Helping Your Dog Feel Safe During the Holidays

15283992_10106039434626477_739981169922076092_nThe holidays can be an exciting and festive time for humans, but for many dogs, they can be a cause of anxiety. It’s important not to forget your dog’s behavioral health during this time. Here are three ways to help your dog feel safe this holiday season.

  1. Create a safe space in your house

Not all dogs enjoy being around a lot of people, and even social dogs need some downtime. If you’re inviting having family and friends to your home, make sure you create a safe space for your dog where he can take a break from the chaos if needed. Place his favorite bed, toys and blankets in a separate room and keep the space enclosed with a baby gate or door. Play soothing music in the room, and provide a work-for-food toy or bone while he’s there. Tell other party guests not to disturb your dog if he’s in his safe space.

Use this space strategically. For example, if your dog has a stressful time when guests enter the home, keep him in this space while people arrive so he doesn’t have to deal with multiple doorbells, door entries, and new people introductions. If things get chaotic with children and presents, proactively place your dog in his safe space before the celebrations begin.

Make sure your dog is comfortable with his space before your holiday party by setting it up ahead of time and giving him time to relax there with a toy or bone. If he has separation anxiety don't leave him alone in this space; you or another family member can join him, give him soothing massages, and play with him. Remember: The safe space must be safe for your dog, so take into account what helps your dog feel relaxed and safe. 

Most importantly, watch your dog’s body language and be his advocate. Don’t ignore signs of stress or fear.

2. Who’s watching the dog?

Multi-tasking is a given for many people during the holidays, making it difficult to keep guests happy while managing and caring for your dog. To alleviate stress and to ensure your dog has an advocate during holiday gatherings, make sure one person in your family is on “dog duty” at all times. Whoever is on dog duty is in charge of:

  • watching for signs of stress and fear taking dog to his safe space if needed
  • facilitating positive interactions between guests and the dog
  • managing children’s interactions with the dog
  • tending to the dog’s food, water, enrichment and bathroom needs

Rotate shifts among family members and write out a schedule in advance. This way, you can relax and know that at any point during a party, someone is taking care of your dog’s behavioral and physical needs.

3. Be your dog’s advocate

Some dogs can handle the distractions, people, and noise that holiday gatherings inevitably bring. For other dogs, the combination of new stimuli and noise is scary. If your dog is of the latter category and you’re having a gathering at your home, secure overnight boarding with a friend or trusted dog sitter. If you’re going to a party for the evening and you know that meeting lots of new people in a new place will be stressful for your dog, leave him at home for the evening with a fun puzzle toy.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say “no” to any of the following scenarios if you think your dog will be scared or stressed:

  • greeting new people
  • interacting with children
  • accompanying you to an event or party
  • participating in activities that involve lots of stimlui and noise (note: many children's toys make loud noises and movements that can be scary for dogs!)

Check the calendar in your community and stay home with your dog if you see any fireworks scheduled. Note: Even if there are no official New Year’s Eve fireworks, there may be some private “booms” in the area come midnight. If your dog is afraid of fireworks, don’t leave him home alone.

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Positively Expert: Maureen Backman

Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town Dog Training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project.


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