The holidays are a busy time for many households. Friends and family come and go, deliveries are made to the door, delicious smells emanate from the kitchen, and a general happy hubbub means that something special is happening. Among those affected by these changes is the family dog.
While one dog may revel in the change of pace, another may find it a confusing, stressful time. Your normally placid dog may suddenly begin to exhibit unusual behaviors, such as stealing food, jumping up on people, or growling and/or snapping at visitors. As pack leader, you need to communicate and demonstrate to your dog that while his world may be different, you will continue to keep him safe and secure.
When an insecure dog (no matter his size or breed) encounters a new situation, he doesn’t know what to do. If he feels threatened, he may react defensively with a snap or bite. On the other hand, a well-socialized dog is comfortable meeting and being with others, both dogs and people. He has been introduced to a variety of situations and knows he and his pack have remained safe through them all.
The following are some tips to help calm your dog and keep everyone in the home safe during the active holiday season.
Dogs that live in a household with no children may not be comfortable when kids come to visit. The chaos created by youngsters like grandchildren will inherently raise the energy level in the house, causing the dog to worry or stress. Here are some ways to control such situations if your dog does not cope well with children.
• Always supervise kids (especially very young children) and dogs when they are together. Most dog bites to children occur when they are alone with a dog.
• With a very young child, parents must be vigilant and monitor their tot’s interactions with the dog. Parents should teach children of all ages to treat dogs with respect and gentleness.
• Never invite a child to feed the dog by hand as this teaches the dog it is acceptable to take any food from a child. Because of a child’s small size, the dog may view her as an equal and thus may try to take advantage of the situation.
Boundaries and security
Dogs need to have their own “home,” a place where they feel secure and calm. If your dog doesn’t already have a place of his own, create one for him.
• A crate or pet carrier provides a natural safe haven for your dog. Keep his crate or dog pillow in a quiet area of the home, and direct your dog to go there when you need to set boundaries. While he may not like being separated from you, he will still feel secure.
• If your dog begins to bark or nip at visitors, remove him from the area and keep him in his safe place until your guests have gone.
• Keep the dog out of certain rooms where he can get underfoot. For example, training your dog to stay out of the kitchen (where most household accidents occur)is a good safety measure. It also helps to prevent your dog from begging for food.
• If you travel during the holidays, taking his crate/carrier will help your dog feel more relaxed, since “home” is wherever he finds you and his familiar bed.
Elderly dogs may not enjoy the extra hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Be mindful of keeping your older dog comfortable when his routine is disrupted.
• If your elderly dog gets cranky around visitors, simply take him to his special quiet place where he won’t be bothered and can feel secure.
• Remind children to be respectful of your older dog. Always provide supervision when dogs and kids are together.
Front door behaviors
A knock on the door can be a stimulating event for a dog, whether he sees it as fun or alarming. It is natural for him to want to know who the visitors are to determine if they are friendly or not. However, a dog that explodes with excitement at the sound of the doorbell is both annoying and unsafe; he may dash out the door and run into harm’s way, he may get underfoot and become a trip hazard, he may knock people over, or he may become aggressive to the visitor.
• To help your dog be calmer, exercise him prior to the arrival of guests. After 30 minutes of walking or playing, your dog will more likely be relaxed or want to nap.
• As a general rule, don’t allow the family dog to greet unfamiliar guests because commotion and unusual circumstances can cause stress for dogs.
• Consider putting your dog on a leash as guests arrive to maintain better control of him.
• Teach your dog to sit and stay on command. When the doorbell rings, put him in a sit-stay and do not open the door until he calms down.
• If your dog gets overly excited with arriving visitors, remove him from the scene ahead of time. Place him in his crate in a quiet room, and then let him join the party later.
By anticipating how your dog may react to new activities and visitors, you can help ensure that everyone (both two- and four-legged) has a fun and safe holiday season.
• Be sure that your dog doesn’t get too much rich “people” food. This applies to any day, but no holiday has as much rich food as Christmas does.
• Make sure your dog can’t dash out a door when company comes. You are likely to have more company in December than during the rest of the year combined.
• Substances like chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine are dangerous year-round, but are more likely to be in the house at Christmastime.
• Candles are always a worry. Some Christmas decorations include lighted candles next to dry fir arrangements—just don’t do it!
If you have an adventurous dog, remember these Christmas Tree safety tips:
• No glass ornaments, at least on the lower branches. When dogs are batting at ornaments, you don’t want ones that can fall and break.
• No tinsel. It is indigestible, and if it gets caught in your dog’s intestinal tract, you’re on your way to the emergency clinic for some serious surgery.
• No food on the tree. That means no strings of popcorn (if your dog eats the popcorn, the string can end up tangled in his tummy—which means a trip to the emergency clinic!), no candy canes, (since you never know what will strike a dog’s fancy), and it definitely means no cute little fake-dog-treat ornaments. Some dogs who turn up their noses at dog treats will climb a tree to get a lacquered, painted dog treat. We don’t know why, but it’s true!
• No preservatives in the tree water. If you have a fresh tree, keep it well watered, but don’t add those packets of preservatives to the water.
• No presents under the tree. Ribbons, paper, and boxes can become a shredded mess the minute you turn your head.
• If possible, try to separate the tree from the dog. Put the tree in a room that you declare off limits to the dog unless you’re there to supervise. Or, if you have a small tree, put it on a tall table so that your dog can’t reach it.
Will your dog ever outgrow this behavior? Maybe. A lot of boisterous puppies and young dogs become very mellow adults. However, some dogs—like some people—just never grow up, and “better safe than sorry” definitely applies here. Keep a careful eye on your dog and his environment. Make sure that he can’t get in trouble. Love him, protect him, guard him, and make sure he stays safe through the holidays.
By: Kimberly Gosser