Holiday Dog Tips for Stress-Free Entertaining
Updated December 1, 2020
You Want To Have A Happy Holiday Season With Your Dog
The holidays are a busy, festive time of year for everyone. And we all want our friends, family, guests, and pets to have a wonderful time. Unfortunately, many new puppy parents are unaware of holiday hazards and common dog behavior problems that happen during holiday celebrations. We want to help ensure your holidays go off without a hitch! So we’re sharing some of our best holiday dog tips for stress-free entertaining.
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What Are Common Dog Behavior Problems During The Holidays?
Decorated trees, holiday decor, and tasty treats are big temptations for hungry, inquisitive puppies who want a taste of their own.
Your beautiful indoor tree seems like a nice place to pee to your puppy who’s thinking, “How nice! They brought the bathroom to me!”
And the water bowl for your live tree seems like a good place to get a drink for a thirsty puppy.
Holiday plants and fragrances smell so good… they MUST taste delicious too, right?
Ooh… those lights and candles look interesting too! “Maybe I should bat them with my paw.”
Animated and noisy decorations may be amusing for humans, but dogs often find them confusing… especially when the decorations seem to want to torture your pups as they pass by. Eeks, scary stuff!
Dogs are creatures of habit and holiday decorations that only come out once a year can be overwhelming and scary for some. Then, when holiday visiting kicks into high gear, the excitement, noise, and stimulation can cause your dog to become nervous, agitated, or just plain scared.
Armed with the right information and a little planning, these holiday hiccups can be avoided.
If you want your dog to skate through the holiday season without getting on Santa's naughty list consider these
Holiday Tips for Stress-free Entertaining!
1) Keep the food safe and secure
If you're anything like my family, you love to bake and eat all sorts of tasty treats, especially around the holidays. It seems as though the counters are full of all sorts of tasty snacking options throughout the months of November, December, and even into the new year.
However, those delicious chocolates, cookies, cheese trays, and nuts… and even Turkey… can pose a serious problem for your dog if they get sneaky enough to jump up and help themselves. (More information about foods that pose a health threat to your pup are available from the ASPCA and the American Veterinary Association.)
Keep dogs out of the kitchen by gating off the area or keeping them in their crate or a puppy pen when you can't guard the prized Pizzelle cookies calling your dog's name from the counter. Here's a crate training quick tips guide.
Keep the counters as clear as possible to avoid tempting your dog to get into trouble. Don't forget those Chocolate Chip cookies are loaded with hazardous ingredients for our dogs such as chocolate and baking soda not to mention large amounts of sugar which is very unhealthy for dogs. Use a gate to close off a room, if you need to, so your pup doesn't get into trouble. (This gate is my absolute favorite because dogs can't climb it!)
2) Don't assume your dog knows not to touch (eat or pee on) the decorations
Everyone loves to decorate their home around holiday time. Between the tree adorned with lights and tinsel and the mantel spruced up with garland and dangling stockings your dog is sure to feel as if you placed those decorations in just the right spot for them.
Keep your tree gated off until your pup knows it’s off-limits while working on teaching a “leave it” cue. You do this by telling your dog to “leave it” and redirecting your dog to go lay down or go to another room if he/she keeps checking to see if their stocking has been filled by Santa.
Male dogs may want to mark a living tree (especially those that mark outdoors) so you may need to put an x-pen or baby gate around it to keep your dog from circling and sniffing and leg lifting.
You also may have to leave the lower level of the tree dare I say… naked. It’s best to remove temptations that could be at your pup’s level such as ornaments, lights, candy canes, and tinsel. All of these things are extremely dangerous for our dogs! (I love this gate around the tree to keep pups a safe distance away from trouble.)
3) Prepare your guests and your puppy in advance
If you plan to have family and friends over during the holiday season be aware that this can be an overly anxious time for your dog. If their meet-and-greet manners aren't up to par revisit some basic training and work on sit/stays and down/stays.
Make sure the extra exuberant jumpers are on a leash before guests come in the door, so no one ends up on the floor and your dog doesn't bolt out the door when guests arrive.
Having family over should be a great time but can put a nervous dog much more on edge. Most dogs take a little extra time to get used to strangers. If your dog doesn't see most of these guests on a regular basis, to your dog, they are considered a stranger. As a result, your dog will likely need extra time to feel comfortable around unfamiliar guests.
A little advance preparation can make the holidays much more enjoyable for your pup, your guests, and you! So how do you implement this holiday dog tip?
