The holidays can be stressful for everyone: buying gifts, cooking large meals, traveling, or hosting family members. In the midst of preparing the house, the car, or the family for the holidays, sometimes people forget about preparing their dogs. Some dogs enjoy being in crowded homes, surrounded by people who long to give them attention. But the reality is that most dogs do NOT want to participate in the festivities. This can create tension in the group or even lead to your dog snapping at someone. Here’s a list of ways you can support your dog through the busy holiday season.
Have a safe zone for your dog, somewhere that everyone knows is off-limits. This gives your dog an escape if they feel they need it. Simply having a crate in the room with activity isn’t enough. Give them a safe zone in another room away from the activity, and begin introducing the safe zone at least a week in advance. Inside the room, you can place in it whatever makes it safe and comfortable, such as a crate, bed, toys, or chews. Another way to make the space inviting is to throw a blanket or towel in the dryer and place it on a bed or in a crate. The heat from it can help with muscle tension. Be sure everyone knows the area is off-limits, and be sure parents watch their children to prevent any accidental intrusion in that safe space.
Offer your dog plenty of enrichment activities. Enrichment gives them mental stimulation and is much easier than most people believe! Enrichment can be as simple as putting kibble on a towel and rolling the towel. Food puzzles, such as Kongs, chews are all great options for enrichment. Be sure your dog is supervised to prevent choking or ingesting of unsafe objects. Sniffaris, or walks that encourage your dog to sniff, are also a great option to get your dog away from all the activity. Take your dog out on a long line and harness and allow him to sniff and choose where to go (within reason). Giving your dog this opportunity will both provide him enrichment and help him decompress a bit.
Advocate for your dog and be as firm as necessary. Many people don’t understand canine body language and may mistake signs of stress for desire to interact. Let everyone know if they can interact with your dog, and how to interact with him properly. Does he prefer shoulder rubs to pets on the head? Tell them. Are his hips sensitive to touch? Mention that. Supervise interactions to be sure everyone is following those rules and prevent undue stress on your dog. Do not be afraid to advocate for your dog! Do not allow anyone to push your dog’s boundaries, including children. If your dog does not like to interact with people, place him in an area that is off-limits and block access from people. A room with a closed and locked door can be very helpful to keep people away.
If you know your dog will be completely stressed the entire time, or if your dog has behavior challenges that may create an unsafe situation, it may be best to consider boarding your dog. Many vet clinics offer boarding, and some boarding facilities are specially trained to handle dogs with behavior challenges. Contact the facility well in advance to find out if they are equipped to handle the behavior challenges your dog has and ensure they are using appropriate equipment to do so (for example, if they use squirt bottles, penny cans, throwing chains or disks, electronic collars, prong collars, or slip leads for anything other than short moves within the facility, they are NOT using appropriate equipment). Keeping your dog out of the festivities may be the safest and least stressful way to keep your dog safe during holidays visits.
If you’re wanting to teach your dog helpful skills for visits, such as go to bed, greeting without jumping, or leave it, contact us via our website or send us a Facebook message to get started!