(This is a post from a few years ago, but it is so important that I thought it was worth posting again. I’d write a new one, but, well, everything I want to say is here, so I’ve posted it again. I’d love your feedback, stories, etc., on what works (or doesn’t work), for you.)
No doubt there are lots of dogs out there who love the holidays. New chew toys! Pieces of ham or turkey dropped onto the floor!
But I guarantee you that many dogs are not a fan of holidays, especially Christmas and New Year’s. Here are five reasons why:
I. The Dreaded Christmas Photograph. Posing for family photographs is about as fun for some dogs as it is for three-year old children. Don’t believe me? Check out the photos scattered throughout this post from the commercial photography site, Big Stock.
Between the closed mouths, turned heads and whale eyes, it’s like a seminar on stress signals in dogs. (For an actual seminar on reading signs of stress in dogs, see my Facebook Live Seminar or the For the Love DVD.)
Solution? Lots of treats while taking pictures. Very short photo sessions. Phones instead of big camera lenses. Avoid putting your dog on stay. Let him turn away from the camera. . . Didn’t you say he has the cutest butt of any dog, ever? And, always, don’t hug the dog!
II. Your Dog Hates Uncle Arnold. Although we often expect dogs to love everyone equally, that’s not realistic. Our Willie adored visitors, and in general had rarely met a human he didn’t love. Until “Uncle Max. “Uncle Max” isn’t an uncle, but he’s a man who we run into on occasion, who is loud, speaks aggressively and is pissed off much of the time. Willie’s eyes got as round as basketballs when this guy was close by, and hid behind me when he was around. Was I ever going to “fix” Willie and force him to make friends with noisy-angry guy? Nope, because it wasn’t worth the few times they were together. I simply protected Willie by keeping him far away. If this guy was a relative visiting my house, Willie would have been in his crate in the study, while Angry Uncle Arnold would be kept in the living room. Possibly on a leash.
Sometimes it’s not one individual, it’s just the sheer number of people who are together in one place. Or the noise level. (If you have three kids under the age of five, you know what I’m talking about.) The fact is that lots of friendly, well-behaved dogs are overwhelmed by holiday crowds. They need us to help them out, not set them up for failure.
Solution? This is what crates in quiet rooms are for. I don’t hesitate to put the more sensitive Border Collies into their cozy crates when large numbers of visitors come over, especially when they first arrive. Or you can put your dogs in the bedroom. Or take them to your neighbors. Really, just because your dog is friendly on walks and at training class doesn’t mean she is comfortable in a cocktail party for 30 when your nephew starts doing karoake on the dining room table.
III. What Happened to My Morning Walk? One great thing about holidays is that they allow us to get out of our usual routine. The bad thing about holidays for dogs is that they get us out of our usual routine. It might be fun for us to skip the long walks at the dog park or enjoy that our agility class is cancelled over the holidays while we’re baking and wrapping and cooking and eating. But not so much for dogs. Especially if they are young dogs who need the mental and physical exercise of getting out and about. Or the dogs who truly need the comfort and security of a daily routine.
Solution? The simple solution is obvious–go on that walk anyway. Or drive to the dog training class facility and do some tricks in the parking lot. However, that can’t always happen if we’re baking and wrapping and . . . You know what I mean. This is when new chew toys can save you. I just bought some new ones for the dogs, and am saving them for the extra busy days to come. Be sure that they are safe, extra hard to resist, and stuffed with the best food ever.
Or perhaps you have a dog who loves to rip plush toys into shreds. Why not give them a present that no one cares if they destroy? Every holiday I buy the BCs some plush toys that are in shreds in a few days (I know–it’s hours or minutes for some dogs). As long as what remains is safe and won’t be ingested, I let them have their fun. (Some people buy super inexpensive toys at discount stores or places like Goodwill. Suit yourself, just watch your dogs to be sure they are not swallowing anything. New Year’s Day at the Emergency Vet is not recommended. Just saying.)
IV. Exhaustion. Think you’re the only one who is tired when your family finally waves goodbye? Parties and crowds and long visits even with a few visitors can tire dogs out as much as they can us humans. Surely dogs can be introverts too? Or at least need a break from constant conversation and interactions? I can’t tell you how many heartbreaking stories I’ve heard from clients whose lovely, dear dogs ended up snarling or biting after too many hours of putting up with raucous laughter or running children.
