We welcome family and friends over the holidays. It’s a time of gratitude and celebration that may include joyful gatherings, good food, pleasant conversations, and fun. Sadly, for many pets, the holidays mean stress, fear, and anxiety. Strangers come and go, it’s noisy, the house is filled with different decorations, and the quiet routine is disturbed. As good pet owners, we can prepare our pets for the holiday season by having a plan.
MANAGEMENT: This can be as simple as blocking the window view, keeping food out of your dog’s reach, preventing door dashing with a baby gate, setting up a safe spot for your dog in a quiet place. If your family has friends over and you can see your dog is getting anxious from the noise and distubance of their usual routine, consider moving your dog away from the gathering. An X pen, crate, closed door, and using a muzzle are ways to help your dog feel secure and safe when they are habituated to them.
The benefits of good management are under-rated. Managing a situation rather than trying to change your dog’s behavior is sometimes the easiest answer to a behavior problem for both you and your dog.
DITCH THE BOWL: One of the best activities you can do to calm your dog is feeding your dog without using a bowl. You can distribute food in different places, at different levels, and on different surfaces; allowing your dog the opportunity to sniff, search, and chew. You can use containers, towels, cups, and boxes or chairs to put food at different heights. You can vary the surface with metal, towels, mats, and carpets. Your dog will have a blast spending ten to fifteen minutes pursuing an epicurean delight.
You can offer different treats and watch your dog show you their true preferences. This is a natural activity that is soothing, provides mental stimulation, and includes scent work–all rewarding activities for a dog! It’s a good power-up when the unfolding day includes company, a vet visit, fireworks, storms, and other trigger moments that create fear, anxiety, and stress.
This is good for dogs of all ages. It doesn’t require any special training and can be a creative DIY project with awesome results. It’s fun, enriching, and relaxing.
CALMING SIGNALS: How do you know if your dog is calm or stressed? There are certain indicators a dog will display when they are anxious. These are called “calming signals.”
Examples of Calming Signals:
- Big Yawn
- Lowering the tail
- Lip Licking
- Shake off
- Paw lift
- Look Away
- When you observe these signals, your dog is telling you that they are uncomfortable with either where they are or what is going on. This is a time for you to manage their environment by moving them to a quieter place.
SAFE SPOT: Many dogs are not comfortable with other people, a lot of noise or children. This can may make a holiday gathering stressful for them. It is better for an anxious dog to have a safe space away from the action. While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, there are a number of ways of making a comfortable place for a dog that is not a fan of noisy gatherings. Get your pet used to a calming environment beforehand. Dogs need a sanctuary to seek refuge from the hubbub of household activity when they are stressed. Here is a list of topics for creating a safe place:
- Location: Set up a quiet location that is furthest from the festivities for your dog.
- Containment Options: If your dog normally sleeps in a crate, you will want to move the crate to a quiet room so that your dog can rest in a familiar spot. If your dog does not use a crate, be sure to dog proof the area where you set up the safe spot. You can keep your dog contained with an X Pen or a baby gate. This option is to support your dog and keep them feeling secure.
- Calming Music: Try leaving on the AC, a fan, Dog TV, or soothing music that can help mask the sounds of the festivities. There are hundreds of classical, reggae, jazz stations that have a calming effects for dogs. Special music, like Through a Dog’s Ear, is made specifically to relax your dog.
- Comforting Items: Leave a worn shirt or blanket with your dog as your scent can be very comforting.
- ADAPTIL (Pheromone Spray): Science has found a way to mimic a mother’s calming pheromone in the form of ADAPTIL. Just as puppies are quiet while nursing, this pheromone calms adult dogs in the same way.