Dogs, Holidays and Behavior Problems

Training your dog for the holidays

Holidays are meant to be festive and enjoyable for all members of the family, both two-legged and four-legged. But, holidays can present a range of challenges and it is always best to be prepared in advance. Here are some strategies for stress free holidays with your dog:

  1. Use behavior rehearsals to prepare your dog for exciting or stressful times. Determine the types of problem behaviors your dog might show during holiday gatherings, and think about what triggers them. Develop a plan to address each problem and practice ahead of time using various scenarios.
  2. Make sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise, play and social interactions throughout the holiday season. Appropriate physical and mental stimulation is an integral part of a dog’s life and it can decrease common behavioral problems.
  3. Keep your dog’s routine as similar as possible. Dogs are creatures of routines and thrive on them. Try to feed at the same times as well as keep exercise and play schedules similar.
  4. Dog-proof the house. Holidays like Christmas bring with them decorations that many dogs like to sample, but tinsels, garlands, and ornaments can cause problems if ingested. Other items like chocolate, poinsettias, or Easter lilies can be poisonous if eaten. Many dogs will also chew on electrical cords, so make sure to use cord keepers for multiple cords. Keep toxic items out of the house or out of reach.
  5. Keep the room where visitors stay closed during the visit. Dogs are curious about newcomers’ items. Problems that might occur: marking luggage by a male dog, staking claim to bed or furniture, and the accidental ingestion of medications. Elderly visitors should be watched particularly carefully as they often have multiple medications (encourage them to use pillboxes), expensive hearing aids they sometimes take out, or other items.
  6. Have a handful of useful goodies to keep your dog preoccupied during busy times. Holiday dinners are a perfect time to offer a good item like a food stuffed Kong toy or hollow bone. Try peanut butter, canned dog food, or meat bits and some water poured inside the Kong or bone and frozen.

Training commands that come in handy:

  • Off: Useful all year long, Off tells the dog to turn away from whatever they are about to or are currently investigating. During holiday time, this can be used to ask the dog to leave gifts, decorations, or guests that don’t care for dogs.
  • Come: Just in case your dog escapes from the home during a busy time or during a guest’s stay, you will want your dog to have a solid Come command. Consider also training your dog to a sound, like a whistle, much the way hunters train bird dogs for distance recall.
  • Go to Bed or Place: Basically, this is asking your dog to stay in one place, ideally a dog bed or carpet square. The location can be placed away from the entrance in a convenient location. It can help with excitement with visitors entering the door or during a family dinner. Go to Bed is a command that is typically trained to service dogs so that a dog can handle staying in one location for a duration more easily.
  • Manners Training: Work on appropriate greeting behavior with guests before needed. All dogs should learn to greet without lunging, jumping, or excessive excitement. Teach an oppositional behavior like Sit for the dog to do instead of jumping. Don’t be afraid to use a leash to help insist on no jumping and ask all guests to not pet or acknowledge the dog while it tries to jump.

The holidays are a wonderful time and are even better when your dogs are included in the festivities. A little pre-planning and training makes them as easy to navigate as any other day!

Westside Los Angeles/ Beverly Hills dog trainer and dog behavior expert with 30 years of experience.

Posted in Dog Training Tips