As we approach the end of the year there are a number of holidays on the horizon. During this time, life can be stressful not only for us, but for the dogs in our lives too. A dog that is stressed, or anxious, can exhibit all kinds of unwanted or problem behaviors… which can include aggression. So, whether you have a new puppy, or a dog that has been a part of your family for years, there are things you can do to help your dog get through the busy holiday season a little less stressed… which means less stress for you!
The truth is, the holidays make it easy for us all to have our routines thrown off. As well, we often have friends and family coming and going, there’s different sights, sounds and smells… in short, the energy is just different… and these things can be very stressful for your dog.
Here are some tips that may help you, and your dog, better manage the upcoming holiday season so that you can both enjoy this time.
Every Dog Is Different
Just like people, dogs have their own unique personalities. Here’s a couple of examples to explain what I mean: some dogs easily adapt to change… and yet others do best when they have a definite routine in their day. And, some dogs are anxious around strangers… and others look at strangers as someone that just isn’t a friend yet… and they’re eager to make that happen! The list can go on and on.
Remember what I shared above… a dog that’s stressed or anxious can exhibit all kinds of unwanted or problem behaviors… and that can include aggression. So thinking about your holiday plans, and how you can accommodate your dog’s needs, will benefit your both as it will reduce their stress levels, and in turn, your own. You can think about things like whether or not your dog likes visitors coming to the house… or children coming to visit… if they don’t, be sure to provide them with an alternative, such as their crate, or a room where they can be alone and feel safe, with some of their favorite chew toys or treats.
Stick To Routines
When the big day arrives, despite the hectic schedules and all the excitement, try to stick to your dog’s routine as much as possible. Make sure that everyone who has specific roles or responsibilities when it comes to your dog, is actually doing what is needed, so that nothing is forgotten. For example, your dog will need their routine exercise, potty breaks, meals and any enrichment that is a normal part of their day.
Management Is Key!
When we talk about “management” in dog training we are referring to the act of controlling your dog’s environment (i.e. your house) to prevent a behavior from happening. In essence, you’re preventing your dog from engaging in unwanted, or inappropriate, behaviors.
As we have discussed before, when a dog is allowed to engage in a behavior that benefits them (i.e. jumping on people usually gives them attention; counter surfing can often provide them with food) that behavior becomes stronger. This is why we talk about only reinforcing behaviors that you want… the more they practice that behavior (because they are getting treats/rewards) the stronger that behavior becomes… or the more likely it will continue.
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So, if you have a dog that you are working on not having them counter surf… you will want to ensure that you are not leaving tasty food or treats on the counter, within reach, and that your dog is not unsupervised in the kitchen. If you were to leave food out and allow your dog to be in the kitchen unsupervised you are setting your dog up to fail! Remember, if your dog is allowed to practice a behavior, and that behavior is reinforced, it’s more likely to occur again. So now, if your dog is able to counter surf and get something yummy to eat… the food is an incredibly powerful reinforcer, thus the behavior of counter surfing is very likely to continue to happen. You will have an increasingly difficult job of stopping this behavior, if you don’t prevent it from happening, through management.
Some ideas, or tools, to think about with respect to managing your dog’s environment could be as simple as using baby gates to restrict access to certain rooms… or using a leash when guests arrive to keep your dog from jumping on people. Amidst, what may be a little chaos, alone time isn’t a bad thing. In fact, ensuring that your dog has a place where they can escape the stress of the activities and feel safe, can help your dog to calm down so they don’t become overwhelmed. For times like when you are going to be eating dinner, to prevent begging, use their crate, or if they are trained to do so, send them to their bed with a special treat to keep them occupied, such as a stuffed KONG, as this will keep them happy and occupied.
Potential Hazards Of The Holidays
If you happen to have a puppy and this is their first holiday season… it’s critical, for their safety, that your home is puppy-proofed. However, in saying that, there should never be anything dangerous around your home for your dog to get into… no matter their age! Check out our article on puppy-proofing your home for some ideas on how to keep your home safe for your dog.
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Advocate For Your Dog
And finally, you know your dog…and since they can’t “speak” in the traditional sense, you need to be aware of their signals, and if they are telling you they need you to step in and help them. Maybe your dog is nervous about meeting new people… maybe they’re uncomfortable around children… maybe they get too excited around visitors in general and don’t always engage appropriately with them… whatever the situation may be, you need to be prepared to advocate for your dog. This could be as simple as giving your guests instructions on how to, or not to, interact with your dog. Or, it could be stepping in and ensuring that children are not interacting with your dog unsupervised. Either way, your dog is counting on you!
Wherever possible, avoid adding extra stress to your dog during the holidays. I know, it may seem like just one more thing for you to worry about, but when the big day arrives things will go much smoother if you have put some thought and preparation into what your dog may, or may not, be able to manage. In the end…your dog will thank you for it and your celebration will be a lot more enjoyable for everyone.
On that note… have a safe and happy holiday season!