Trainers and behaviorists can all tell stories about the calls they get around the holidays. Those of you who are trainers can no doubt tell some of your own. (I’d love to hear them!) Not uncommonly, we hear “Aunt Polly is coming tomorrow and she hates dogs and I have seven of them and they’ve never been alone in a room or in a crate and I can’t board them and I was wondering if you could tell me what to do.” (Answer: Pack dogs into car, drive elsewhere, leave note on front door for Aunt Polly that you’ve been abducted by aliens?)
From the other side of the equation, I’ve heard lots of dog lovers struggle over what to do when company comes and their dog doesn’t do well with visitors. One holiday season, years ago, I had five “do I have to kill my dog cases?,” all serious bites to visitors, on December 23rd and 24th. So sad.
Here’s my generic advice about holidays and dogs and visitors. I’d love to hear what solutions you’ve come up with for yourself or advised for others.
1. Do you REALLY want to take your dog to the big family gathering? How fun is it really going to be when you discover that your nephew is allergic to dogs, or your sister-in-law brought a dog-hating cat, or your uncle brought his three Rat Terriers, all of whom are xxx (insert interesting behavioral issue here.) For everyone’s sake, seriously consider leaving your dog at home, either in a great kennel or with a great dog sitter. This could be a blessing to your dog, to you, or to the rest of your family. (I still blush about bringing my St. Bernard to someone’s house when I was young and stupid. It was so hot in the room we slept in that Cosby, the Saint, panted and drooled so heavily I finally opened a window to cool it off. We woke up in the morning to find their prized house plants dead. Our dog-disliking hostess literally began to shriek, eyes squinched shut, hands clenched, jumping up and down like a five-year old. I still feel badly. Whoever and wherever you are–I’m sorry I killed your fern!)
My line? “Dog Sitters. Don’t leave home without them.” Of course, in some cases bringing your dog just adds to the fun, and if that’s the case, then Eeeeeh Hah, bring ’em on. But if you’re not sure, then discretion is the better part of valor.
2. If visitors are coming to you, do what most professionals do, and thank the heavens for dog crates and X-pens. It seems to be the pro’s who are most likely to put their dogs away to prevent problems, rather than crossing their fingers and saying “I think it’ll be okay…”. Anytime I hear myself asking that question, I know to change my tune and do whatever I need to do to know that it’ll be okay. I even put Willie in his crate for the first hour of Lassie’s birthday party, so that she could get all the attention.
I never hesitate to err on the side of caution if there is even the slightest chance of trouble between a dog and a visitor. Most trainers and behaviorists don’t either; nothing like years of hearing about serious bites and traumas related to dogs and visitors to condition us to be conservative. Kids coming over and not 110% sure about how they’ll behave around your dog, or vice versa? Then start with your dog elsewhere, meet the kids and then decide how they’ll interact. Uncle Johnny, all 6 foot 7 of him driving in from down south? And you with a dog who is uncomfortable around unfamiliar men? Aren’t you glad you crate-trained your dog?
Start carefully (dog in crate when visitors enter?),
Observe carefully (watch interactions like a hawk at first),
Manage obsessively (know your dog and minimize the potential of any problems),
Give everyone a break (why not crate Fido up after an hour with the guests? why wait until after he’s tired?) Note that MANY of the cases I’ve seen have occured after the dog has been with the ‘kids’ or company all day, is tired and finally snaps/bites at the end of the day. Being an introvert (truly), I can sympathize. I love company and being with people, but I get tired after hours of it and need to go to my crate so that I don’t get cranky and bite someone.
This probably sounds excessive, but a dear dear friend just had his beloved dog bite a guest (equally beloved) during Thanksgiving dinner. “Why didn’t I put her in her crate?” he asked, after the bite and the trauma. “Because you’re an optimist and not a prof’l trainer” I said, but in the future, management is going to have to be Job #1 in his treatment plan. This kind of management becomes second nature to trainers, doesn’t it? But we had to learn it, and anything we can do to let people know that it’s OKAY to separate dogs and guests sometimes, the better.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: 4 days off coming up! Whoo Hoo! I’m officially ‘off the grid’ from early Thursday (12/17) morning to late Sunday night (12/20). Not letting myself check email or internet, but back first thing Monday morning. I look forward to reading all your comments.
Bitter cold again, below zero this morning and windy. Brrrrrr. Willie’s paws can’t all stay on the ground at once, he has to lift one at a time when we play outside. Lassie either pees and poops just inches from the door, or I run her to the barn, where she can potty in the straw on the floor and stay off of the snow and ice. But she still doesn’t stay out much longer than 5 minutes at a time.
The cold sure drives the birds to our feeders. I counted 47 birds of 12 species at the feeders yesterday morning. Here’s one of my favorites: A Red-Bellied Woodpecker (I know, I know, I didn’t name it! There is a flush of red on its belly, and there’s already a Red-Headed Woodpecker, thus the name that doesn’t seem to fit!)