By Michelle Mullins, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP
Once again the time has flown by and the holiday season is upon us. I always look forward to spending time with special friends and family, including my wonderful pets. I’ve written many holiday blogs about managing pets with all the holiday food, travel and decorations. I even wrote about handling holiday emergencies with your pets. This time I received a request for a blog about making the holidays a rewarding time for your pets. This was a challenge because it’s a lot like gift giving; each recipient deserves something unique and special, like the individual receiving it.
So, what is the best way to reward your pet this holiday season? One of my favorite responses and most important things I’ve learned from all the amazing behaviorists and trainers I know, about picking the right toy, right reward and right exercise is – It Depends!
It depends on so many factors and seems confusing with all the choices out there. Some dogs prefer a nice durable chew toy while others like a meal dispensing puzzle. Some would rather go hiking, play fetch or curl up on the couch with you.
Here are some of my favorite ways to make the holidays enjoyable for my pets:
Toys, but not just any toys! Interactive toys!
Most pets would rather be chewing on a fun treat toy than watching the Macys Parade on television! Our Busy Buddy® Line has a variety of chew toys and meal dispensing puzzle toys. It provides many choices so you can find the right toys to keep your dog happily chewing something appropriate like a Squirrel Dude™ or figuring out a challenging puzzle like the Kibble Nibble™.
How do you choose the best one for your dog?
Start by observing your dog’s play and chew style. Some dogs love to get the toy down, hold it between their paws and chew with all their might. Others prefer to toss the toy around, flip it in the air, bounce it down the hall and then settle in for some light mouthing. And of course others do everything in between. How your dog likes to interact with toys will help you decide on whether to purchase the toughest toys on the market or the softer chew your dog may prefer.
Consider the age of your dog.
Puppies and seniors may need softer toys to protect gums and teeth. Consider dog safe plush toys and puppy lines at this stage.
Consider the size of your dog.
Generally, the larger the dog the larger the toy. Consider too the type of muzzle your dog has. For example Greyhounds and Labradors can fall into the same weight range but a greyhound’s muzzle is much slighter than a Labrador’s thick muzzle. My rule is if you just aren’t sure which size will be safe for your dog, go up a size.
When purchasing a toy consider everything you know about your dog, read the labels carefully and adhere to safety recommendations. Follow the guidelines on the packaging about weight, breed and chew strength to choose the best one for your pup. Read any accompanying instructions and save the package for a while in case you need to call the company with questions. Supervise your pet with all toys!
Walks designed with Fido in mind!
Many of us walk our dog every day. Around the block, do your business, don’t pull and back home. BORING says Fido. Take your dog for a walk designed especially for him. Include some off the beaten path sniffing so he can check out the world of smells we will never understand. Take some time to stalk a squirrel, run through the field or roll around in the grass. That’s a walk he will find worth taking!
Play some fun training games
My dogs love a good game of hide and seek, where I hide and softly call them once. When they find me I have a tasty treat waiting. The bonus for you is this will help improve their recall!
Another fun one is playing tug! Start by teaching your dog the proper rules of tug and you will also be teaching your dog a great drop cue that can definitely come in handy for other situations. You will need an appropriate toy and some very tasty treats in your treat pouch or pocket.
• The game only starts when you initiate it by asking the dog to sit and then offering the toy. Add a cue like “Take It” or “Get it.”
• Once they are playing with you for 10 to 15 seconds cue the dog to “Drop” and follow the cue with an offer of one of the tasty treats. This is like a trade!
• Let them finish the treat.
• Reengage them by cueing “Take it” and offer the toy.
• Repeat every 20 seconds or so during the training/play session.
• Practice these rules – be consistent and patient. Remember it is a learning game!
Everybody needs some downtime.
New people, smells, food everywhere, children playing, music blaring and someone sitting in my favorite sleeping spot! This could be Fido’s view of the holiday festivities. Consider your pets when planning holiday get-togethers and plan the most effective, least stressful ways for you and your pet to manage the event.
• Consider giving your pet an early holiday gift – a trip to daycare and a night at the local pet resort might be much more fun for Fido than skirting out of the way of party guests and running from playful children all evening. An added bonus to you is being able to cook, party and clean up without worrying about your pet’s safety.
• Keeping feeding, exercise and playtimes consistent during the holidays can reduce stress and avoid problems.
• Provide access to a quiet room to which the pet can “escape” to if they feel stressed, anxious or sleepy.
• Keep pets in a closed bedroom or a crate during the festivities. This keeps them safe and avoids the possibility of them slipping out as guests arrive.
There no one size fits all for showing your pet some love this season. The best gift you can give your pet is time. Spend time playing, walking and just hanging out – to them there is nothing better than the gift of time spent with you!