“But he was fine all day!” I’d hear, after listening to the story of how Brownie or Blackie nipped a grandchild on the face after dinner. This, after eight hours of happy shrieks from three-year old boys, and parades of kids tromping through the house, and the loud laughter of people just having a good time. This is when I explain that I too am in danger of biting after a certain amount number of hours of interaction, in spite of the fact that I too “love people” and “love visitors”.
Solution? Long before you think Brownie might be tired, simply put him away into a back room or a crate. If Brownie is the kind of dog who will bark his head off if taken away from the party, you can try the car if the weather permits. (Not to hot, please, and not too cold.) Dogs who are used to car rides are often happier to hang out in the car rather than in a crate where they can hear the party going on. Or try a stuffed chew toy like a Kong. Or tell your visitors to go sit in the car once you think Brownie has reason to be getting tired. Kidding aside, the trick here is to be pro-active. Don’t wait until it is obvious that your dog has had enough, because the first obvious sign of that might turn into trouble.
V. Bad Presents. Okay, maybe there’s no canine equivalent of an ugly tie or sweater that you are never going to wear, but I can imagine dogs “opening” up an enlarged, framed portrait and thinking “This does not look good to eat”. Or, a new hat and booties like the dog below. I am a firm believer that if we are going to give family members holiday gifts, then we should give some to our dogs too. Ours get home made treats and new tug toys, cuz I know the dogs will love them.
Perhaps you have received well meaning presents for your pets that you’re not crazy about either. How many of us have been given treats for our dogs that, uh, we’d rather not feed to our dogs? In that case, what a great opportunity to donate the treats to a food bank, or a shelter, or a friend who is not as picky about what they feed their dogs.
Solution? Smile and donate presents that neither you or your dog want, and buy or make your friend’s dogs something you know that they’ll love. For your own dogs, I’ll bet the best present is spending more time with you. So wrap yourself up in a bow and give your dog the luxury of you and your attention as much as you can–because that’s the greatest gift you can give them.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: If you can count on me for anything, it’s being authentic, so I’m not going to tell you that all is well. My dear sister and brilliant poet, Dr. Wendy Barker, just had two life-saving surgeries. It looks like she is going to make it, but she’s been through hell. I’m actually in a hospital in Texas right now as I write this, sitting in her room with her as she recovers from the second surgery. Jim, my hero, is home taking care of everything. I should be back, if things go okay, early in the week. A good reminder to hold those we love close.
But did get these videos last week of Skip and Maggie playing tug and got it up on YouTube. I’m calling it the “Maggie as Gal Gadot” videos. Watch carefully and you’ll see that Maggie drives the play sessions. I can never get enough videos that showcase her athleticism, but you’ll see that she initiates just about everything, and drags Skip, who has almost 10 pounds on her, around like a rag doll. It makes me laugh every time I watch them play. It’s my version of “play therapy,” except it’s for me. It’s especially gratifying because Skip, as you know if you’ve been following for a few years, played so rough with her at first that she stopped playing with him. She wouldn’t even go up the hill for awhile, until I used counter classical conditioning to get her back up. (I’d toss chicken in front of her, so she got reinforced for moving forward, at first a few steps at a time.) I taught them to play tug together and that stopped most of the body slamming. He’s learned to self-handicap some; she’s learned that her athleticism can counter his freight train of a body. Think offensive lineman versus a ballerina.
By the way, as soon as this was posted, several people asked about the toy. It’s a great one, one of my favorites ever. It’s made by Tuffy, but sadly, I couldn’t find a replicate on their website. But I did find something made specifically as a tug toy, so check that out. I can say this toy has lasted a long, long time, although you can see it’s not gonna last forever. It also is a poor choice when it’s wet outside; it takes forever to dry out.
I might write again next week, who knows what the future will bring. We’re all sort of in that state now anyway, aren’t we? But the village would love to hear how you handle keeping your dogs (and cats and ferrets and rabbits) safe and happy over the holidays. Here’s to holidays full of love and compassion for what’s important–friends and family, two or four-legged.