Helping Your Dog Cope – Smart Animal Training Systems…


Helping Your Dog Cope with Holiday Space Invaders

The holidays present unique challenges for families with dogs. Whether you are hosting guests or visiting relatives over the holiday season, there are always issues and stresses that can affect your family dog. Most household schedules and activities are less predictable which can lead to more anxiety for your canine family members. The one thing no one wants over the holidays is a relative or child being bitten. Be proactive and support your dog’s behavioral success with a holiday action plan.

Plan Ahead Before Bringing Your Dog to Family Gatherings

If you will be visiting family over the holidays, think long and hard about taking your dog/dogs with you.

  • Does you dog get stressed in new situations with new people?
  • What is your dog’s history around young children they are not familiar with?
  • Does your host have resident dogs or cats? How might your dog get on with unfamiliar pets?

If you know that being around new people, young children or other pets will be a challenge for your dog, your dog might be more comfortable in your own home under the care of a professional pet sitter or at a reputable boarding facility. If you are stressing out just thinking about your dog on the trip, you might want to make arrangements to have someone else care for your dog while you are gone.

Be a Well-Prepared Host 

If you are hosting this year’s family gathering, have plans in place before the guests arrive to make the holiday easier on your dog. Would it be best for your dog to be in another, quiet part of the house until guests get settled? How will you introduce your dog to adults or children that aren’t familiar with your dog? Even if your dog is familiar with all the guests, it will still be an exciting experience. An example plan might include:

  • getting your guests settled with your dog in a quiet part of the house,
  • introducing your dog while on leash to new guests,
  • having your guests feed your dog some special treats for sitting or keeping their paws on the ground,
  • giving your dog a project to work on like a food dispensing toy.

It’s a good idea to have several projects prepared for you dog in advance, so you can keep them mentally busy during the holiday meal.

Know Your Dog’s Signals

One of the most important things that can help your holiday gathering go smoothly is knowing how your dog communicates when they are uncomfortable or stressed. Dogs can’t verbalize how they feel, but use their bodies to express their emotional state. These subtle signals can include:

  • yawning                                            
  • shaking off
  • lip licking
  • panting
  • turning away
  • lifting one paw

Being able to recognize your dog’s signals can let you know when your dog is getting stressed and when they need space. For more information about learning stress signals and canine communication, check out the Dog Smart card game from Good Dog in a Box and read this recent Pet Tutor® blog by Lisa Lyle Waggoner, Understanding Dog Body Language.

Supervise, Supervise, Supervise
It goes without saying that if you aren’t watching your dog’s interactions, you won’t be able to help them avoid stressful situations around guests. The holidays are filled with distractions, so if your eyes aren’t able to be on your dog, you must have a plan to handle when things get hectic. This is especially important if there is alcohol consumption, which can make us overly relaxed and even more distracted.

Manage, Manage, Manage

Managing your dog effectively over the holidays includes providing them access to a safe place to retreat to when they need a break or when you can’t supervise them. Using barriers to limit your dog’s access to guests or limit guest’s access to your dog can create safer spaces and less stress for everyone, especially if your dog becomes over-aroused or fearful about visitors. Many dogs will enjoy a project to work on, such as stuffed food dispensing toys or chews. Toys will help them release stress and busy their minds.

Dogs and Children Need Even More Support and Guidance

Especially during the holidays, you must be an advocate for your dog around children. Children of your relatives and guests might not be experienced in how to interact with dogs or do so safely or appropriately. Your otherwise tolerant dog may be less tolerant of being touched or approached when things get hectic. It goes without saying that in any situation that involved dogs and young children, adults need to be supervising and managing every interaction. That means that the adults that are supervising are fully engaged, not distracted, not under the influence of alcohol. Multiple dog and multiple child households include more risks, so when necessary, separate kids and dogs for safety.

Isn’t this all bit extreme? Your dogs get along fine with most people and children, why not just let things work themselves out? The reality is that most dog bites occur between people and dogs they are familiar with. You may trust your dog without question, but any dog can bite, especially when stressed. Err on the side of caution and keep the holidays happy and healthy for everyone.

Additional Tips for Less Stressful Holidays with Dogs:

  • Increase everyone’s physical exercise. Plan for some extra dog walks. It will help burn off some holiday calories and you’ll be less stressed too.
  • ThunderShirt provides light pressure to the body that many dogs find comforting and stress reducing. Calm Dog in a Box provides four months of stress reduction techniques and products for your dog.
  • If you are concerned about your dog’s behaviors, the holidays are not the time to “work through” your dog’s issues. Working with a force-free, dog training professional is highly recommended to create a step-by-step behavioral modification plan to reduce your dog’s stress.

Jenn Merritt, CPDT-KA, BS, is a professional dog trainer that specializes in working with families. She runs Blue Dog Creature Coaching and is cofounder of Good Dog in a Box, a family friendly dog training products company. Jenn is a professional member of the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and a certified Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner.

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Helping Your Dog Cope – Smart Animal Training Systems…

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