Happy holidays everyone! Tis' the season to give thanks... and pull your hair out! Everyone is excited about the holidays, which means our dogs will be too. This time of year is crazy with the holidays, weather, and everything that comes with it. And let me say this now, our dogs will be just as crazy! I know it's not what you want to hear coming into this busy season, but there's hope!
Let's take a look at the holidays from the dog's perspective. Dogs don't understand the holiday season. They don't know why there are suddenly a bunch of new people around or why their humans are frazzled. They don't understand
why they're not allowed to investigate all the fun, new decorations. Or why the house smells so great, but they can't taste the delicious food. It's borderline torture! And it's very confusing for them.
So, how can we help our dogs get through the holidays? Set realistic expectations. Understand that your dog won't be an angel. Give you and your dog a pass. Holidays are stressful for everyone, but it's possible to set you and your dog up for success. Now, how can we do that?
You know your dog best. Think about their known behaviors. Are they known for foraging in the trash or on the counters? Are they highly excited or nervous to meet guests? How are they with other dogs and people coming into their home? A good management plan will help. Management decreases the likelihood of unwanted behaviors. It won't be completely bulletproof, but it will help. The goal is to remove the opportunity for your dog to engage in undesirable behaviors.
Set expectations with your guests. Let them know how they can help you help your dog. Tell them exactly what you need them to do to help your dog. Guests may have a hard time remembering your instructions. So, prepare yourself to either politely remind them or say it's time for your dog to have a break. I cannot stress this enough; be your dog's advocate!
Here are a few suggestions to make life a little easier for you and your dog during holiday gatherings:
● Make the door to the outside accessible for them.
● Keep food and drink out of your dog's reach.
● Be careful where you put decorations and presents.
● Put the kid's play area in a different room or section off. Dogs may not know the difference between their toys and the kid's toys.
● Have a separate break area for your dog from guests so they can decompress.
● Take a walk through your place and evaluate from your dog's perspective. Are there easy-to-eat poisonous items, like poinsettias or fake snow? Will your dog have enough room to co-exist with your guests? Is it easy for your dog
to escape to their own bed/crate/space?
Now that you are starting to think about expectations and a management plan, what's next? Communicating with your dog. Don't worry! I am not asking you to start going to therapy with your dog. What I am saying is that you need to be able to read your dog. Dogs communicate through body language and vocalization.
Here is a helpful resource for dog body language:
Be mindful of your dog's body language. Are they telling you they're unsure and scared by a guest, specific decorations, or Santa Claus himself? Are they overwhelmed by everything going on? What this might look like is: whale eyes, ears pinned back, tail tucked/raised, freezing, hypervigilance, barking, and hackles up. If your dog shows these signs, they are over aroused and need a break.
It is essential to catch the early warning signals and intervene as soon as possible. Some examples of early warning signals include: lip licking, yawning, and moving away/avoidance. This is the time that intervention needs to happen. Listen to what your dog is telling you. Give them breaks outside or in another room. Don't force your dog to interact with anything or anyone.
Be your dog's advocate! If you feel your dog isn't comfortable, then speak up. If your dog is overwhelmed or over-excited, it's time for a long break. If a guest is overwhelming your dog, sometimes you have to tell them, "Hey, my dog does not like that. Please stop." Then position yourself between your dog and the guest. Your dog will be glad you did.
My last piece of advice: don't forget to reward your dog when they are doing something you like! Give your dog lots of cookies and love. They deserve it!
We hope everyone has a great holiday season!
The Learning Dog Academy