Reduce your dog’s holiday stress

The holiday season is a combination of anticipation, joy, busyness, and stress. While your dog doesn’t understand the first three, he/she feels the last one. So how can you reduce your dog’s holiday stress?

Keep your schedule

Dogs love schedules. Most dog owners would swear their dogs can actually tell time. They know when meal time is, they know when you go to work, they know when you’re supposed to get home.

To keep things as “normal” as possible, try to keep to your regular schedule. At the very least, try to keep meals close to their regular times. If there’s one thing your dog can depend on, it should be a regular feeding schedule.

Not welcoming hosts

Many dogs aren’t comfortable with new and/or unfamiliar people in their homes. If you’re planning a gathering with people who aren’t regulars at your house, it can be stressful for your dog. 

Black Pug illustrating dogs holiday stress
Pugs often look worried, but the holidays don’t have to add to your dog’s stress.

But there’s no reason your dog has to be a guest at the party. It’s not his/her job to be a gracious host. And if you confine your dog away from the action, with a new chew toy to occupy him/her, it will be easier for everyone. You won’t have to worry about keeping an eye on your dog. And your dog won’t worry about protecting his/her property.

And you’ll also avoid having to “police” your dog’s interactions with your guests. It’s not only dogs who can misbehave. We’ve heard nightmare stories of guests slipping treats to dogs, unaware that things like chocolate, grapes, and even bones, can be dangerous for dogs. Even well-meaning guests can succumb to those imploring, puppy dog eyes. 

Make it easy on yourself

Some people think their celebrations aren’t complete unless their dogs are part of them. For easy-going dogs who adapt easily to hustle and bustle, that’s fine. But most dogs, especially since the pandemic hit, aren’t the social butterflies they may have been in other circumstances.

It’s totally okay to keep your family/friend occasions as “people only!” Your pets will be happier if they get a little party all to themselves. Just their families and them. 

Don’t feel guilty

You don’t have to feel guilty about not including your dog. For most dogs, they’ll be safer and happier if they’re crated, away from the party, with a yogurt-and-peanut-butter frozen stuffed toy. In the long run, it will make everyone’s life easier, and ease your dog’s holiday stress.

Do you enjoy your dog?

We saw a social media post from a dog behaviorist friend that got us thinking. She said that few people enjoy their dogs. We thought it was an odd thing to say – until we read further. After all, dogs are supposedly our best friends, our companions, and members of our families. So – do you enjoy your dog?

What it means

Are you able to live your life with a calm, even-tempered companion dog? Can you welcome family and friends into your home with minimal fuss and without worry? Is taking a walk with your dog a source of stress, or a pleasant way to spend time together?

We realize that the majority of our friend’s contact with dog owners is through her work – people who need her help. But it makes us wonder if her point is valid. We wonder how many people spend time and energy managing their dogs instead of enjoying them. It’s one thing to have a trainable dog who just needs some manners. It’s another to have a dog that requires constant management.

How did this happen?

Part of the problem is the cacophony of voices preaching “adopt, don’t shop.” The loudest ones also seem to believe that every single dog should be saved, fostering the “no-kill shelter” concept.

In theory, that’s a noble goal. In practice, it’s impractical and dangerous.

Personality counts

Few shelters and many rescues don’t do temperament testing on the dogs they take in. And most people, wishing to do the “right” thing, visit a shelter and fall in love with a dog that may not be a good fit for their family. Instead of a pet, they wind up with a project. 

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Dogs should enhance our lives, not add stress.

And when people realize the situation is untenable, they feel like failures if the dog must go back to the shelter. 

Case in point

Many people don’t realize, and shelters don’t publicize, the fact that dogs are generally on their best behavior when first adopted. Once they start feeling secure, their true personalities start to emerge. People who think they’ve adopted a calm, well-mannered dog can find themselves with a naughty whirlwind. 

That’s fine, as long as everyone’s prepared to deal with the dog as it is. But what if the emergent personality isn’t a good fit?

A lovely family came to our dog club’s Beginner Obedience Class with their newly-adopted medium-sized dog. The dog was an unknown quantity, having arrived at the shelter only three days before her adoption. As the weeks passed, the dog’s true personality was revealed as she became more secure in her adoptive home. And it wasn’t good.

The family included three children under 10 years old. The dog was reactive to sudden movement. And loud noises. The dog’s reactivity included lunging and snapping at the children. It was heartbreaking for the family when, heeding our advice, they returned the dog to the shelter. 

Thank goodness they listened. It wasn’t the right home for the dog. And not the right dog for the family.

Personality counts to enjoy your dog

There are terrific shelters and rescues that emphasize placing dogs where they’ll thrive. They get to know the dogs’ personalities and find the right fit for each animal. That’s why a shelter or rescue will ask you a million questions you don’t think are any of their business. They’re trying to be matchmakers, with a forever outcome. You’re entitled to a nice dog that suits you. You should enjoy your dog.

