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Training Your Dog to Enjoy—or Endure—the Holiday!

What you can do to minimize confusion for your dog during the holiday season.

Trees, candles, company, travel. Can you guess what month we’re in? December represents a spectrum of human emotions and activities. From decorating and entertaining to travel and vacation time, it is a month to enjoy the pleasure of traditions, family and friends.

For dogs and other pets, holidays are exciting but a bit confusing. Trees—normally perfectly good places to pee near—are brought indoors. Soft, colorful ornaments dangle temptingly. Visitors come and go, kids are wound up and the daily routines get shaken up like a snow globe. It’s enough to make even the most laid back dog wonder what all the fuss is about.

What to do? Take a moment to extend some holiday compassion your pet’s way. Let’s look at how the holiday chaos looks from a dog’s perspective.

Dogs don’t experience a lot of flux in their life: many don’t get out much if at all. Your dog’s life centers around your daily schedule which follows a relatively consistent pattern. When we plan events like parties or other social gatherings, there is not only the event itself but the build up: stressful organizing that preoccupies your time and attention. The pre-party planning does not go unnoticed by anyone, least of all the family dog who often ends up at the bottom of the attention chain.

I believe the two hardest things for a dog to understand when a “big day” arrives are the enticing aromas of cooking food and the exciting influx of visitors. Your home may be your castle, but it’s your dog’s sanctuary too. A parade of noisy strangers (to your dog at least) grabbing all the best food is very unsettling.

Even the best-behaved dogs may suddenly see an opportunity to steal food, beg or jump. While you may want to blame the dog and punish her naughty behavior, try not to. Put yourself in her paws for a moment and take steps to avoid confrontations like this. Offer your dog plenty of her own snacks and a few favorite chews to help her pass the time. Keep an eye on well-meaning guests who may want to share the canapés with your dog. And most importantly, try to work a nice long walk in prior to your guests’ arrival. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I’ll say it again: a tired dog makes for a happy family!

I invite all you to post your tips during this season: I’ll lead off with my top three:

Presents for your pets: Don’t wait until crowds have ceased to give your pet their gifts this season. Choose their favorite toy (rope bone, squeak toy or ball for example) and a choice chewy (bully stick, compressed rawhide or nylon bone, for example) and buy multiples of them all wrapped up with a bow before the season. I call these obsession toys: think of them as specials to offer your dog/puppy when you’re too busy to train or play or interact with them. A hollowed out toy stuffed with peanut butter can be a true favorite-one that you perhaps only share when visitors arrive.

Drag lead: The demands of December often derail even the steadiest people, and dog’s are often so tied to the rhythm of the household they often misbehave to offset their own agitation. Using a drag lead (an e-book on it’s use can be found on my website: WhenDogsTalk.com) will allow calm interference and redirection.

Pre-party planning: Dare I say that most dogs, not all, but most, would prefer to be left out of your party’s roster. If your guest list will exceed 10, consider an alternative activity for your pet. Perhaps a well-respected day care in your area, or family friend would host them for the afternoon or evening. I remember my terrier Hope was quite the curmudgeon in her twilight years and preferred an upstairs bedroom with a bone and Seinfeld reruns playing to drown the unfamiliar noises. If your dog is a social bug who basks in the attention, then I do agree she would glow in the arrival of friends, family and even strangers. In this case make sure she gets a good romp. A long walk will help both of you work off that holiday stress, or if you’ll be too pre-occupied, hire a dog walker to help you out! 

Now is the time to add your images, thoughts and tips on how make December a month to get your pets will look forward too!

Lisa Buchman December 12, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Great advice Sarah! I had 14 girls for a birthday party today, and we crated my 12 week old pup upstairs for and hour and a half, but let him outside with the girls for the last half-hour. He loved the action!
Sarah Hodgson December 12, 2011 at 05:45 PM
14- wow! Glad it helped...a puppy often gets so swept up in the holiday falderal that he looses complete control... he transforms into a wild nipping, jumping beast of thing. Better to let a pup chill until everyone is calm and bring him down later- just as you did!
Perry Ferris December 12, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Sarah -- Glad you pointed this out. My wife and I have trained our lab, Jett, to stay behind an imaginary line (he doesn't go past a certain wall) when guests come over -- he's a big guy and occasionally likes to drool, so we try to prevent the slobber upon visitors' arrivals. We'll try to take Jett out for a walk before our next holiday shindig. It's a great idea - Thanks.
Sarah Hodgson December 12, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Kudos- hard to do with an exuberant lab. Love that name too! I find a pre-party walk does wonders for the lot of us...Happy holidays!

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