Decorated trees, holiday decor, and tasty treats are all around this time of year. This could be the most wonderful time of year for most dogs and for others a nightmare. Not every dog loves a fresh tree indoors that they can't pee on or eat and many dogs are confused by the animated and noisy decorations that seem to want to torture them as they pass by. Eeks, scary stuff!
Dogs are creatures of habit and decorations that only come out once a year can be overwhelming and scary for some, not to mention more stressful when holiday visiting kicks into high gear. This can send your dog's nervousness into overdrive.
If you want your dog to skate through the holiday season without getting on Santa's naughty list there are some things you should consider!
1) Keep the food safe and secure
If you're anything like my family, you love to bake and eat all sorts of tasty treats, especially around the holidays. It seems as though the counters are full of all sorts of tasty snacking options throughout the months between November and December. However, those delicious cookies, cheese trays, and nuts can pose a serious problem for your dog if they get sneaky enough to jump up an help themselves. Make sure your dogs are kept out of the kitchen by gating off the area or keeping them in their crate while you can't guard the prized Pizzelle cookies calling your dog's name from the counter. Here's a crate training quick tips guide. Keep the counters as clear as possible to avoid tempting your dog to get into trouble. Don't forget those Chocolate Chip cookies are loaded with hazardous ingredients for our dogs such as chocolate and baking soda not to mention large amounts of sugar which is very unhealthy for dogs. If you need to, make sure you use a gate to close off a room so your pup doesn't get into trouble. (This gate is my absolute favorite because dogs can't climb it!)
2) Don't assume your dog knows not to touch (eat or pee on) the decorations
Everyone loves to decorate their home around holiday time. Between the tree adorned with lights and tinsel and the mantel spruced up with garland and dangling stockings your dog is sure to feel as if you placed those decorations in just the right spot for them. Keep your tree gated off until your pup knows its off-limits. Make sure to teach a “leave it” cue and redirect your dog to go lay down or another room if he/she keeps checking to see if their stocking has been filled by Santa. Male dogs may want to mark a living tree (especially those that mark outdoors) so you may need to put an x-pen or baby gate around it to keep your dog from circling and sniffing and leg lifting. You also may have to leave the lower level of the tree dare I say…naked. Don't even allow your dog to fall for the temptations that could be at their level, ornaments, lights, candy canes and tinsel. All of these things are extremely dangerous for our dogs! (I love this gate around the tree to keep pups away)
3) Company coming over can be overwhelming for you and your dog
If you plan to have family and friends over during the holiday season keep in mind this can be an overly anxious time for your dog. If their meet and greet manners aren't up to par revisit some basic training and work on sit/stays and down/stays. Make sure the extra exuberant jumpers are on a leash when anyone comes in the door, so no one ends up on the floor or your dog doesn't bolt out the door when guests arrive. Having family over should be a great time but can put a nervous dog much more on edge. Most dogs take a little extra time to get used to strangers and if your dog doesn't see most of these guests on a regular basis, to your dog, they are considered a stranger and need extra time to feel comfortable around them. You can make a positive association with each guest coming in by rewarding your dog for good behavior and telling your guest to ignore any jumping, barking or pawing. Only when your dog is calm can your guests interact with your dog. If they give attention to your dog while the dog is acting up it's only reinforcing the bad behavior. Putting your dog in a quiet room with a bone or Kong filled with peanut butter, away from all the activity, might be a better option yet.
4) Peeking (or chewing) at the presents
Your dog may be extra curious to see what everyone else is getting for Christmas and try to peek inside the wrapped boxes. Ok, who are we kidding they don't care about peeking, they care about eating, chewing and having fun with not only the paper and boxes but the contents inside. It's especially important if you wrap any kind of food gift baskets or candy to keep those boxes way up high or off the floor. If you have a super curious or aggressive chewing dog you may need to gate off the tree and the contents under it. Many dogs don't understand that the items under the tree are not for them. Your dog's brain is thinking you put all these amazing gifts right at their level for their enjoyment!
5) Revved up pup
One highly overlooked to do task this time of year tends to be the chore of exercising the dog. As the weather gets colder and in some places, the snow starts flying, it becomes more of a challenge to take your dog for their much-needed walk. Dogs have a ton of pent up energy that needs to be released daily, without an outlet to release all that energy you're sure to find your dog gets into much more mischief. Make sure that your dog is well exercised right before family and friends come over to visit. If your dog is over 6 months and over 25 lbs. they should be getting at least 2 walks a day for about 30 min or more each walk. Younger dogs or little dogs may require less (in some cases even more). Your dog will be able to settle better and be less edgy if they receive the right amount of exercise. Too short of a walk may only seem like a warm up to your dog who's raring to go. A common misconception is that if you have a fenced-in yard, you're all set… your dog still needs to get out and walk since they won't always keep themselves entertained in the backyard for 30 min or more continuously. Check out these canine enrichment games to tire out your pup both mentally and physically. You can also play any one of the 15 indoor exercises mentioned in the three-part blog series called Indoor Exercise Activities For Your Dog. Here's the link to part one, here is the link to part two and last but not least here is part three.
The holidays can be challenging enough with all the shopping, cooking, traveling and visiting going on. Don't let your dog challenge you even more. Make this year less stressful for you and your dog by avoiding the above holiday hiccups.