4 Ways To Help A Reactive Dog Relax This Holiday Season

4 Ways to Help Your Reactive Dog Relax this Holiday Season

Working on a reactive dog’s triggers is a job we do inside and outside of the home. However, as we head into the holiday season, even working with our dogs in our homes can start getting a little tricky. Many reactive dogs already have trouble relaxing, and whether it’s from trick or treaters, visiting relatives, or the other flurries of activity that come along with the last months of the year, that inability to relax can turn into even more stress during the holiday season.

With all dogs, the more you can reward them consistently and often for displaying calm, relaxed behaviors, the more they will understand how much better it is to exist within that calm state. Here are a few ways we’re working to promote relaxation and calm with our dog this holiday season.

Adjust Your Attitude

When it comes to dog anxiety and reactivity, the first thing you need to do to help is to stop reacting to them. Don’t anticipate their problems and start preemptively worrying about them—your dog will feed off that anxiety, and the two of you will become an unstoppable loop.

This is a big thing I constantly work on, especially when it comes to our group training classes or having people over for a holiday meal. It’s my own personal challenge—Topher’s not the only one working hard when it comes to growing and changing! The less worked up I can get about Topher’s reactions, the more quickly he’s able to calm down, simply because I can maintain a level head and clearly, calmly give Topher instruction to help him work through his own processes.

Release Some Energy

There’s no way your dog will be able to relax around holiday activity if they’ve had no other way to release their energy all day. The holiday season can send our schedules into a tailspin, but making time to take your dog for a walk, or even a run, is especially important. Plus, it’s a great way for you to have some decompression time during holiday fun, too!

Give Them Their Own Space

The holidays usually bring extra visitors into your home—possibly even ones your dog has never met before. Make sure your dog has a place to go when they’re feeling overwhelmed, a quiet area where they have access to a cozy place to lie down, with a water and food dish nearby so they don’t feel pressured to go get a drink or a meal amidst a press of unfamiliar people. Make this room off-limits to children, and maybe even adults who may be visiting, so your dog always has an out if things get a too loud or stressful.

Teach Them to “Go Settle”

Some dogs may not want to go relax on their own, no matter what is triggering them. Our dog Topher wants to be in on the action and demanding attention, even if he’s starting to become over stressed by his environment. This can create more dangerous situations, if we’re not able to supervise Topher properly and he becomes spooked by a noise or an accidental touch. This is the reason Topher has learned to “go settle” and why we use it frequently when company is over.

If you teach your dog nothing else, teaching them to “go settle” can reduce your dog’s stress by noticeable amounts, by teaching them how to disengage from you and those around you. This exercise has the added bonus of changing your dog’s attention-seeking behaviors, if your dog is the demanding type. (Like ours.)

Teaching your dog “go settle” is different than teaching them to lie down, because you want your dog to choose to go relax when they’re stressed, rather than performing the behavior in response to a cue. Start by teaching them to go to a specific place to “settle” like a dog bed or their crate, so they will go there on command. To help them choose to relax in this space, reward your dog for relaxing or lying in that location, even if you aren’t training right at that second.

So instead of waiting for chaos to descend, put these four tips at the top of your holiday to do list, and save you and your pup a lot of headaches this holiday season.


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Positively Expert: Lucy Bennett

Lucy is Co-Founder of Good Dogs & Co., a website celebrating the ups and downs of dog ownership. She's on a mission to help her dog Topher overcome his dog reactivity, after he was blinded in one eye by a dog attack.


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One thought on “4 Ways To Help A Reactive Dog Relax This Holiday Season

  1. Keeley

    I have a 2 year old blue Staffordshire bull terrier bitch. She loves humans and dogs, and also has a lot of excitable energy to bring to the table. She is the only dog in the house and gets one 45 minute walk a day.

    Issue is, she pounces and gets quite rough when playing with other dogs. I think it is not aggressive as she does not show teeth, pin the other dog down or growl. However, when she meets she does not lie down or show her bottom in a submissive manner either. She smells, lunges and chases.

    If left for a few minutes with a smaller dog (or Labrador), it is likely I will see her constantly approach the neck area from behind. At this point, I have to remove her as she will stop listening to me and just be focused on chasing her new dog friend only.

    On our walk last night, we encountered a small dog walking off lead. Lexie (my dog) immediately adopted a stiff posture, leaning forward to where the other dog was. She was on lead. I felt as though this was anxious behaviour as she was fixed on the other dog. I watched Caesar's Dog Whisper show and took the advise to touch her underbelly at the back to break her stiff posture. I'm not sure if this was the right thing to do, as this made her turn round sharply to bite me. She did not, but she did bare her teeth just slightly until she realised it was me.

    What could I be doing to make her greet nicely, play less rough, be calmer in this situation? I really want to give her the chance to socialise, in order to improve her quality of life.

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