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It's the Holiday Season - What's a Dog to Think?

Here we go-it’s the holiday season (almost). It is an extremely stressful time of year for our canine (and feline) companions. Extra deliveries at the doorstep, strange new things placed around the house and possibly in the yard, too, more people coming and going, and changing daily schedules. What’s a dog to think?

Some dogs seem to take the festive chaos in stride, particularly mature adult dogs who have experienced the holiday season. But dogs under a year old may be confused by it all. I mean, why do you get to bring an entire live tree into the house and your pup can’t even bring a stick inside?? And really, that live tree in the living room looks and smells like the trees your dog pees on outside. See the confusion?

It's no wonder cats climb the tree and dogs pee on the tree. While not desirable, it’s at least understandable. And then there's the yard decorations – wow! Twinkling lights, inflatable snow men and reindeer lawn ornaments are unfathomable to your dog. You may trigger a barking storm when the yard is suddenly invaded by aliens. Why wouldn’t she bark at the intruders?

The Tree and other décor

As much as I love holiday decorating, my décor is determined in large part by the number and ages of dogs in my house. When the danger of puppy mischief is high, I bring out the non-breakable, non-sentimental decorations. I also attempt to keep décor out of puppy reach. If a tree is a must, consider a table top tree or putting a decorative fence around the tree. This keeps my stress level in check by preventing the constant calling the puppy away from the tree. (BTW – this also worked when I had busy toddlers in the house!)

If there are zooming adolescent canines (dogs 6 mos-2 yrs) in the house, decorations are limited to the wall and possibly a few shelves. It’s shocking what kind of mess a 40-, 50- or 100-pound dog can do to a tree or other décor with a wagging tail or while leaping to catch a toy. For my sanity, I keep the holiday décor to a minimal.

This year I’m living with adult dogs. All the decorations are coming out for the first time in 2 years. I’ll spend time reinforcing each dog for looking at, and even sniffing, the holiday decorations. I’ll still supervise. And, yes, I know that a 140 pound dog with a wagging tail can decimate a tree, but this year I think we can do this.

Beware the candles

Candles are one of my favorite things to have out during the holidays. Be sure to keep candles out of paw reach - new scents will be enticing to dogs. Dogs experience the world through t

heir nose. It’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to completely prevent your pup from nosing her way around new things.

And speaking of scent, remember a dog’s nose is super sensitive to odor. What may be pleasant to your nose may be overpowering for your canine companion. Generally I have one or two rooms that are candle free so that my dogs can get away from the intensity of the candle aroma.

Stranger danger

Hosting friends and family may be a family tradition, but your pup doesn’t understand why there are so many people in the house. A curious or frightened pup may slip out the door while people are coming and going. Make sure your pup is wearing identification on her collar and is microchipped. Or your pup may be desperately searching for a safe place away from people. Create a safe, quiet space for your dog to enjoy an enrichment toy or long-lasting chew. Let visitors know that puppy needs a break from socializing.

If children are part of the festivities always supervise if there are dogs of any age in the group. Kids are too young to understand how to read dog body language and understand when a dog doesn’t want to be petted or played with. Dogs are unable to understand children’s playful intentions. A child may not intentionally scare a dog or hurt a dog, but it does happen.

Just you and your dog

Make time to spend with your dog during the holidays. Yes, schedules are hectic. The weather is colder. It may be rainy or snowy. There are many reasons for skipping the walk. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, out of sorts and sort of “grinch-y” taking a walk with my dogs quiets my mind, refreshes my spirit, and helps me make it through the holiday chaos. And I’m pretty sure it does the same for my furry friends.

Happy Holidays!


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