Happy Howl-idays – Keeping your furriest family member safe and sound this season

Brittney Frazier, CPDT-KA, Found Training Center

While most of us are decking the halls and planning for feasts and friends this holiday season, we may not be taking our pets into consideration. Holidays tend to be a time for joy and cheer, but can sometimes prove to be extremely stressful and confusing. With loads of strangers to meet and their routine thrown way out-of-whack, dogs can easily be thrown into a state of fear or even aggression if put in the wrong scenario. Behavior aside, even common holiday food and decoration can make what should be an exciting and wonderful occasion into a trip to the emergency vet fairly quickly.

However, if we take some time to plan ahead for the needs of our pets and take precautions, emergencies can be prevented. Below are some tips and trick to consider while planning your next holiday event.

Educate guests on how best to interact with your dog, if at all. If you are a dog lover, chances are your close family and friends are as well. But as we all know, each dog and situation is unique and it is up to us to advocate for our animals, being that they cannot speak for themselves. Does your dog have body sensitivity? What makes him or her uncomfortable? Consider what might put your dog in a vulnerable position and could cause them to overreact. As a rule of thumb, guests should ignore a strange dog until the dog can make its own advance towards people who make him or her feel safe. So, leaning over, talking loudly at, cornering, hugging, or staring at your dog should be discouraged. Asking your guests to take a seat and allow the dog to come over for a pat when the dog is ready is the best way to ensure a good foundation for friendship.

Keep child and dog interactions supervised. While adults can be advised on how to best make acquaintances with your dog, children will need a bit more assistance. Even the friendliest, best-adjusted dog can feel threatened with cornered in a stressful scenario he or she is unable to escape. To prevent incidents, keep a close eye on your pup and check in on their reactions to active or “grabby” children. Sometimes giving the dog an “exit” and allowing them to retreat somewhere out of reach is the best way to ensure your dog makes a good decision instead of a rash one. When in doubt, remove your dog from the stressful situation and give them ample amounts of breaks from activity, which leads to our next point.

Utilize structure for your dog throughout your event. Plan a way to keep your dog safe and comfortable from the events of your day. For high excitement moments, such as arrival of large amounts of guests or during mealtimes, plan a place for your dog to rest. Crates and a leash are great ways to maintain a level of calm when an added level of control is needed and should be kept at an arm’s reach. Or, if your dog has previous experience holding long “down and stays,” utilize a mat or dog bed for structure. A filled kong at the ready is great to keep your dog busy when he or she is away from the hustle and bustle so you can focus on socializing with friends and family.

Get new animals acquainted prior to the event. A busy holiday is not the best time and place for dogs or other animals to meet. Plan some calm meetings with dogs you would like to accompany their humans at your event to ensure they will be a good match. If problems arise, it allows you to plan ahead for a good plan to manage the dogs together in the same space beforehand, rather than having issues arise during an already stressful scenario.

“Dog Proof” the event from toxic foods and décor. There are many common foods, such as turkey, chocolate, onions, and grapes which are present at holiday events which can be very toxic to dogs. While you may not need to remove them from the menu, removing your dog’s access to them is essential. Also, to prevent a foreign body from wreaking havoc on your dog’s digestive system, keep a close eye on choking hazards your dog may see as something to play with. Ornaments, children’s toys, hats and gloves, and even branches from natural Christmas trees can cause serious detriment if ingested. Keep this in mind as you navigate your busy holiday.

With some precautions, pets during the holidays doesn’t need to be an extra worry! Keep these tips in mind and your dog will be happy to join you during this joyous and exciting time.

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