With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas right around the corner, it’s no surprise that if the holidays create stress for us they also present many variables that can stress out our pets and put them in harm’s way.
There are many things to consider during this time of year, but the two major difficulties I hear from clients are their dog’s destructive behavior (eating human food off tables, etc.), and inappropriately greeting guests (jumping at them, barking, etc.). Much of what you do to curb these behaviors depends on the individual dog, but there are a few things you can do across the board that can help.
First, you need to make sure that you are keeping your dog(s) busy and giving proper daily enrichment. Try to stay consistent. Although you may not have the same amount of time you did during the summer to interact with your dog, make sure you are giving him at least three good (15-20 minutes) walks a day. Letting him out in the yard does not constitute a walk. Yards can be boring and lead to inappropriate behaviors such as destruction, digging, barking at neighbors, etc. Of course, a nice game of fetch in the yard can prove to be beneficial. When you are busy or not home, a food puzzle toy such as a Kong is a very good idea. Remember, it is OK for dogs to like food; just try to get them obsessed with their Kong as opposed to the bread on your kitchen table.
Start cleaning up your obedience commands with your dog. Make decisions on how you would like your dog to greet your guests and start training now. Whether you want them to sit, lie down, or go to a designated spot before greeting a guest is up to you. Bottom line is, you have to prepare. If you are having a hard time with your dog’s obedience, a good group training class is recommended.
One specific command I highly recommend dog owners get a good handle on before the holidays is the “leave it” command. It is important to teach your dogs when they can have something, as well as what they can have (treats in Kongs, food out of their bowl, etc.). Being specific is the key to dealing with a dog that steals food. Remember, most human food is not going to hurt our dogs if given once in a while, but there are things that can hurt our pets such as chocolate and other foods such as onions and grapes (among others). Even some flowers can be poisonous. So, if you are occasionally going to give human food to your dogs during this time of year, be sure you are giving proper food at appropriate amounts (small) and are making the dog work for it (obedience commands, putting in a Kong, having them go to their spot for it, etc.).
Overall, think about how you would like your dog to behave, as opposed to just thinking about how you would like to rid your dog of the behavior you don’t like. Then make the appropriate preparations. Your dog will thank you.
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