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Dogs & the Holidays

Dogs and the Holidays

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and more. Your plans for enjoying them and bringing both family and friends together are in your mind – planning, budgeting, inviting and making sure you all have a good time. Lots of plans for guests, parties and celebrations. But what about your dog? With an old campaigner there may be no problems but with young dogs and sensitive ones this can be a very stressful time. So, give a thought to how you will include and safeguard your dog both physically and mentally during this time. With a little planning you can ensure your dog not only is safe and cared for but also he does not become over stressed or interacted with in a way which will create behavior problems or even health issues. Too many treats, which may seem fun and delightful to him, can have you running to the vets for all types of issues. Diarrhea being only one of them.

Because of the activity, and general turmoil during the holiday season, more dog bites occur during this time than at any other. Guests want to pet, children want to hug and some children and adults will even tease. The result; the inevitable accident, a spoiled holiday and a dog that we now do not know if we can ever trust again.

By realizing that activity and excitement over the holidays with different sounds and different experiences can stress your dog think of ways and make plans to minimize these problems. Even kenneling in a Boarding Kennel over the holiday should be considered.

At the party, supervise your dog at all times. Know where he is and what he is doing and what others are doing with him. If in doubt or if you cannot supervise then put him in a safe room with radio or TV playing, or his crate where he can relax. Where there are a lot of children playing, running and making the usual party noises your dog must be supervised. If not, then there is the potential for ankles being nipped, your dog feeling threatened and reacting by biting, and him becoming over excited and jumping up on people or, all over your furniture. There will be opportunities to steal food and he will learn that being naughty is much more fun than being good. In addition he can become stressed by it all.  This should not be surprising as he may be constantly hugged, chased, talked to, shouted at, and possibly frightened by all the new happenings. Imagine Halloween with everyone dressed up in masks and ‘play’ scaring everyone else, and your dog in the middle of this. Complete sensory overload. So supervise, or have someone responsible in your family supervise who the dog knows, trusts and obeys.  If you cannot do either of these put him somewhere safe.

It is not only children that create problems. Dogs do not like to be hugged and overwhelmed by adults they do not know. How would you feel if a stranger in the streets came up and started hugging on you, putting their face in yours and rubbing you vigorously around the head? Yes, I know – me too!!! So teach your guests to basically ignore your dog at first and when they do say ‘Hi’; do it gently, slowly and stroke calmly under the chin. If he does not wish to be greeted by anyone, or he is good at ‘training’ guests to give him food, inform your guests of this and ask them to ignore him at all times.

Have a quiet room or if he is happy and quiet in his crate, use this to give him a break or to be secure throughout the happenings. Don’t forget him though, remember he still has to go to the bathroom occasionally. If he is loose and part of the party, watch for stressful behavior. Standing tall, ears and tail erect, hackles raised, submissive posture but lip curled, excessive yawning, fixed eye contact and if you know your dog, other signs of stress and possible reactivity. When you see these signs take him to a quiet room or his crate. Have a big sign on the door of either stating – “My room, do not touch, talk or stare. AND, do not let me out without permission from Mom or Dad.”

Safety is essential at parties, not only for your guests but also for your dog. Too much chocolate is dangerous for dogs, doors left open can have him running unseen out into the street, and an unseen fall into the swimming pool by a puppy leaves him not knowing how to get out. Be a dog person first and when you are, you will be thinking of these problems and automatically taking leadership action to minimize and avoid them. Be safe with your dog by having him safe. Even something as simple as having his leash attached at all times indoors and out can give him the confidence feeling of being under control and provides you the opportunity for it to be picked up if necessary.

Some holiday parties end with a finale of fireworks. Your dog may not give the impression of being noise sensitive but load bangs and other sharp noises going off rapidly can easily create a fear. I have known gundogs that are sensitive to fireworks even though they are accepting of gunshot. So, once more a muffled room, possibly with music playing, slightly louder than usual and if there is any reaction to the sound do not try to comfort him. Comforting can make it worse. He may think you are praising this fear behavior and it becomes rewarded. Basically ignore him. If he enjoys chewing on something, give him this to occupy his mind. It is better to avoid the problem of loud noises rather than attempting to overcome the fear once it is there. This fear, in many instances, is virtually impossible to overcome.

Our dogs are part of our family and we want them involved however we also have a responsibility to protect them, keep them safe and teach them how to behave with guests. The party can be a fun and enjoyable training opportunity for you and your dog. So don’t take risks. If in doubt pop him on a leash and have him with you where you can supervise. Give him an occasional rest in a separate room or his crate and do teach guests how to interact with him, and, in doing so, love him because he is a good boy.

And as a last point, if your dogs suddenly begins to behave differently, appears lethargic, has difficulty eliminating, appears as if in discomfort get him to a vet to check he has not eaten something he should not have. Blockage items and poison substances for dogs, such as poinsettias and chocolate, are everywhere at Christmas.

Then with you care and attention, everyone will have Happy Holidays.