It’s that time of year again! The hustle and bustle of the holidays is upon us. This is truly my favorite time of year–great food, cozy fires, welcoming family, and really taking time to remember all the things that we have been blessed with in the past year. The holidays also bring with them extra time spent cooking and baking, cleaning, shopping, and decorating. Really, we could describe the holidays at times in one word: madness.
Our dogs can feel the same way. As much as I am sure that your dog loves getting a little extra turkey or ham in his dish, there is definitely added stress with the additional traffic of nieces, nephews, cousins, and a great uncle from which side of the family you just can’t remember.
In the midst of the insanity, at times, it’s important to think of the one furry kid that got you through this past year, your dog. Following are my suggestions to provide for his sense of peace and well being, and his health and safety throughout the holidays:
- Make a space of his own
Let’s be honest now because you are only reading a blog, and what you think at this moment has no external consequences: Having company, no matter how much you love them, can be an extra burden and sometimes overwhelming, right? Your routine is off. You are constantly vigilant (if you are a great host) monitoring your company’s level of comfort. At times, we aren’t as relaxed even in our own home with company sharing our space. I can only imagine this is true for dogs as well. They may or may not be used to house guests. Maybe the guests get into your dog’s space, making him feel uncomfortable; maybe there are unfamiliar children involved, and the list goes on. The fact is, just as having guests in the house is not the same for you, they just aren’t the same for your dog either, so it’s important that you provide a space for your dog that is his own where, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, he can get away to relax and breathe and regain his Zen.
This space could present as a kennel in another room, a baby gate in your own room or master bath, or a laundry room. It needs to be a place where he can 100 percent let down and not have to worry that your second-cousin-once-removed is going to poke, prod, or pet him. He can just be in his own space.
Depending on your dog’s comfort level, he may need to stay in this private space the duration of the visit and taken on leash to potty and exercise as part of his routine.
- “Through a Dog’s Ear”
Let’s face it, “Jingle Bells” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” simply are not on your dog’s playlist, but one that will help to maintain his Zen is the CD or MP3 version of “Through a Dog’s Ear,” a clinically proven music CD that is designed to promote a relaxed response in dogs. Playing this CD in his space will encourage a relaxed response and drown out the extra noise of company during your guests’ visit–and maybe even your niece’s fiftieth chorus of Frosty the Snowman.
- Relaxation techniques
Time is of the essence with the holidays upon us, but there are many training techniques that I have taught my students over the years that help dogs use their own body to calm themselves. They are called biofeedback techniques, which include training the dog to use his own breath to calm himself as well as many other strategies that I have extensively covered in my book Control on Leash. I also wrote a blog on teaching impulse control through creating wave-like pattern exercises (click here for details). The goal, of course, is to train your dog to learn to be able to find his own Zen when he is under stress.
- Keep him busy
Dogs can’t play Candy Land or Elf on the Shelf. Nonetheless, even though your dog is sheltered away from others while in his personal space, he doesn’t need to be bored. Many puzzle toys, food-stuffed Kongs, and something to chew on such as a Himalayan chew, a bully stick, or an antler are easily available to the consumer. However, you want to be watchful for small pieces of anything that might cause accidental choking or other health issues.
- Avoiding intense amount of time with multiple family members
Recently, my niece and I were talking about athletics. She is a distance runner and can go many miles. I told her that I am not a long-distance runner, that I sprint and do interval training. As she was unfamiliar with the concept of interval training, I explained that, for my workout, I run as fast as I can for a specific distance, and then I walk for a specific distance and then repeat that pattern. My training is an example of how you need to manage your dog’s time with family—in intervals. He spends time with you and the family, and then he goes into the room of his own. Spending time in his room is equivalent to my recovery walk time when I am doing my regimen. This slowdown gives me a second to collect myself before I go at it again. Providing intervals of exposure for your dog is important because it will help set him up for success so that he does not become overwhelmed in an effort to “run the distance.” It gives him a chance to regain his Zen.
- New dogs possibly coming into town
Occasionally, family may bring along their own dog while they are staying with you. Depending upon your dog’s history of comfort with other dogs, you will need to carefully consider and monitor his ability to tolerate the their presence in “his territory” especially during this time of otherwise high stress. Pay attention to his cues of stress. Some dogs will do great and genuinely enjoy the presence of a playmate while others not so much. If you sense your dog is becoming overly stressed by the presence of another dog, make necessary adjustments by using baby gates or allowing him some Zen time in his private space. (Click here for more information on signs of stress.)
- Problem with bolting?
Plan ahead. There will likely be doors that are opened and closed more often than if it were just you and your family. You may be busy making sure the turkey doesn’t overcook or putting the egg in the nog. You need to plan ahead for the possibility that your dog may inadvertently pass through an open door. Management is key, and as a professional trainer, I will tell you (ahem), you need to work on bolting before the guests arrive!!! Please train this important skill. However, with little time before the big events of the season arrive, in-depth training may not be possible, so management is essential. (For additional training information, please see my previous blog on bolting and also in my book Come, Boy!.)
One possibility to ensure your dog will not “escape” is to keep him tethered to you (leash attached to something in the room you are in, or to you or a designated person) while you are going about your hosting responsibilities. Or, an x-pen works well in a specific room, or a kennel so your dog is still able to view the activities but is safely confined. Be sure to communicate to all guests your concerns for your dog’s safety if he should get outside through an open door, but remember it’s your responsibility to keep your dog safe. Nonetheless, even if you have taken the precaution of advising everyone of your concerns, more than likely someone may forget, and I would rather have you err on the side of caution by using these management techniques. After all, once the bell is rung, you can’t unring it. If your dog escapes, he can easily become lost or worse.
The holidays are surely a time for rejoicing and celebration, but there’s no question that they pose additional stress for everyone including your beloved dog. Don’t run the risk of allowing the holidays to become anything less than merry and bright. To ensure that they are as cozy as the fire you toast your toes by, as spirited as the eggnog you cheer your friends with, as warm as the embrace of your loved ones, give the thought and take the necessary steps now so that everyone, including your best pal, can have a Zenfully jolly holiday!
Blog by Michelle Huntting