The holidays are stressful for most of us, including our dogs. Think about it – all the extra people coming and going, packages piling up, travel plans, decorations and parties. It’s a lot for some dogs to take in. The following are some tips from professional dog trainers on how to keep your dog safe and relaxed this season whether you’re traveling with your dog or hosting a holiday event.
A lot of dogs are extra excited or anxious when people visit the house.
One of the best things you can do for your dog is provide him with enough exercise before your guests arrive, said Anthony Newman, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Calm Energy Dog Training. If you’re going to be traveling, it’s equally important to exercise your dog leading up to your trip.
“Especially on the day of a family event, wake up early and get your pup out,” he said.
And sometimes a simple walk just won’t cut it. Newman suggested the dog park because “running around chasing and wrestling with other dogs off leash purges not only physical energy but also mental energy and social craving.”
Lots of ‘dress rehearsals’
“Planning ahead is key,” said Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of The Inquisitive Canine. If dog owners want their dogs to act a certain way when guests are over, they need to set up multiple scenarios where the dogs can practice.
One option is to teach the dog to lie down and stay on a mat when people come to the door, Mayer said. Of course, it’s not fair to the dog if the owner expects her to do this during a holiday party if they haven’t practiced many times beforehand.
Teach your dog to stay on her bed
“You’ll do yourself an extra favor if you’ve got the ‘go to your bed’ command down pat,” Newman said.
This means the dog knows to lie down and stay on her bed. You can use the command in your own home as well as when you travel with your dog.
Newman suggested dog owners practice the “go to your bed” command before feeding their dogs, before leashing them up for walks and before giving them bones so the dogs view the command as something positive.
According to him, a lot of dogs prefer a dog bed with sides so they can curl up and feel safe and cozy.
If you have to separate your dog from the group, make it fun
There’s nothing wrong with keeping your dog in another room or in a crate, Mayer said. “Just make it positive.”
She recommends giving the dog special privileges while he’s in a kennel such as a puzzle-type toy filled with food or treats.
“Make it fun for them,” she said. If the dog has something to do, he will have an easier time hanging out in his pen.
Other options could include taking the dog to a daycare or boarding facility, and Mayer even suggested hiring a pet sitter to come to your holiday party so you have someone in charge of watching your dog while you are busy entertaining your guests.
Introduce dogs outside on neutral territory
If you’ll be meeting other dogs at your final destination or if dogs will be visiting your home, Newman recommends you introduce the dogs in a neutral, outdoor space. That way you can take them on a “pack walk” around the block.
“If you can, hit the dog park together and play,” he said. “Then return to the more emotionally charged indoors.”
He said the visiting dog should enter the house first to avoid guarding behavior from the other dog. Once both dogs are inside, this is the perfect time to send them both to their beds and reward them with something to chew on.
What will you be up to this holiday season? Do you have any tips for keeping a dog calm?