Seek out places that get to know the dogs. Or find a reputable breeder of purebred dogs in a breed that fits your lifestyle. They’re not hard to find – you just have to know to look for them.  

Cheap dog tips

There’s no doubt that life with dogs is more complicated, messier, and more expensive than without. But it would also be less happy, include fewer smiles, and much less cuddly! Here are some ways we’ve discovered to simplify life with dogs without spending a lot of money:

5 Cheap Dog Tips:

#1 – Have hooks by the door for leashes. One for each dog. And, since it’s always safer for dogs to be naked in the house, keep the leash attached to the dog’s collar or harness. It’s faster to get out the door if you only have to attach one thing.

#2 – Stock up on cheap bath towels. There’s a big box retailer who sells bath towels for about $4 each. If you have a mud room, just keep a stack there to wipe muddy paws and faces. If not (like us), get an over-the-door hanger to keep a couple handy in wet weather.

Cheap dog tip - use yoga mats to save your floors

#3 – Especially if you have an older dog, use yoga mats on hard floors for traction (and to protect your floors!). There’s a retail chain that sells everything for $5 or less and cheap yoga mats do the job just fine. They’re also great to use for your dog’s go-to place!

#4 – Store dog food in a (new) garbage can. With four dogs, we buy large bags of dog food and dump it in a garbage can in the basement. A good scooper lives in the can full time. Up in the kitchen cabinet, we keep a plastic cereal container with the food. Refills are easy and not heavy to carry. 

#5 – Get a set (or two) of measuring cups at your local dollar store. Leave the correct measure in the container of dog food to make sure you’re not over-feeding your dog. Even with years of experience, it’s easy to overestimate the amount you’re feeding unless you measure. If you have more than one dog and they eat different amounts – leave both cups in the container.

We never want to skimp on anything for our dogs, but these are things that are easy to do, make life easier, and don’t have to cost a lot. 

Traveling with dogs

If you’re among those traveling this holiday season, did you bring your dog? If not, why not? Personally, we’d rather not go anywhere without our dogs. They’re all great travelers and get excited when they see travel bags come out. But we know that not everyone, or every dog, travels well.

Pros and Cons

Reasons to bring your dog:

  • You love them and want to be with them.
  • Less stress for the dog.
  • Less expensive than boarding/hiring a dog sitter
  • Boarding/dog sitters are hard to come by these days
  • No one cares for your dog like you do
  • You don’t have to worry about your dog

Reasons to leave your dog behind:

  • Your dog hates the car/travel
  • Someone you’re visiting is afraid/allergic to dogs
  • The place you’re going doesn’t allow pets 
  • Your dog is more comfortable at home with a pet sitter
  • Your dog gets travel sickness
  • You need a break from responsibility

No judgment

It’s not anyone’s place to question your reasons for making whatever decision is right for you and your family. Traveling with dogs requires planning and isn’t for everyone. The dogs’ “baggage” may be even heftier than the humans’!

But if the choice you’re making is because your dog isn’t a good traveler, you can turn that around before your next planned getaway. Dogs can become acclimated to riding in the car. It just takes a little time and patience, just like any other dog training.

Seen from the dog’s perspective, the car may represent going scary places. If the only place your dog’s been in the car is the veterinarian’s office, the car is to “blame” for the frightening place.

Photo of two dogs travelling in a car
Booker and Tango ready to hit the road with Fran.

First steps

If you want to make inroads into your dog’s car discomfort, try just sitting in the car with your dog. Don’t even turn the car on. Just sit there, in the back seat, and pet your dog. Bring some of your dog’s favorite treats. If the dog will take treats in the car, that’s a good sign. Dogs who are fear-stricken will rarely accept a tidbit. 

If the dog is really terrified, put a comfy bed or blanket in the car when you go to sit there. Familiar, comfortable soft things will help teach there’s nothing to be scared of. If she has a favorite toy, bring that, too. Try to get her to play in the car. Or gnaw on a favorite chew toy. 

After five or so minutes, go back inside. Tell your dog how wonderful she is, even if all she did was shake for the whole time. Let her know that going in the car isn’t a punishment. The goal is getting your dog to understand that the car is just a big, noisy, smelly couch. 

Take your time

When your dog seems calmer, the next steps are to sit with the car running, then drive around the block, then longer drives, then going someplace non-threatening like a stroll in a park or forest preserve. If you see your dog becoming stressed, you can always go back to the last phase where he was still comfortable.

Car safety should be part of the familiarization. If your dog won’t accept a crate in the car, get her accustomed to being restrained. The harness seatbelt is an option. Even just sitting in the car, hook her up. As she gets used to the restricted movement, it’ll be less of a big deal when you’re actually in motion. And everyone will be safer.

Travel how you want

If you choose not to take your dog along when you travel, that’s fine. As long as it’s your option and not determined by your dog’s reluctance, or inability, to travel with you. If you need some help acclimating your dog to the car, check out our dog training tip and/or drop us a note. We’re happy to share what we know.