During the holiday season, we want our pets there with us because pets are part of the family!
But if you have a reactive dog or one who gets too excited around lots of activity, it can be a lot to handle.
You won’t have time to completely eliminate unwanted behaviors before holiday gatherings, because behavior modification training takes time–it's not an overnight process.
Management is the process of controlling a dog's environment and prevent unwanted behaviors (and promote desired behaviors). And unlike training, management can be effective immediately!
This blog will review some common issues we face with our dogs during the holidays and give you some tips and tricks. This way, you can enjoy the holidays with your dog rather than have it be a source of stress.
Set your Dog up for Success
Think about how to create an environment that make it easier for your dog to behave well and learn effectively.
The holidays can create new situations and environments and new tempting smells! You can prevent a lot of behaviors like jumping, stealing gifts from the Christmas tree, or counter surfing for the turkey, all by using management.
You also want to make sure (as best as you can) that everybody who is involved during the holidays is consistent. Your dog will already be in a new situation, and it may already be overwhelming for your dog to be meeting all these new people.
Here are some more ways you can set your dog up to succeed when having people over (or visiting people) for the holidays:
Exercise Your Dog Before People Come Over
Making sure you engage your dog in physical and mental exercise to help them release excess energy is crucial. You can also give them puzzle toys, do some training with them, or do anything that you know will tire them out mentally and physically before people come over.
Look for Opportunities for Enrichment
Enrichment is the practice of providing mental and physical stimulation to your dog in a structured and positive way. Enrichment can help improve your dog’s well-being and behavior.
Enrichment can be breed specific depending on your dog's breed and their needs.Enrichment helps keep your dog's mind engaged, preventing them from boredom and promoting positive behavior.
Some enrichment ideas include:
Hide treats in a cardboard box
Roll up a treat in a towel and allow them to figure out how to get it
Hide treats around the house
Tape your dog’s toys to the ground
Scatter treats in the backyard
Enrichment can give your dog an activity that will allow them to decompress and have their needs met.
Know Your Dog’s Triggers
In order to manage your dog, you need to be aware of your dog’s triggers. What makes your dog react in different situations? This can be anything that brings out certain emotions in your dog that might bring out unwanted behavior.
For example, meeting new people might really trigger your dog or make them excited. Recognizing your dog's triggers can really help you manage the situation to avoid unwanted reactions.
Maintain a routine
Try to stick to your dog's regular routine as much as possible during the holiday season um including feeding and exercise schedules. This can be hard when you’re really busy, but it will help your dog a lot.
Unwanted Behaviors in Dogs During the Holidays
Let’s talk about common behavior challenges during holiday gatherings. How can we address them in situations where you may be distracted or overwhelmed?
Dogs often jump to greet people. Here are some things you can do to address jumping:
When guests enter: It may be a good idea to have treats at your door, with a sign that says something like: “My dog will jump, please take a handful of these treats and throw them when you come in.”
Provide Alternatives: Give your dog a Lickimat or a Kong or something you know your dog is going to enjoy and keep their attention while people are coming in or you're transitioning or whatever the case may be.
Divert Your Dog’s Attention: One of the best ways to divert attention is to do a treat scatter. This is where you slightly toss them out so that the dog's attention goes to those treats instead of on the person.
Create a space for your dog away from the action: Use a baby gate, exercise pen, or crate to create an area that is made just for your dog.
If you want to read more about jumping, we have an entire post about it here.
Resource guarding is a behavior in which a dog becomes possessive or protective of a particular item: like food, toys or even a specific space. Note: Resource guarding can be a serious safety risk: and we recommend working with a behavior consultant to address this. You can set up a session with our team or search for a certified behavior consultant in your area. In this blog, we’re ONLY going to talk about management techniques for resource guarding, not any training.
Here are some ways to address resource guarding
Identify Triggers: Learn what items or locations your dog resource guards, and when you have guests over, you want to put any items away that you feel a dog might resource guard in general. So that might be toys, bowls, bones, treats, until you know the dog's temperament and what might trigger them.
Remember that visiting friends and family members may not know your dog as well as you do, and are likely to make mistakes. If you know that it’s important to not leave food out, for example, make sure you talk to all your guests about it!
Offer a trade: If your dog does get an object that they decide to guard, it’s important not to try to take the object. You can do a “trade” using something really tasty (like a good treat, or a piece of cheese) to trade for the item.
Learn more about resource guarding on our blog.
If your dog is scared of strangers you should also check out our stranger danger blog for a more in-depth overview. Here are some general suggestions for managing dogs who are scared of strangers over the holidays:
Set up a Safe Space: During any holiday gathering you’ll want to set up a designated safe space for your dog. This might be a quiet room or crate where they can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed.
If you haven't been using a crate, a crate will not be something beneficial to you to just throw in the situation, so when guests come over for the holidays something like a gated area or a room or somewhere where your dog can still see but they can't physically get to the guests will be helpful.
Supervise: You will always want to supervise interaction between your dog and guests. Keep a close eye on your dog's body language to prevent potential conflicts.
Traveling with Your Dog
If you’re traveling with your dog for the holidays you’ll need to plan ahead.
Your dog should have a microchip with contact information up to date, and a clean bill of health (so there are no health surprises on your trip).
If you’re traveling by car, make sure you first have a way to keep your dog secure. This might be a seatbelt or a pet car seat with a buckle. You will also want to build in time to exercise your dog and give them breaks.
If you’re traveling by air, you may have to make more intensive preparations than can be covered by this blog. You will likely have to contact the airline ahead of time, provide documentation, and pay a fee. You will also need to acclimate your dog to their carrier (if you are bringing a small dog with you in-cabin), or their airline-approved crate (if your dog is too large to be in cabin).
Give Your Dog Time to Rest
Lastly, make sure you give your dog a break. They need a break to just get away and recharge from all the action just like we do.
Now you can go enjoy the holidays with your best friend!
This blog was adapted from a webinar we ran with Areona Carter, CCDT, Carter's K9. You can find the full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZIEB26s_sc&t=868s