by Bryan Bailey
Just the other day, I was driving home from an outing with my dog when I passed a billboard announcing the annual, pre-Christmas sale at a major, local retailer. I remembered thinking, really? How can this be? Weren’t the holidays just here yesterday? Suddenly, the relaxing day I was having turned into anything but that as I began to go through my annual, mile-long, stress-inducing, pre-holidays mental checklist.
The pain on my face must have been obvious because as I checked off item number 7 out of 200, I felt the warm, sticky sensation of my dog’s tongue in my right ear. Reaching behind me, I rubbed his big head and asked, “You’ll help me get through the holidays, won’t you?” The thump, thump, thump of his tail on the back seat was all I needed as an answer. My dog had my back.
For most people, the holidays are a bittersweet occasion in that it’s a time of reuniting with loved ones, endless parties, and the exchanging of gifts; however, it’s also one of massive preparation, excessive spending, and worrying about perfection in everything from what to wear, what to give, and what to serve.
It’s truly the season of cheer and fear where nothing is overlooked or left to chance . . . except Fido.
Yep, the very dog that has your back is left by himself to deal with a myriad of holiday stressors that range from multiple attacks by your relative’s screaming kids to a fat man in a red suit yelling “Ho, Ho, Ho,” which unfortunately translates to “no, no, no” for your dog who rightfully thinks he’s done nothing wrong! For us humans, it’s easy to understand during the holidays why “misery loves company” but not for your dog. Therefore, here are a few tips that will help Fido get through the holiday season without misery as his constant companion.
1. Give training as an early gift. Dogs are social creatures (minus the scary parts of being social during the holidays, such as the fat man in the red suit with the long, white beard). They would much rather spend their time with us than being locked away in the laundry room when company arrives. Learning behaviors, such as “stay” and “be quiet,” upon command before the holidays could earn your dog the good graces of the laundry room parole board and a coveted spot on a fleece bed next to the Christmas tree. Keeping in mind that some of your guests would rather admire your well-trained dog from a distance, you’ll be giving them an early gift as well.
2. Maintain your dog’s normal routines. I’m not sure about you, but my routines during the holidays are anything but normal. However, our dogs are creatures of habit and any changes, even subtle ones in their established routines, can produce stress. The onset of these stressors can then lead to undesirable behaviors such as destructive chewing, restless pacing or whining, or even an escalation in aggression as your dog attempts to cope with its anxiety. In addition, dogs are extremely temporal and can sense your holiday stress; it’s no wonder you will find most dogs hanging around the spiked eggnog bowl! Keeping your dog’s routines right on target during the holidays is impossible for most of us, but do your best to add Fido to your Day Planner. His stress is one less stressor you’ll have to worry about.
3. Traveling with your dog. The holidays are one of the busiest travel seasons of the year, and if it’s off to grandma’s house you go and you’re thinking of taking Fido with you, you may want to plan well in advance. If you will be flying with your dog, check with your airline about its policies and regulations as these vary greatly with each individual carrier. For example, some will fly your dog in a climate-controlled space, and others won’t. Therefore, bad weather could prevent Fido from making the trip. Also, unless Fido is a service dog, he will have to fly in an airline-approved kennel, and the size requirements for your dog’s kennel are not the least bit standard in the airline industry. The best rule of thumb in regard to kennels is go big. I have had dogs rejected because their pointed ears barely touched the top of their kennel while they were standing! If it’s a vehicle you will be traveling in, be sure to treat Fido like any other occupant and restrain him. Time in your lap or your children’s laps can wait until you arrive at your destination. Remember, if Fido isn’t restrained and an accident should occur, Fido will become a projectile. I’m sure the only flying animals you will want to see during the holidays are Santa’s reindeer!
4. Dealing with other dogs. Nearly 90 million American households have at least one dog. If you visit with family or friends during the holidays, your dog is likely to encounter a dog that is not of its pack. Because dogs are dogs and not humans, their perception of the alien dog could be quite different than yours. You may see a nice dog, but your dog may see a threat or an opponent, which could then lead to a fight. Keep a close eye on your dog during the initial meeting, and if either dog appears to be fearful or threatening, immediately separate the dogs and keep them separated until the visit is over. Do this whether your dog is naughty or nice.
5. Dealing with other children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report millions of dog bites each year in the U.S. with most of those occurring to small children. Not recognizing or ignoring the warning signs given by dogs that feel threatened by the direct interaction of small children is one of the leading causes of these bites. During the holidays, children tend to be more excited and animated as they play with new toys or with their relatives or friends. Because Mom and Dad are engaged in food preparation or entertaining, these children are not as closely supervised as they are during other times. Unfortunately, letting little Johnny whack his cousin’s dog with his new Star Wars light saber could end with little Johnny getting a gift he didn’t ask for but really did.
The holidays are a very special time of year, even with the accompanying stressors. However, for Fido, he would rather it not be so special. Treating the holidays like any other time of the year for him will be the best present you can give.
Bryan Bailey is a nationally-recognized, award-winning animal behaviorist, who has shared his expertise with Fox & Friends, SiriusXM, Dog World, SheKnows.com and Fox News, along with veterinarians, dog owners and celebrities such as John Mellencamp, James Fitzpatrick, the late Junior Seau, and Julio Jones.
Bailey’s unique qualifications also include: nationally-certified Master Trainer and Pharmacotherapy Behaviorist, decorated veteran of the U.S. Navy, working extensively as a supervisor and trainer for the U.S. Navy’s dolphin and sea lion projects, honor graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy with duties including training supervisor of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department K-9 narcotics detection, and search and rescue teams, and trainer for the Indiana Department of Health and Social Services to train service dogs for children with Muscular Dystrophy. He has also studied canine problem solving and pharmacotherapy at Cornell and Tufts University, wolf behavior and social dynamics at Battleground Indiana and Ely Minnesota wolf conservatories, is a certified Veterinary Technician, and has professionally shown dogs in AKC Obedience, Conformation, Schutzhund and Ring Sport.
His first book, Embracing the Wild in Your Dog, is a culmination of his experiences and expertise and will be soon followed by his second title, The Hammer – Understanding Canine Aggression. Bailey and his wife, Kira, reside in Memphis, TN, with their children, dogs, and cats. Together, they own ProTrain Memphis and Taming the Wild.
Learn more about Bailey at www.TamingtheWild.com.
Embracing the Wild in Your Dog is currently available on Amazon.