By Toni Gibson-Mark, KPA-CTP
Who's ready for some Howlidays? It’s that time of year again! The leaves are falling, the Christmas music has begun and the holidays are coming! As we scurry to get our homes prepared for the holiday gatherings, it’s important to consider some of the most important members of our family- our dogs! While the holidays are often filled with love, laughter and good food, they can create a lot of dangerous and stressful situations for our dogs. It’s a great idea to consider how you’ll make your home a safe and comfortable place for your dog during the holidays BEFORE they arrive. It’s much easier to prevent a bad situation rather than try to fix it after it’s happened.
Training your dog to behave in a desirable way while lots of people, decorations and yummy smelling food are present is a great idea, but it can take time. Also, it’s hard to practice in that type of setting when it only happens a few times per year. If you have the time to train your dog to perform a few desirable behaviors in a crowded setting, you and your dog will be much better off! For example, consider teaching your dog a “Go to your bed” cue for when people come and go. "Consider practicing some of the basics that your dog might already know.
If you don’t have the time to teach new behaviors, consider practicing some of the basics that your dog might already know. For example, if your dog knows “Sit," it might be helpful to inform your guests to ask your dog to sit before petting to avoid your dog jumping on them. Also, refreshing your dog on the “Drop it” cue is a good idea for any items that your guests may drop.
Regardless of how much training you choose to do, you should absolutely consider how you’re going to manage the environment to make it the most comfortable for your dog. If your dog has a chance of being stepped on when he is hanging out in the kitchen, it might be a better idea to gate him off in a separate room.
Similarly, if you expect to have children visiting, you should definitely make sure you have a kid-free zone for your dog. Children don’t always know appropriate boundaries around dogs, and therefore, dogs can easily get overwhelmed by children. If there will be a lot of noise, you might want to place your dog in a separate room or area with a TV playing to drown out the noise.
You can also give your dog a puzzle toy, such as a Busy Buddy® toy, to keep them busy! Busy Buddy® toys are sure to keep your dog entertained! If you expect a really busy day, consider putting your dog into a reputable doggy hotel or daycare. Many dog daycares and boarding facilities are geared up for the holidays. Giving your dog a comfortable, quiet day at a boarding facility, or a day filled with exercise at daycare might make him a lot happier than if he was expected to behave perfectly all day.
Remove food from the counters to keep your dog from jumping up. There can be a lot of food and many decorations out during the holidays. To set your dog up for success with all of these items, maintenance is key! If your dog has a tendency to counter-surf, keep food items off the counter and your dog out of the kitchen. If your dog might chew up decorations, make sure they’re placed up high or gated off so your dog can’t get to them.
While some of these suggestions might not make a “perfect” dog during the holidays (i.e. just because we took the food off the counter doesn’t mean we necessarily eliminated the counter-surfing tendencies!), it allows you to get through these holidays with minimal issues. The training to make the “perfect” dog should be done before or after the holiday—not during! Remember, pets don’t understand what it means to have Thanksgiving or Christmas. They see and smell people, decorations and yummy food—all there for some “random” reason!
Although it might hurt us to miss out on Thanksgiving or Christmas, it won’t hurt our pets. If you can make your dog more comfortable by setting him up for success in another quiet room, take the opportunity to do that. If you can train your dog in advance, you’ll be even better off! Happy holidays to you and your pets!