Ingredients for success:
We all want to have that picture perfect Christmas with our dogs as part of our family festivities, but not in a stealing the turkey, pulling the tree over, knocking over Grandma and stealing the kid's presents kind of way. While some dogs are quite relaxed about changes, guests etc. and remain calm during the festivities, many dogs find some or all of these things quite interesting and exciting, and in the absence of guidance from you will do natural dog behaviours that result in problems (i.e. jumping, eating, grabbing). So let's look at how we can set these dogs up for sucess!
It's hard during the holidays to keep to our regular schedule. But your dog will do better if they have a chance to move their bodies. If you can keep your dog's regular exercise routine - great! If you can't, can you get creative? If you can't go for the regular walk because of when you need to leave, can you fit in a game of fetch? Can the kids play a game of hide and seek with your dog while you pack? Can you put your dog's breakfast in a Tricky Treat ball or Kong Wobbler and let them work to get it out?
Whether guests are coming to your house, or you are arriving at someone else's, greetings are often challenging for dogs. I highly recommend some management to help you such as keeping your dog on leash or using a baby gate to limit access. If you have time to practice up some skills, go settle on a mat is a very handy one for guests arriving at your home!
3. Quiet occupiers
Chews, food dispensing toys and puzzles are wonderful tools.
Not something we normally think about our dogs, but we are learning more about our dog's need for sleep and how that contributes to good behaviour - did you know adult dogs should sleep 16 hours out of 24? And if your dog is too excited about what is going on to take a nap, they can become overtired and cranky, and just like an overtired toddler they can be prone to outbursts and bad choices. So if your dog is up and visiting rather than sleeping, it would be a good idea to provide a quiet space for them to take a nap. A good time for this could be over a meal, when everyone will be at the table anyway. Depending on the commotion level and the excitability of your dog you may wish to utilize another room, a baby gate, a crate or tether with a leash. Then, when everyone is done and someone can keep an eye on your dog again, they can rejoin the festivities refreshed.
One tip for avoiding an emergency vet visit is to provide treats that you know your dog's digestive system tolerates for those who want to give your dog a treat. Several people all offering just a few small bits of various foods can add up to an upset tummy, or worse, pancreatitis. You will also be able to reward your dog for good choices and show off any tricks they know. Bonus - often kids love cuing dogs to do tricks, and this can be a great way for kids in your family to interact with your dog under your supervision. Going through a lot of treats? You may want to cut back slightly on meals that day to compensate.
My favourite cues for navigating the holidays include:
7. Kids & Other Dogs
What about if another family member is also bringing a dog? If the dogs aren't familiar with each other, going on a walk together is a great way to break the ice! Walking keeps the dogs moving and presents them with other things to focus on besides each other, allowing them to observe each other's movements and body language as well as obtaining information through smell. Brief interactions can be kept brief by redirecting gently to go back to walking, then if all goes well the dogs can enter the home together. If any dogs present show any tendency to guard or have big feelings about toys, food, food bowls etc. then I would recommend picking those items up for the duration of the visit unless the dogs are securely separated. If you aren't sure, better safe than sorry.
Why all this focus on management? Because management can help prevent a dog from practicing unwanted behaviours until they have the experience and training to respond as you would like them to in these exciting situations. It allows you to also have some time to focus on your guests or family. I find that my puppies need the most management, and my older dogs the least, as they have learned the expectations and developed the skills needed to navigate those situations.
For example, sitting down to Christmas dinner, I would opt to put my puppy in a crate or playpen with some appropriate toys and a chew, as I know that they won't be able to stay in their bed while we eat. As an older puppy/teenager, they could probably be in their bed with the aid of a leash tether to make sure they didn't wander off and pester someone for food while we're eating (and so my dinner doesn't get cold as I constantly get up to deal with the wandering off) and as an adult dog they can be told to go to bed when we sit down to eat and remain there (usually sleeping) for the duration of the meal because they have learned that is what is done when people eat.
I highly recommend being prepared with a back up plan in case Plan A doesn't go the way you expect. Don't think you'll need the crate or baby gate this year? Bring it just in case. If you need it, life is much easier if it is an option. Worst case scenario, it stays in the car and you get to be happy about how well your dog is navigating the situation.
However you celebrate the holidays, I wish you and your pup a very enjoyable holiday season!