If the world was divided into two groups, huggers and hand-shakers, in human terms, my dog would definitely be a someone who tips his hat from afar. Now that we are less than a month away from Halloween and all of the winter holidays that follow, have you identified whether your dog is a hugger? A hand-shaker? Somewhere in between? I’m relatively certain my dog has a calendar squirreled away and nervously marks off the number of days until groups of those shorter, interestingly dressed, two-legged creatures continually ring the doorbell and request treats which starts about a three-month period of activity that is way over his comfort level. We all know the holiday season can be uncomfortable and downright stressful for some of our “hand-shaker” dogs and even those dogs who are regularly the socialites of the group may find their limit with all of the activities.
Any Google search would result in a multitude of articles with recommendations and suggestions on how to make your holidays a bit less stressful for you dog. So, I’ve gathered some interesting ideas that I found to have some tools in your pocket for the upcoming holiday season.
1. Don’t force your dog to greet any guest. Let your dog make the decision to approach a guest and make sure your dog can always remove himself from a situation that he finds uncomfortable. Reward positive behavior!
2. For those of use whose dogs travel with us for holiday celebrations, do a little investigation first to get your game plan. Do your hosts have dogs or other animals? How will you introduce the dogs or other animals? Introduce dogs outside and away from the festivities to reduce stress. Contingency preparation is key and err on the side of caution for safety of all. Bring a crate where your dog has his private space away from other animals. Maybe opting to stay in a hotel is in order where your dog gets to enjoy the quiet of a room and not stress about what is going on in other rooms.
3. Before they get overwhelmed from activities or with extra people, your dog can take a break and relax from festivities with puzzles, snuffle mats, food-stuffed toys like Kongs to keep them occupied and provide some relaxing mental stimulation, especially if you’re not able to give your dog full attention. You can also have rotating “designated dog duty” so that there is always someone to make sure that your dog’s visit is being successful.
4. We all know that dogs like routines, so as much as possible, maintain those routines. If you are traveling, bring along your dog’s food, bowls, toys, crate and bed. Be aware of the well-meaning relatives and friend who want to give your dog treats or food that you haven’t approved. I like to put a specific number of “approved” treats in a container for people to give my dog and when those treats are gone, no more sneaking treats.
5. My particular favorite to make sure your dog part is involved in the festivities is having a dog talent show if your dog has been working on new (or polishing up on old) tricks. You can channel your dog’s energy and impress friends and family! Now that’s what we call a win/win. If there are multiple dogs, be sure to have treats and prizes for all!
6. Decorating is a part of the holidays. It can be unsettling and cause anxiety some dogs who need familiarity. Even as simple as rearranging furniture (My dog is a creature of habit and moving a sofa causes him anxiety), not to mention all of the new decorations that weren’t there the day before. Most dogs will become familiar with the new surroundings relatively easily, but you may want to decorate in stages that help your dog to become familiar with new objects a little at a time.
7. Don’t forget about safety. Remember that some plants, such as poinsettias and mistletoe are toxic to dogs and can cause vomiting or diarrhea. Keep tree ornaments and candles high enough so your curious dog or his wagging tail doesn’t knock them over.
Holidays may not be your dog’s favorite time of the year, but hopefully with a few tips and tricks, all of our dogs will have the minimum amount of stress. With all the activities and things, we are asking our dogs to tolerate, it’s not a surprise that January is “National Train Your Dog Month” in order to refresh your dog’s cues after the holiday season. Enjoy the holidays and every day with your dogs