5 Things You Can Do to Ensure Your Holidays are Safe and Happy
As first seen on the BedfordPatch.com
My daughter is very imaginative. One minute she’s a leopard, the next a frog and a 30 seconds later, she’s a dragonfly. And woe is me if my day is on overload and I fall behind on the transformations. “Moooooom,” she’ll say somewhat impatiently, “I’m a SEAGULL now. You’re not paying attention.”
Dogs, too, enjoy our undivided attention and predictable routines. When the holiday season interrupts the regularly scheduled household programming, dogs can become unsettled and anxious. Here’s how to keep your pooch—and your family—on an even keel during the hubbub.
Organize. Think about how your home looks during most of the year then look around during the holidays. Things are usually moved, changed, added or subtracted. Much like a toddler heading for the shiniest and most precious holiday heirloom, dogs will explore these changes with noses up and mouths open…sometimes to excess. As much as possible, decorate with your dog in mind. Keep the nut bowl out of reach and the fragile collectibles beyond reach of a sweeping tail. If your curious canine makes a grab for your vintage stuffed snowman, stay calm. A heated reaction will only increase her possessiveness and will result in an unpleasant—especially for the aforementioned snowman—round of grab-n-go.
Tip: Start your holiday shopping in the pet department. Buy an extra bag of favorite chews or a particularly tempting toy. Buy a cushie dog bed or mat or repurpose an old blanket. Use these comfort supplies to create a cozy, safe haven—a station–in each room you share with your dog. To encourage calm cooperation, spend a few minutes paying exclusive attention to your dog while she’s resting and/or playing with her things. She will begin to associate these stations with security and pleasure. When things get hectic, send her to her station and she’ll be glad to go!
Empathize. It’s not easy when the people you count on become unhinged. Though you may be under quite a bit of pressure—shopping, cooking, working, decorating—try to keep your cool. When the cake burns, an ornament breaks or you’re just running out of time, take a breath. Save the most predictable “you” for your family—dogs included.
Reassure. Dogs love routine. The sun comes up, we go outside, I eat a bowl of food. Walk, play, eat, sleep. Though your schedule will be squeezed during the holidays, do your best to carve out time for your dog. Make sure she gets frequent and consistent exercise and keep her feeding schedule as close to normal as possible. If there’s a glitch—if you miss a meal or your dog spends too much time alone—she may act out. Be sympathetic to her misdeeds; they are just your dog’s way of coping with her own stress.
Socialize. During the holidays, your doorbell will probably get a good workout. Family, friends, the goodie-bearing UPS driver…even the mellowest of dogs can get a little over-stimulated. If your dog has forgotten some of her social skills, take time to practice the niceities of greeting and interacting: Sit to say hello. No jumping. And please, please, no crotch sniffing. When you take your dog to unfamiliar places, brush up on simple directions such as “sit” and “settle down.” By doing so, you’re encouraging her to listen and reminding her that you’ve got the situation under control.
Condition. Good manners start at home. If your dog welcomes you home in a flurry of jumps, barks and sloppy kisses, she’s going to do the same thing to your guests. Focus on inappropriate behaviors and work to condition good habit now, before you find your mother-in-law covered in holiday drool.
Many dogs are incapable of holding a stay when someone walks into the house; forcing it only results in displaced frustration, mouthing or manic flailing. Not pretty. Instead, find a toy that your dog truly loves. Buy a few so there’s always one in reach. During greetings or other exciting times, offer the toy. Use a consistent and catchy phrase, “Get your ball!” or “Fetch your duck!” Your dog will soon learn to grab this item when overstimulated.
Remember that your dog is more like a small child than a stuffed toy. The holidays can cause excitement overload, so please be patient with her.