Here are some quick tips and suggested resources to help you better enjoy your holidays.
There two basic problem-solving approaches when living with a dog or cat: management and changing behavior. The more you train the behaviors you want, the more your pet can hang out with you. The less the training, the more you have to substitute management.
Guests can mean escapes out open doors, frightened or defensive dogs and cats, or muddy paw prints on party clothes. All can be managed by keeping pets behind doors and baby gates, in crates or in locked yards when chaos reigns.
If you want your pets to mingle with guests, make sure the association is a pleasant one. If you hear growling, hissing or barking, your pet is in its fear zone. Move it away until it relaxes. You can help it relax by feeding it something yummy. Food relaxes the animal, and thus the pet begins to see people in a more positive light.
Show off “stupid” pet tricks. Sitting, shaking hands, begging, speaking and fetching can do as much to improve behavior as to satisfy the ego. If your pet can do tricks for guests, it will engage with you and get its body moving, all behaviors that are incompatible with fear. Use extra-special treats and it will look forward to showing off for guests the next time.
Teach the social-butterfly puppy to sit stay for petting or to go lie on a bed until it calms down. Obviously, practice this when nothing is happening. Greeting guests at the front door is college-level work. If you haven’t practiced primary-school levels, you will be disappointed at the results.
You can find some great books and videos to help with behavior problems and training at www.dogwise.com. Search this website for certified professional dog trainers and behavior consultants: www.apdt.com
Ingesting poisons and other hazards can mean a trip to the E.R. for pets. Keep the chocolate, rich food and tinsel and toys out of reach. Equally important is to avoid indulging your pet’s cravings for rich food. Try this site to help you think ahead about hazards and general pet care: www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/medical-tips.html
According to veterinarian Robyn Herman of Patterson Veterinary Hospital, the No. 1 ailment she treats during Thanksgiving is pancreatitis, caused by eating too much rich food. A few days after Thanksgiving, Herman often sees dogs taken to her practice with vomiting and diarrhea, some of the symptoms of pancreatitis. This is a potentially life-threatening condition and can be avoided by not feeding people food to your pets.
During Christmas, candy, chocolate and toys are more likely to be ingested, causing an emergency trip to her practice or the E.R. for pets. Keep an eye on your furry friends and move all enticing and dangerous objects out of reach, or bar your pets from those rooms.
A new puppy or dog during the holidays can be an exciting addition. Be sure, however, you have planned for a productive and smooth transition. No one wants to traumatize the new arrival by confusion and inconsistency in training for house manners and social graces. Nor would you want to emotionally overwhelm or overstimulate a sensitive dog, which might risk future unwanted hyper or fearful reactions. A gift to yourself, the family and the dog of an obedience class will go a long way to establish a loving, lasting and tolerant relationship with your new furry best friend.
If all of this extra work seems overwhelming, you can call on pet professionals. Day care and boarding are available at pet resorts and kennels, which offer a safe and fun vacation for the family pet. Additionally, every town has qualified pet sitters who can look in on your pets while you are gone. Here are some websites to search for qualified pet care professionals: www.petcareservices.org, www.petsittersinternational.com and www.petsitters.org.
May you and your furry friends have happy and healthy holidays.
Augusta Farley has been a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant for more than 25 years. She raises, trains and competes with her Belgian Malinois.