Hounds for the Holidays

The holidays can be a happy time for you and your dogs if you are careful to make it so.

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It’s an understatement to say that this isn’t your typical year. However, some things don’t change, and one of those things is the question of what to do with your dog(s) during the holidays. Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, Kwanzaa… these can be stressful times for all of us (especially this year). While most of us probably enjoy having canine family members share the holidays, it can lead to trouble if we’re not careful how we include them in the festivities.

Know your dog

If your well-behaved very social dog loves company and the commotion that can go along with holiday get-togethers, your task is easier. Your primary concern is monitoring comings and goings so she doesn’t slip out the door as guests arrive and depart. Most dogs, however, are likely to require more management than that. Here are additional things to watch out for:

  • Counter surfing: Many a dog has enjoyed an unexpected holiday ham that was left unguarded on a counter or table. If your dog has any tendency to help himself to unattended yummies, you need to increase your management mega-fold. If guests are likely to leave surfing-prevention baby gates or doors open, consider parking your dog in a safe room until the chaos subsides.
  • Stress: Even dogs who are reasonably comfortable with people can be stressed by all the extra activity. Assign one responsible family member to keep a close eye on your dog. If she’s getting stressed, give her a break in a quiet room away from the action, especially if lots of grandkids and/or young nieces and nephews are bouncing about. Unless your dog absolutely adores children, this can be very stressful for her – and stress causes aggression… Enough said.
  • Holiday Hazards: Some of the things we love about the holidays are deadly to our canine friends, including chocolate, cooked turkey bones, poinsettias, and tinsel. Be extra vigilant about preventing your dog from ingesting items that can harm him – the emergency clinic is not where you want spend your holiday. An excited dog can knock over a menorah or holiday candle and start a fire… also not the way to spend your holiday! 
Photo: Orbon Alija/Getty Images

Know your guests and hosts

You love your dog, but (surprise!) not everyone does. If your visitors aren’t going to be thrilled by your Jack Russell’s paws shredding their nylons, or your Bloodhound’s drool decorating their Gucci trousers, be considerate and put Jumping Jack and Drooling Debbie in a bedroom for the evening. If you’re going to be a guest at someone else’s dinner party, be sure your dog will be welcome at your host’s home before plopping Travelling Tess in her canine seat belt and showing up at their door.

If you expect long-term guests – perhaps family staying for a week – and dogs and/or humans will be uncomfortable with repeated close encounters, consider boarding your dog at a well-run facility that you have thoroughly checked out. It could be a lot less stressful for all concerned if no one has to worry about management failures and unhappy results.

Pups as presents

Animal professionals generally frown on acquiring new dogs during the holidays – puppies or otherwise, not to mention the ill-advised practice of surprising someone with a pet as a gift. There are exceptions and ways you can make it work. 

When I was young, my family did a lot of things wrong with our animal caretaking, but one thing my parents did totally right was surprised me with a puppy for Christmas by wrapping up a collar, leash and dog bowl and putting that package under the tree (best present ever!). After the holiday chaos was over, we had plenty of time to look for a dog. We brought my first Collie puppy home when things were calm and we had time to give him proper care and attention.

If you want to give someone an animal companion as a gift, don’t make it a surprise. Talk to them first to be sure they want to complicate their life by taking on the responsibility for another living being and then let them be part of the process of finding and adopting their new family member. As for the caveat that the holidays are a horrible time to bring home a new dog – that is true much of the time. But if you are home alone for the holidays – no traveling, no family or friends visiting, no parties – it could be the perfect time to add a new canine companion to your family.

Bottom line is – use good judgment. The holidays can be a happy time for you and your dogs if you are careful to make it so.

Featured Image: AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the great holiday tips. I absolutely love dogs but try to be mindful that not everyone loves them and some people are allergic, etc. I find it very off-putting to go to a party myself and be bombarded by unruly dogs. I think sometimes people fail to realize that our dogs don’t understand all the people and activities and it can definitely stress them out and/or cause them to react in an aggressive manner even if they aren’t normally aggressive.

  2. Great advice! I had a near-horror with my first Rottie. Friends came over with their newborn and we parked the baby (in his carrier) atop a sturdy 4′ bookcase, while we were in the kitchen. Lu was fine with the adults (he’d known them forever) but had never experienced a newborn. The baby started crying and Lu started barking – and it quickly became a very DANGEROUS bark! We shot in there, I grabbed him and hustled him into our bedroom, with kind words and pets and a fully-closed door, where he happily spent the rest of the day. 30+ years later, I still awaken every now and then, in a cold sweat over what might have been.

  3. It well-been parts of this family where you inquire new ideas and make your puppy or pet more love by you, is my pleasure been part as well.

  4. I adopted Diana pawPrints on Dec. 22. I started the search a few weeks after my Ramses passed. First, after 25 years of having a dog I couldn’t stand the quiet house any more. Another? My parent’s dog they doted on was getting old and I wanted my Dad to bond with my new puppy and for the puppy to learn some of the routine of their house from their dog. My local rescue had several litters of rescued puppies and I picked up Diana on Dec. 22. She was introduced to my sister’s family on the way back from the foster. A break in the drive for a puppy that wasn’t used to driving and for her bladder as well. Then arrival at my parent’s for another break, this time a long one. And finally to my house which was prepared for the new arrival. Yes, she did spend Christmas Day with all of us. But we aren’t a very big family. all adults and nothing too exciting beyond watching TV. She was find and loved spending time exploring their large backyard, having already explored mine. Crates set up at both houses. She had a nap schedule which we followed. It was actually the perfect plan as their Candy passed away at the beginning of February so Diana had 7 weeks with her.

    When I worked I adopted my dogs right before breaks. Caesar right before a four week Spring break and Ramses right before Summer break. That way I could work with them on potty training and leaving them alone for increasing amounts of time as well as basic training. With Diana it didn’t matter as I was retired and had all of the time she needed. She has turned out to be a fabulous dog.

    And my parents? They tried going dog-less with just Diana coming twice a week but it wasn’t enough. They adopted Dolly the following August from the same rescue. Her foster was fabulous as well and Dolly was almost potty trained by the time they got her. She has been a life-saver. Both of them dote on her; the only dog they have allowed to sleep with them on the bed. I feared my Dad would waste away and die when Candy died, he loved her so much. But Dolly has given him new life, energy and purpose. She is a bit spoiled when it comes to treats but young and energetic and so far she burns the calories off. She is the best medicine for both of them.

    This is Dolly’s second Christmas and Diana’s third. There is even less commotion this year but they are taking it in stride. The stockings are already up. Three this time as my sister’s family adopted a dog last January after their dog of many years passed. They too had had dogs for 20 years. Sandy is getting extra attention now as my sister became a widow a few months after the adoption. Sandy was the last major decision they made as a family and so she is getting extra
    training and special attention from her. Where previous dogs were her husband’s dog, Sandy has become her dog. While this might be Sandy’s second Christmas it is her first with our family.

    How an adoption goes and what time of year can entirely depend on the family. The youngest in our family is 30. We don’t have guests or do activities. I imagine getting a puppy around the Superbowl with a sports family could be just as stressing, or the Fourth of July. The main point is that it shouldn’t be a surprise gift but one that is expected and prepared for, no matter what time of the year.

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