People often recognize that the holiday season can present some additional dangers to our pets that they don’t face at other times. And this is true! During this time of year, dogs are more likely to have access to foods that are toxic to them, or larger quantities of nontoxic food than usual, as well as unfamiliar items they may be tempted to swallow. Cold weather can cause physical canine discomforts, and large numbers of houseguests or visitors in the home can increase mental strain on our dogs. Responsible pet owners are generally on the lookout for these dangers. But there are others that are much more subtle, making them easy to overlook entirely.
As a professional dog trainer, I am just as concerned about these three hidden dangers of the holidays:
- Distracted Humans
With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, folks tend to get overwhelmed and distracted. Routines are often disrupted as well. What does this mean for our pets? People aren’t able to pay as careful attention as they would otherwise. Sometimes it’s hard to pay any attention at all! This leads to some more of those practical dangers: food being left around for easy canine access, doors and gates being left open so pets can wander off, pet care arrangements not being made, and more.
This is the time of year when it can be very tempting to cut corners and rush through routines, but your pets need you to be on your best behavior so they can be on theirs. Double-check that the counters and table have been cleared before your dog is allowed free access to the kitchen and dining areas. Make sure that doors are fully latched as you come and go, including crate doors, gates to your yard, and the doors to your home. Confirm your dog sitter knows when to come, and have a backup in mind if the sitter needs to cancel last minute. If there’s any risk of family members giving your dog an accidental double-dinner, have a schedule posted somewhere that allows whoever feeds them to mark off what meal was given and when.
- Unrealistic Expectations
People expect a lot from their pets, and we often do so without making much of an effort to help them adjust to our world. The holidays bring a number of potentially novel (and therefore potentially stressful) situations to our pets’ lives, including unfamiliar people in the house, travel to new places, or being left in the care of strangers (either at a boarding facility or with in-home care) when the humans are traveling. Folks tend to think animals will adjust immediately to whatever we throw at them, and the truth is that our pets can be very forgiving, so they often adapt easily. But, it’s unfair to expect this from our pets in every situation.
What should we do? Make sure your dog is getting enough quiet time, enough you-time, and enough exercise and playtime to help them shake off some of the more stressful experiences that come with this time of year. Have patience if your dog’s manners fall apart around house guests. And think about the various kinds of upheaval this holiday season will bring to your pet’s world, accommodate your dog however you can, and do your best to prepare them for these potentially stressful times. Which brings me to the last hidden danger…
- Lack of Planning
Pet owners need to take the time to plan ahead for their pets during the holiday season. Traveling with your pet? Make sure they are accustomed to whatever mode of containment is required for the type of transit you’ll be using, possibly including a special crate if your pet is flying with you. Create and utilize a pet packing checklist so you’re confident you have everything they’ll need while away from home. If you’re using a new pet sitter, make sure the pet and sitter have bonded before you leave them. Sending the dog to a new boarding facility? It’s a great idea to do a practice “sleepover” so the dog gets used to going there, and you can make sure the dog is happy about these accommodations. Teach and rehearse the behaviors the dog will need to know in order to be a good canine citizen, regardless of where you take them or what other environmental changes occur.
Plan to have patience, as well. As noted above, you may need it! The behavior of stressed-out pets – which may include eliminating indoors, vocalizing repeatedly, and seeming to forget every bit of training you ever did with them – can exasperate even the most calm, collected human. Knowing ahead of time that you’ll have to be more patient than usual with your pet can go a long way toward reducing your own frustration, which will in turn help your dog’s stress levels.
Hang in There, and Take Time to Find Joy!
When all else fails, remember that this too shall pass. Try to find some small moments of joy in this hectic time of year. Buy your dog a special toy or treat, and take a moment to enjoy watching them relish your gift. Ideally, the holidays are a time for celebration and merriment. If you need to, you can turn to your canine companion to bring some light into your life. Dogs are good reminders that it’s the simple things – like a game a fetch, a little walk to get some fresh air, and cuddle time – that make life that much more fun.