Holiday Hints for a Happy Hound: How to best prepare your dog for the holidays

Holiday Hints for a Happy Hound: How to best prepare your dog for the holidays

As we embark on another year of Christmas chaos, hosting family, friends, and colleagues in our homes, it’s easy to forget about how all of this hustle and bustle affects our pups. Luckily, there is still plenty of time to make sure they are supported throughout the holiday season! Below are some steps to take in preparation for the holidays that will make for a dog-friendly holiday season.  

Prepare for the dog you have, not the dog you want

Like humans, dogs are who they are, and all though we do our best to shape our dog’s behaviours for success, we also have to respect that our dogs are individuals, each with their own quirks and quarks. Some dogs will be just fine with lots of visitors coming and going from the home, while others may spiral into excitement overwhelm or decide to do their best rendition of a guard dog. Whether they are showing anxious tendencies or just plain old excitement, its good to know your dog’s personality and behaviours. Since you know your dog best, you can help them cope with new and challenging situations.

A few questions you might think about asking:

  • How is my dog around children?
  • Has my dog been in a space recently with 10+ other people? If so, how did they react?
  • How is my dog’s impulse control arounds things like food or toys?

Don’t expect your dog to just deal with all this unusual activity if they don’t have any previous experience doing so. Faced with new and unexpected circumstances, anxious or stressed out dogs may behave in ways we have never seen before, such as growling or snapping at a guest if they feel threatened. If this is all new your pup, consider ways you can build towards a bigger experience, such as inviting over a few close friends that you trust, and assessing your dog’s experience, before you decide to host all of your extended family. Overall, the better we know our dog and create a plan that suits that dog, the better the holidays will be for everyone!

Buy the necessary supplies to help with success

This step cannot be underestimated. There are so many tools that can help you and your dog cope with new experiences. Prepare yourself to be ready for two things: management and enrichment/distraction.

On the management side of things, consider if your dog will benefit from a barrier between them and the rest of the family. You can easily create this by giving them a breather in their crate (if that’s already a safe space for your pup) or installing a baby gate between you dog and the rest of the holiday chaos. This can be especially helpful during food preparation times, or canape hour, if your pup is trying to sneak a snack or two. In addition to this, making sure you have high value treats on hand to reward good behaviours is key!

In terms of enrichment/distraction, this is a great time to consider what tools may help tire out your dog or keep them busy when you’re potentially opening presents or sitting down to family a meal. dogged has a plethora of enrichment options but some of our favourites are: The Pupsicle (yes you can have a popsicle in the winter), the Yeti Puff + Play, and the puzzle lick mat.  All of these toys give your dog an outlet to use some of that energy to get something really tasty rather than getting themselves into trouble. Another option for keeping our dogs busy are chews. Chews, like a pig’s ear, are an excellent option as they require your dog something to do while your guests mingle. Bonus: Chews help keep dog’s teeth clean and can be highly stimulating for your dog.

Practice makes perfect

Make sure before the big festivities that you try your hand at some basic cues like sit, stay, and down. In our household, we like “bed” or some folks call it “place.” This cue just means go lay on your bed. We regularly practice this technique with our dog using Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol which was published in Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals (ie. she knows what she is talking about!).

Don’t ditch the routine completely

It is natural that your routine will look different during the holiday season but trying to uphold your dog’s routine to the best of your ability can be helpful in giving them an ongoing sense of stability. Ensuring that your dog is getting regularly timed walks and being fed at the same times will really help ease tension for any anxious creatures of habit.  

Plan your route

To avoid potential frustrations while hosting or being a guest in someone else’s home, make a creative plan for your and your dog. For example, when we visit my parent’s place, we let our dog Ruby enter via the backyard, this way she can run around and burn off some excited energy, before entering the house and seeing all of her favourite people! Another option may be making a game plan for scheduled decompression walks or potty breaks throughout your visit or while having visitors. It’s also good to keep an “escape route” in mind. How will you know when a situation has become too stressful for your dog and it’s time to get the heck out of there rather than hang around?

Give your friends and family a heads up

There is nothing better than boundaries. Let your guests know what you would expect of them when interacting with your dog. Some of the hot topics are food scraps, initial greetings, petting/touching, and picking up your dog. If you feel strongly about any of these topics, discuss them early and remind them right before they come. Remember that you are your dog’s best advocate!  

Not all holiday indulgences were made for our pups

Keep in mind that chocolate, coffee, liquor, cooked bones, and onions are all on the naughty list for your dog’s diet. If you want to know more about this topic, check out our other blog posts!

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