Labor Day seems to start the holiday ball rolling, and right behind it is Halloween, Thanksgiving and the big one-CHRISTMAS!
How do you feel about the holidays? Do you feel like I do when you walk into a store on a 95-degree day and stare down aisle after aisle of Halloween candy? Does it literally make you nauseated and stressed?
For some people dressing in their alter ego for a party and shopping for Christmas presents makes them gleefully giddy while others are stressed merely thinking about it. Their minds race to all the unfinished projects at home, costumes for the kids, the l-o-n-g list of people for which to purchase gifts, the arguments sure to ensue over which in-law’s house to visit for the holiday and on and on it goes. STRESS. There seems to be no escaping it.
Now, let us stop and think about your DOG. Where is your dog in these equations? How will your dog feel about strangers in his home, visitors coming and going, that weird costume your child is wearing, strange sounds and smells, a house FULL of candy (beware of chocolate) not to mention all those yummy treats like turkey, ham, pies and cakes?
In a dog’s mind, this is sensory overload and anything left on the counter is easy pickings, an invitation to dine if you will. If you have a counter-surfer, that cake or pie is actually calling to him…
This is where an essential bond with your dog comes in handy and being able to read his/her body language imperative. You may have heard that dogs don’t bite without warning. Being able to read Fido’s body language and facial expression and act on it will circumvent biting.
If you know your dog is extremely nervous around strangers in his home, be prepared. Take your dog for a long walk, run them through an agility course (you can make your own out of things at home), take him to the lake for a swim or throw the ball three thousand times if that’s what makes his world go round. A tired dog has more of a tendency to be a calmer, happier dog. Give him something to keep his mind occupied-a game or food puzzle to challenge him. I use food puzzles and games in my Best Buddies Dog Training workshops (www.bestbuddiesdt.com) and start each class with agility. Exercise helps settle the dog’s body and mind and they have so much fun in the first class they want to come back for the other four!
Do you have grandchildren or younger nieces or nephews? Get them involved. Instead of quarantining your dog in a crate in a spare bedroom, play hide and seek, do some nose work or play musical chairs. Get creative, have some fun! I have even square danced with my dog!
Part of what makes a dog nervous is just what puts us on edge… fear of the unknown. You may know that Uncle Ned is a sweet albeit funny-smelling guy, but all your dog knows is he smells and sounds funny and he doesn’t belong here.
If your dog really freaks out with strangers (or strange things), prepare him. Take the time to expose him to company, take a training class to learn some useful cues and the proper way to greet guests. Take your pooch to festivals and events full of noise and people and teach him there is no reason to be upset, that you’ve got his back as much as he has yours. Have friends drop by and practice proper door greetings.
Always keep a collar and leash at each door so you can greet guests with your dog under control. Believe me your 97-year old, thin-skinned, grandmother will thank you when your 107 lb. lab doesn’t jump on her for a kiss! What is most important is enjoying the holidays and making your dog an integral part of any family celebration.
A native of Massachusetts and a resident of Georgia where I have lived since 2008 with six rescue dogs, commonly referred to as my merry band of misfits, and one husband. I am proud owner of Best Buddies Dog Training in Hoschton, GA. When not in the training studio, you’ll find me in a nursing home, hospital or special needs class with my certified pet therapy dog or recruiting for my pet therapy organization, Happy Tails. I also spend a great deal of time researching the latest information on dog food, health and training techniques and volunteering with local rescues.
I have written stories to contribute to Titan’s Tales and Other Dog Adoption Love Stories and In Dogs We Trust.