Through a Dog's Eyes: Holiday Stress
The leaves are falling, the weather is cooler, the days are shorter and the dogs are feeling frisky. Right now life’s pretty good.
Over the next few weeks, life may not be so good. Schedules will change, weather will get colder, and people (perhaps strange people) may be invading your home. What to do??? If you’re a human, you may love the magic of the holidays. Your dog may see things differently. She may panic, bolt out the door, or nip a stranger. He may bark, hide, or growl. So, what's up with your dog??
Let’s look at holiday life from your dog’s perspective. Ten months of the year life is predictable, with the occasional change in schedule. Then all of the sudden things are not predictable. In fact, life can become very scary.
Filling your home with family & friends can send your pup into hiding or bolting out the door, in search of safety. Guests may unintentionally frighten your dog, especially if your dog isn’t used to being in a crowd or she doesn’t like parties. Children in particular may send your dog into full fright mode.
Solution – Believe it or not, I’m not going to say supervise. Rather supervise + personal space for your dog. Create safe zones for your dog, like a bedroom or crate, to get away from big and small humans, especially if your dog does not regularly interact with crowds of people or children.
Imagine someone running up to you, throwing their arms around you and greeting you in a foreign language. Weird? Terrifying? YES! Polite greetings work both ways.
Solution - Ask guests to refrain from petting, touching, patting or worse, hugging, your dog until your dog approaches them to say hello. IF your dog doesn’t have a polite greeting, better to save the greetings until all guests have arrived and things have settled down. Then, if your dog is calm, leash him up and let him greet calmly. Reward him for calm greetings!!
We often have special food for the holidays – pies, turkey, ham, fresh bread…oh the smells! Not only do we have delicious food on hand, but it’s often in novel places, such as the formal dining room table or served buffet style. Your dog may not counter surf, but does she know that the buffet is reserved for the humans?? Maybe not. Remember, the holidays are a strange time for your dog, so she may make different choices, such as helping herself to the buffet.
Solution – This is the perfect time for a special something in a crate or bedroom. Stuff a Kong with something familiar and something special (kibble, mashed sweet potatoes and a bit of shredded turkey topped with a smidge of cream cheese – delicious!) and give your pup a quiet dinner away from the temptation of the buffet. Everyone will be happier! As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about your guests giving food to your dog.
Flowers, gourds, garlands and the tree are often brought in to give home a festive appearance. These are new and strange things that may concern your dog. Think about it, don’t trees belong outside and aren’t trees meant for peeing on?? That’s what your dog may be thinking.
Solution – Consider carefully where you’ll place decorations. Is the tree located in your dog’s play space? Will the tree get knocked over when your pup looks out the window, which is a normal part of her behavior? Are the plants or flowers poisonous? If so, are they out of reach of your dog? Remember, your dog will investigate anything new added to the house, and that’s normal. Reinforce him for gently sniffing then moving away.
In my own house, the holidays are a time of stress for my dogs. Actually, it’ stressful for me, too. It’s the season for extra treats – fresh meaty bones for my dogs and an eggnog (or 2) for me!
P.S. It’s not too late to work on those polite greeting manners. The Learning Dog Academy can help your dog prepare for the holidays! Contact us for more information about in-home training.