The holiday season is upon us. As we settle into the hustle and bustle and begin planning for an onslaught of holiday visitors, it’s important to remember that environmental changes can be challenging (and sometimes dangerous) for our pets.
When planning the perfect festive gathering, consider the following:
1. Train, don’t complain.
Dogs rely on us to teach them acceptable behaviors. Jumping up, stealing food, barking, and digging are normal dog behaviors. Unfortunately for dogs, they are also behaviors few people find enjoyable. The arrival of holiday houseguests often introduces ample opportunities for dogs to engage in unwanted activities. Even trained dogs can benefit from brushing up on basic skills. Help remind your dog what’s expected of him by practicing and rewarding desired behaviors on a daily basis. Basic obedience can help keep your pet safe and happy.
2. Use the magic of management.
In a perfect world our dogs would behave beautifully under any circumstances. When we live in the real world, management tools are a wonderful way to help create and maintain calm under challenging conditions. For example, if your dog is an avid counter-surfer, consider baby-gating him out of the kitchen when preparing the five-course feast. Baby gates, crates, tethers, and x-pens are all useful tools to help ensure correct behavior even when around high-level distractions.
Whenever possible, give your dog something to do rather than letting him become unemployed and seek out trouble. Complex food delivery puzzles (Buster Cube, Kibble Nibble, Kong, etc.) are wonderful ways to keep dogs happily entertained. A secret stash of his favorite chew bones will also be helpful. Plan ahead and have several doggy “sit quietly and color” activities on hand for your pet to enjoy.
3. Respect each other.
Avoid forcing your dog on non-dog people, and don’t let guests force themselves on your dog. You may generally live by the motto of “Love me, love my dog,” but a holiday party is not the best time to prove your point. You might find it endearing when your Great Dane thinks he’s a lap dog, but your guests may feel otherwise. Don’t expect others to enjoy the same type of interaction with your dog as you do.
Likewise, your second cousin might think it’s adorable when Little Johnny tries to ride your dog like a rodeo cowboy. Don’t be afraid to step in and toddler-wrangle. Set clear ground rules for how your dog is to be treated and if necessary, politely remove your dog from the situation if guests are unable or unwilling to follow them. Watch your dog closely for signs that he’s uncomfortable, such as yawning, lip-licking, turning away, or actively trying to get away from the situation.
If you know your dog has fear or aggression issues, do everyone a favor and help guarantee success by completely avoiding interactions that can trigger unwanted or unsafe behavior. It’s better to safely confine a dog away from the party than to risk a bite and undermine training progress.
4. Decorations or disasters?
Be mindful of holiday decorations. Strings of lights, breakable ornaments, poisonous plants, and glowing candles can attract curious canines. Management and supervision is a must during the holidays.
5. Leave the leftovers.
Rich, fatty foods can cause stomach problems ranging from simple upset to pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas resulting in pain, vomiting, and dehydration. Dogs with this serious condition often require hospitalization for treatment. Ask that guests refrain from feeding table scraps and be sure to dog-proof your garbage. Be especially mindful of cooked bones.
Alcohol, chocolate, xylitol (artificial sweetener), tobacco, and medications can be fatal when consumed in quantities proportionate to the size of the dog. Instruct guests to keep purses and suitcases closed and safely out of reach.
Keep your local emergency vet’s phone number handy, along with driving directions if you’re not familiar with its location.
Holiday festivities can become hectic. Don’t forget to relax and spend quality time with your dog!
Stephanie Colman is a writer and dog trainer in Los Angeles. She shares her life with two dogs and competes in obedience and agility.