Reduce Your Dog's Holiday Overwhelm

Friday, November 23, 2007

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During this wonderful time of the year with family, friends and good cheer, I thought it would be fitting to talk about dogs and the holidays.

In many cases the holidays go out without a glitch, 50 tons of turkey, turkey sandwiches for a week, cavities from all the chocolate, and of course an inch or two on the waistline that may need to be shrugged off as a New Year’s resolution.

On the other side of the fence, I do get many e-mails roughly about the time between Christmas and New Year's regarding how the family dog either bit someone or might have growled at them. Now, it isn’t always the case but it isn’t unusual as well to hear that Fido might have had a bad day during the time that family and friends are all together.

How could this be? After all, I love Aunt Emily who hasn't come by in 2 years and I guess Fido should love her as well. Or Uncle Albert who may have had one too many and got a bit loud and pushy. Uncle Albert was acting unusual and Fido felt he should protect you from him. Finally, Uncle Albert’s dog, who is also considered a relative, might get an angry put-in-your-place move from Fido, too. Let alone all the screaming, jumpy kids that come over, which is something Fido doesn’t encounter frequently.

All of this sentiment and surprised response to Fido's behavior is why this all happens in the first place. We have a couple of things to consider. First, we need to understand that even though Uncle Albert and Aunt Emily may be our family members, Fido may not consider them to be his. Worse yet, Uncle Albert’s dog is eating out of Fido's bowl or pushing him aside to get that little extra tidbit off the table or the extra pat of affection. Of course Fido needs to be a gracious host as we would expect ourselves to be.

We need to realize that Fido is a dog and only sees his family as his. Anyone else, be it Aunt Emily or Uncle Albert, are visitors who will either be accepted based on your guidance and understanding or be a negative forced tolerance. We need to realize that Fido may be tired and can only handle so much and needs some time away.

Tips to help your dog manage stress

Crates provide a safe space for your dog

As with my dogs, I teach them to have a way out. This concept is the issue of the dog having a space - a crate in a quiet room that he goes to on a regular basis to get away from it all. To take it one step further, I also teach my dogs to come to me when they are displeased or stressed. I may notice them sitting in front of the door to this peaceful place and I open it and they go there just to chill out.  Of course, this is part of their daily routine and not only used when there are guests over. Doing this solely when guests are visiting would be looked upon as a form of punishment and will breed further resentment from your dog in the long run.

Here is the check list that I use when I raise a dog for this technique to be successful:

  • Regular crating at one point of the day for an hour or two.
  • Obedience training and teaching an exercise of “come to me” when the dog is troubled.
  • Being patient, relaxed and waiting for a pat as opposed to pushing your way in to get one.
  • Using my guests through this course to teach my dog good manners.
  • Not trying to enforce good manners when my guests come over and letting the dog do what he or she wants every other time.

  • I do not allow a relative to come over who my dog doesn’t know and just walk up and pat him while he or she is laying down.
  • When the guest dog is over pick up Fido's toys, water bowl and food bowl.
  • Do not give treats to Fido and the guest dog next to each other.

  • When someone has had one to many or if the kids get out of hand, put Fido and the guest dog away.

Those are some of the practices I have incorporated over the years, not just during the holidays but on a regular bases. It has kept things safe and happy for my family, friends and, of course, Fido.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday! May the new year bring prosperity and happiness.

REMEMBER THIS: no person or animal should suffer the repercussions of our misgivings and misunderstanding. Dogs are a life-long commitment, not an expected convenience.

- Sam

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