In the United States, we are officially rearing up for the holiday season to begin. Thanksgiving is in a few days, followed by Christmas and then New Years…the next few months are bound to be a bustle of activity.
Not to mention a complete and total disruption of your dog's routine.
We as humans find the holidays to be stressful for a whole slew of reasons, but what about our poor dogs?! The whirlwind of activity, from crazed house cleaning, to copious amount of shopping (which may even result in a tree being brought inside the house!), to having new and strange people coming and going, to tons of social pressure and so much more. The holiday season can cause your dog's head to hurt…and potentially push them to either shutdown, become terribly afraid or make a more consequential mistake.
"NO! Santos, you will NOT ruin the holidays for me! My dog will be fine!"
Trust me, I am not here to be the Grinch or Scrooge of your holidays. Rather, my goal is to provide you some tips on how you can make this holiday season a bit more manageable and, dare I say, enjoyable for you and your pup.
"Sigh…fine, what suggestions do you have?"
See, that wasn't so hard.
Maintain as many routines and norms as you can. Our dogs are creatures of habit. They crave predictability and seek out patterns. Remember: our dogs are not people! They are an alien species desperately trying to survive among strange naked bipedal ape-like creatures who do none of the things a normal dog would do! So, for any dog to get by, identifying and following the routines, patterns and predictability that make up human life is crucially important. Look at your own day-to-day life and identify some constants: when your dog is fed their meals, what you do to get them ready if you have to leave to go to work, school or otherwise leave the house, when you train or play with them, how often you walk them or do other dog-activities with them, etc. Try to maintain these routines as much as you can throughout the holiday season. It can make all the difference in the world.
See what drastic changes the holidays will cause. This is going to require some honest assessments on how you normally live your life. What is your schedule usually like? Will the amount of time you are home with your dog change around the holidays? Are people constantly coming and going day-to-day, or is the idea of someone coming over to your house normally laughable?
Exercise your dog before company comes over. Imagine a 1-year old Labrador Retriever, full of energy, excitement and joy. They are sociable, love all people and want to play, play, play! Now, imagine that bundle of buzzing happiness tackling each and every one of your holiday guests as they come into your home. Not cool. Best way to avoid this? Exercise your pup a half hour or so before company arrives. Not just physical exercise, mental exercise too. Things such as shaping, scent work, hide and seek and the like. Take the edge off without exhausting them. Then, when company are coming over, have a routine in place. Ideally, the dog will not be right at the door as this can be really difficult for many dogs. Maybe they are behind a gate where company can ask them to sit and toss them a treat. Once everyone is in, give the dog a big soft plush toy that fills their whole mouth to hold as they are then allowed to greet your guests. Keep the energy level low. Reward your dog for being appropriate. With some planning, no one will have their holiday-specific fashion choices torn to pieces by frantic jumping up or leaping puppy paws.
Give your dog puppy-only time. Realize the holidays are a human celebration, not a canine one. Therefore, if you are planning to have an enormous family reunion at your house, put a plan in place so your dog can have a safe place to retreat to if they need it. This is especially true if you have children of any age coming over to the house! Children and dogs should always be supervised. Now, imagine this scenario where there are 5 or more children of different ages at a bustling holiday party that you are hosting…those children are attached to two parents, so there are 10 adults you are trying to entertain and socialize with. Who is ensuring these kids are not climbing all over the dog? Or that they are not running up and down the hallway with your dog's favorite toy? These are only two examples of where kids interacting with dogs can have serious negative consequences. Instead, have a dog-only zone. A room with your dog's bed and/or crate that no one can inadvertently get into. A safe space your dog can relax in with a stuffed Kong or bone, as the holiday festivities continue.
Be thankful for having your dog. Holidays can be a strain on us humans for so many reasons. Take the time to sit back and really take in how awesome your dog truly is. Their sense of humor. How they can lighten up a room. The way they live in the moment and can find joy in the smallest things. Then, smile to yourself that they will love you no matter how you fare throughout this holiday season. Even if you burn your special dinner, your dog would still love to have a piece.
If we are thoughtful this holiday season, we can ensure it is enjoyable for both ourselves and our dogs.
What can you do to help your dog be more successful, and better enjoy, the upcoming holidays?
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!