactive by putting an exercise pen around the tree, or if your dog has a reliable place cue, you can station them away from the tree. Neither broken ornaments nor knocked-over trees will add to your holiday cheer.
- Enlist the aid of a positive reinforcement training professional to help you with some last-minute training strategies and an action plan.
Everyone appreciates a dog with good manners. A dog that can gracefully interact with family and friends during the holidays is a joy to behold. While not all dogs are there yet, others may not even want to interact with the guests. If you haven’t brushed up your dog’s door manners or addressed his excellent counter-surfing skills, you may not want him to be the holiday greeter or kitchen helper while the ham and sweet potato pie rests on the counter.
The holidays can be an amazing time of the year. With some planning, a little training, and management, you can set your dog up for success so everyone can have a happy and safe holiday season.
Happy Holidays to you and yours from Wholistic Hound Academy!
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head of Training of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adolescent and adult foundation and life skills, behavior modification, agility, nose work, dog sports, and fitness, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and selection. Classes are starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound, and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.