It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Holiday decorations are already lighting up homes and businesses, and I even ran into Santa Claus at the mall! The holidays are a wonderful time to spend time with family and friends, but they can also be a challenging time when you have pets. Anxious or reactive dogs are especially prone to stress during the holidays. Here are eight tips for keeping your dog safe and stress-free this holiday season:
1. Plan ahead.
- If you know you're going to be having guests over, whether for a few hours or a few weeks, plan ahead.
- If your dog is nervous around strangers in your home, set up a safe space for her to go to when she's feeling overwhelmed. This may be a small room away from guests, or a crate with her favorite toys.
- Ask your guests not to bother your dog when she's in her safe place. For more extended visits, you can build a positive association between your shy dog and your guests. Ask guests not to directly interact with your dog; instead, they can drop treats on the ground when your dog comes around.
- If your dog has shown any aggression towards strangers, manage the situation by keeping your dog in another room any time guests come over. Consult a trainer to help you work through these issues.
2. Know your dog.
- If you know your dog is shy or fearful towards guests, don't force your dog to interact with them. We don't like everyone we meet, and we can't expect our dogs to, either.
- Is your dog a notorious counter surfer? There are sure to be extra goodies lying around over the holidays, so make sure to keep them out of reach of your pet.
- If your dog jumps on guests, work on this behavior before the start of the holiday season so that your guests can have a more peaceful entry into your home.
3. Watch out for common holiday toxins.
- Grapes, raisins, chocolate--all common around the holidays and all are toxic to dogs.
- Coffee, alcohol, and nicotine are all potentially hazardous to your dog. If you have a guest that's an avid smoker or drinker, make sure you plan ahead to make sure your dog stays out of reach of these harmful items.
- You might be tempted to toss your dog table scraps from a delicious holiday meal, but keep in mind that rich, fatty foods can severely harm your dog's digestive system.
4. Keep your pet from getting lost.
- You shouldn't leave your dog outside unattended for long periods any time of the year, but this is especially important over the holidays.
- If you have a dog that likes to dart out the door, teach her a wait cue to prevent a tragedy in the future.
- Keep a collar and tag on your dog at all times. I recommend PetHub's revolutionary ID tags.
5. Don't leave your dog with just anyone.
You have several different options for what to do with your dog when you go out of town. Choose the best option for your dog.
- Hire someone to feed and let your dog out several times a day. If your dog struggles being left alone, this may not be the best option. If you do choose this option, make sure your dog is never left outside unattended. I do not recommend this option for long periods as dogs do not do well spending large amounts of time by themselves. A boarding facility or petsitter is a much better choice.
- Board your dog at a doggie daycare, vet, or kennel. If you choose this option, make sure your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations, and make sure you research the facility in advance.
- Hire a petsitter to watch your dog in their home or in yours. This may be the most expensive option, but it may also give you the most peace of mind.
6. Be wary of holiday hazards.
- Make sure your Christmas tree is securely anchored to the ground, and minimize your dog's temptation to jump on the tree by avoiding edible ornaments like popcorn strings.
- Clean up pine needles frequently and don't allow your pet to drink water from the tree stand.
- If you're celebrating Hanukkah, make sure to keep your menorah or other candles out of reach of your pets.
7. Don't forget Fido.
It can be easy to get caught up in the busy holiday season, but don't forget about your dog in the process. Regardless of the weather or your schedule, your dog still needs exercise and mental stimulation to avoid boredom and stress.
- Don't miss that daily walk with your dog. Not only will walking your dog reduce his stress level--it will reduce yours, too.
- If you're going to be away from home more than usual, provide your dog with interactive toys or treats to keep him busy.
- Plan a doggie playdate with a friend.
8. Think twice before bringing home a Christmas puppy.
There is a huge surge of dogs being given away and dumped at shelters after the holidays. A puppy may seem like a fun project for the family, but many dog owners underestimate the amount of work and responsibility they require.
Check out my top ten questions to ask yourself before bringing home a new dog.