Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Creating a Calm Christmas


Christmas can be hard on many people and pups too! I often get comments from my clients on how they attempted to travel with their dogs for the holidays and it was a total disaster with a spaz of a dog that was totally out of control. But there are some simple steps you can take to make the holidays easier on yourself and your dog! First off is with a few activities to encourage calming behaviors and second involves management of your environment. I can't promise these will help your pup and you to have an amazing holiday, but they will surely help!

Basic any day calming behaviors:

  1. Simple Grooming - Brushing, massage, great belly rubs, or butt scratches... We do a variety of activities to provide basic care and daily interaction with our dogs. And most generally we can tell what our pups really like. Spend some time grooming your dog in their favorite way before you dress yourself up for Holiday fun. (I say before simply to keep your holiday clothes clean!) Even if you'd rather spend the day relaxing in your PJ's, spruce your dog up with some of their favorite grooming methods. This often helps us to have a few minutes of love & kindness type feelings that dogs can recognize which in turn has a calming effect on both of us.
  2. Get some light exercise together. Often we tend to want to run our dogs to encourage them to expend as much energy in as short of time as possible on busy holidays. Chasing balls, going for a jog, etc. If your dog is used to high speed exercise every day, it won't hurt to give them a little high speed fun. But then end with a low key sniffy walk around the backyard to allow your dog to slow their heart down before heading back indoors. If you live in a cold climate, we often try to use a fenced yard or tie out to have our dogs sniff and go potty. This is functional for us, but not as pleasing or satisfying to our dogs. So strap on your hats and mittens and spend 10-15 minutes being with your dog outside before the hustle and bustle begins inside.
  3. Prepare a yummy treat for your dog. Whether you use food toys or snuffle boxes or some other form of reward based enrichment activities this is a great way to help use up some mental energy in a nice calm way. Add something extra yummy to their food toys for the holidays. For example - spread peanut butter, mashed sweet potatoes or other soft goodie on a licky mat or on a spiked/nubbed toy. The licking is very calming to your dog. You can also prepare these before the holiday and toss them in the freezer for an extra treat that takes even longer to work at. If you're not sure about which foods are safe for dogs and which are not, it's easy to find holiday themed lists on google or check with your vet first. Better safe than sorry!
  4. Provide a "safe" place for your dog to relax. Even if your dog loves everyone, that doesn't mean they can entertain the crowds for long periods of time. If your dog is not so sure of strangers coming to your home, having a safe, comfortable place for them to be away from all the activities is a must! Some dogs love a crate or cave to rest in. Perhaps you've trained your dog to go to a blanket or mat. Or maybe your dog snuggles in bed with you every night. Choose one of their favorite places and tell family and guests that the dog is off limits in his place, so no touching, calling or interactions with your dog when they are in their safe spot. Be sure to check in with your dog regularly to make sure they are taking time to relax. Christmas morning this may be especially important even if you don't have company over. With all the excitement of presents and the mess that tends to make, our dogs can easily get overwhelmed very quickly.
  5. If you're traveling and your dog is going with you, pack a few of their favorite things for your trip. A blanket or dog bed, a nice chew toy or food puzzle, a longline for relaxed potty breaks, and any other items that work to calm your dog should be packed along with food and water for your pup. The length of time and how often you visit the place you are going to, can be useful in determining what you may need. I'm going out of town in a few days, so I need more for my dog than I would if I was heading to a friend's house for a few hours. Visiting a few times before the holiday helps as well. I don't have the luxury of visiting before the holiday because it's a long drive, but instead I can arrive early and settle in before the craziness begins.
You may be familiar with the idea to set your training sessions up for success. This is important for Holidays too! The daily routine is often different, which is hard on some dogs that thrive on routine. Plan for those changes by doing one or more of these calming activities throughout the holidays. Use meal times and potty times as a chance for your dog to wind down away from the hustle & bustle.

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