First, let guests know you have a new dog and ask your guests to ignore your pup when they arrive. It’s really hard to ignore jumping, barking, and pawing if you’re unprepared. By giving your guests advance notice, you empower them to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem!
Next, help your puppy develop a positive association to the arrival of new guests by rewarding your dog’s good behavior. Giving a treat when your puppy does a great sit/stay as guests come into the house makes the experience fun and rewarding!
Only when your dog is calm can your guests interact with your dog. Giving attention to your dog while the dog is acting up only reinforces the bad behavior.
If your dog is unable to calm down, put your dog in a quiet room with a bone or Kong filled with peanut butter, away from all the activity, until your guests are settled and the excitement has died down. This reduces the stimulation for your puppy and your guests and helps you stop unwanted puppy behaviors.
4) Prevent peeking at (or chewing) the presents
Your dog may be extra curious to see what everyone is getting for Christmas and try to peek inside the wrapped boxes.
Ok, who are we kidding? Puppies don't care about peeking! They care about eating, chewing, and having fun with not only the gift wrap, decorations, and boxes, but the contents inside as well.
It's especially important to keep all food gifts – like fruit baskets, fruitcakes, and boxes of cookies, nuts, or candy – out of puppy’s reach. Food gifts are best kept off the floor and way up high.
Many dogs don't understand that the items under the tree are not for them. Your dog's brain is thinking you put all these amazing gifts right at their level for their enjoyment!
If you have a super curious or aggressive chewing dog you may need to gate off the tree and the contents under it.
5) Calm your revved up pup with daily exercise
One highly overlooked “To Do” task during the holidays tends to be exercising the dog. As the weather gets colder and the snow starts flying in some places, it becomes more of a challenge to take your dog for a much-needed walk.
Dogs have a ton of pent-up energy that needs to be released daily! Without an outlet to release all that pent-up energy, you're sure to find your dog gets into much more mischief, whether it’s the holidays or not.
Ensure that your dog is well exercised right before family and friends come over to visit. That way you won’t be battling excess pent-up energy on top of all the excitement and noise of greeting new guests.
How much exercise should your dog be getting? If your dog is over 6 months and over 25 lbs. they need at least 2 walks a day for about 30 min or more each walk. Younger dogs or little dogs may require less, but in some cases they require even more exercise than larger or older dogs.
Your dog will be able to settle better and be less edgy if they receive the right amount of exercise. Too short of a walk may only seem like a warm-up to your dog who's raring to go.
A common misconception is that if you have a fenced-in yard, you're all set because your dogs will exercise themselves. Sorry to break it to you, but you don’t get off that easy. Pups don’t always keep themselves entertained in the backyard for 30 minutes or more continuously. So it’s important that you help ensure your dog gets their daily dose of continuous exercise to prevent behavior problems.
What kinds of exercise can you give your pup when the weather doesn’t permit a long walk? I’m so glad you asked! You can also play any of the 15 indoor exercises mentioned in the three-part blog series called Indoor Exercise Activities For Your Dog. Here's the link to part one, here is the link to part two, and last but not least here is part three.
6) Prepare your pup for unfamiliar, loud noises
Noisemakers, fireworks, and other unfamiliar, loud noises that may be a part of your holiday celebrations can scare even the bravest pup. Help your pups keep their cool with these 11 Tips to Calm and Prepare Your Pup for Fireworks and Other Loud Noises.
7) Keep emergency information handy
No one wants to think about worst-case scenarios, but we all know that accidents happen. You can make those stressful situations easier with a little bit of advance preparation.
By posting this information on the refrigerator or some other easy-to-find spot, everyone will have everything they need to help in the event of an emergency.
- Your veterinarian’s name, address, and phone number
- The nearest 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic’s name, address, and phone number
- ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 1-888-426-4435 (A fee may apply.)
- Your dog’s birthday (to figure out your dog’s age)
- A list of your dog’s medications and health conditions, if any
The holidays can be challenging enough with all the shopping, cooking, traveling, and visiting going on. Don't let dog behavior problems add even more stress to your holiday preparations. Use our holiday dog tips to prevent problems before they start and make the holidays fun for everyone!
If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested in:
- 6 Easy Ways to Stop Your Puppy From Jumping on People
- Dogs, Fireworks, and Other Loud Noises: 15 Effective Tips To Calm A Dog Down
or these videos on our YouTube channel:
- Canine Enrichment Games to tire your pup both mentally and physically
- Puppy Safety Tips For The Holidays
I’m super curious to know which of these holiday dog tips were most helpful for you! Please share in the comments below.
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.