Trainer Brian Bailey wrote a fascinating, provocative new book Embracing the Wild in Your Dog. I interviewed him about his ideas about the wolf ancestry of our dogs on DOG TALK™ and also on HUMANE TALK. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to both conversations – in the meantime, take advantage of his good practical tips for helping your dog manage the holidays.
5 Tips for Helping Fido Survive the Holidays
Just the other day, I was driving home from an outing with my dog when I passed a
billboard announcing the annual, pre-Christmas sale at a major, local retailer. I
remembered thinking, really? How can this be? Weren’t the holidays just here
yesterday? Suddenly, the relaxing day I was having turned into anything but that as I
began to go through my annual, mile-long, stress-inducing, pre-holidays mental
checklist. The pain on my face must have been obvious because as I checked off item
number 7 out of 200, I felt the warm, sticky sensation of my dog’s tongue in my right ear.
Reaching behind me, I rubbed his big head and asked, “You’ll help me get through the
holidays, won’t you?” The thump, thump, thump of his tail on the back seat was all I
needed as an answer. My dog had my back.
For most people, the holidays are a bittersweet occasion in that it is a time of reuniting
with loved ones, endless parties, and the exchanging of gifts; however, it is also one of
massive preparation, excessive spending, and worrying about perfection in everything
from what to wear, to what to give, and to what to serve. It is truly the season of cheer
and fear where nothing is overlooked or left to chance . . . except Fido. Yep, the very
dog that has your back is left by himself to deal with a myriad of holiday stressors that
range from multiple attacks by your relative’s screaming kids to a fat man in a red suit
yelling “ho, ho, ho,” which unfortunately translates to “no, no, no” for your dog who
rightfully thinks he’s done nothing wrong! For us humans, it’s easy to understand during
the holidays why “misery loves company” but not for your dog. Therefore, here are a
few tips that will help Fido get through the holiday season without misery as his constant
- Give training as an early gift. Dogs are social creatures (minus the scary parts of
being social during the holidays, such as the fat man in the red suit with the long,
white beard); they would much rather spend their time with us than being locked
away in the laundry room when company arrives. Learning behaviors, such as
“stay” and “be quiet” upon command, before the holidays could earn your dog the
good graces of the laundry room parole board and a coveted spot on a fleece bed
next to the Christmas tree. Keeping in mind that some of your guests would rather
admire your well-trained dog from a distance, you’ll be giving them an early gift as
- Maintain your dog’s normal routines. I’m not sure about you, but my routines
during the holidays are anything but normal. However, our dogs are creatures of
habit, and any changes, even subtle ones in their established routines, can produce
stress. The onset of these stressors can then lead to undesirable behaviors such as
destructive chewing, restless pacing or whining, or even an escalation in aggression
as your dog attempts to cope with its anxiety. In addition, dogs are extremely
temporal and can sense your holiday stress; it’s no wonder you will find most dogs
hanging around the spiked eggnog bowl! Keeping your dog’s routines right on target
during the holidays is impossible for most of us, but do your best to add Fido to your
Day Planner. His stress is one less stressor you’ll have to worry about.
- Traveling with your dog. The holidays are one of the busiest travel seasons of the
year, and if it’s off to grandma’s house you go and you’re thinking of taking Fido with
you, you may want to plan well in advance. If you will be flying with your dog, check
with your airline about its policies and regulations as these vary greatly with each
individual carrier. For example, some will fly your dog in a climate-controlled space,
and others won’t. Therefore, bad weather could prevent Fido from making the trip.
Also, unless Fido is a service dog, he will have to fly in an airline-approved kennel,
and the size requirements for your dog’s kennel are not the least bit standard in the
airline industry. The best rule of thumb in regard to kennels is go big. I have had
dogs rejected because their pointed ears barely touched the top of their kennel while
they were standing! If it’s a vehicle you will be traveling in, be sure to treat Fido like
any other occupant and restrain him. Time in your lap or your children’s laps can
wait until you arrive at your destination. Remember, if Fido isn’t restrained and an
accident should occur, Fido will become a projectile. I’m sure the only flying animals
you will want to see during the holidays are Santa’s reindeer!
- Dealing with other dogs. Nearly 90 million American households have at least one
dog. If you visit with family or friends during the holidays, your dog is likely to
encounter a dog that is not of its pack. Because dogs are dogs and not humans,
their perception of the alien dog could be quite different than yours. You may see a
nice dog, but your dog may see a threat or an opponent, which could then lead to a
fight. Keep a close eye on your dog during the initial meeting, and if either dog
appears to be fearful or threatening, immediately separate the dogs and keep them
separated until the visit is over. Do this whether your dog is naughty or nice.
- Dealing with other children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) report millions of dog bites each year in the United States with most of those
occurring to small children. Not recognizing or ignoring the warning signs given by
dogs that feel threatened by the direct interaction of small children is one of the
leading causes of these bites. During the holidays, children tend to be more excited
and animated as they play with new toys or with their relatives or friends. Because
Mom and Dad are engaged in food preparation or entertaining, these children are
not as closely supervised as they are during other times. Unfortunately, letting little
Johnny whack his cousin’s dog with his new Star Wars light saber could end with
little Johnny getting a gift he didn’t ask for but really did.
The holidays are a very special time of year, even with the accompanying stressors.
However, for Fido, he would rather it not be so special. Treating the holidays like any
other time of the year for him will be the best present you can give.
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