Even during a pandemic, December means...the holidays are coming!
Regardless of what your holiday celebrations look like each year or this year in specific, the holiday season is a time of celebration, gifts, food, family, friends...and potentially chaos with an excitable SideKick thrown into the mix!
Being well into December already, it's unlikely that you'll have the time or desire to put a solid training plan in place to prepare yourself, your family, or your SideKick for the holidays, but there are a few things you can do to reduce headaches and worry to a minimum!
First, let's talk about the scary stuff...The holidays provide a lot of opportunities and interesting temptations for our SideKicks. When the humans are busy, bouncing around from room to room with meal-planning and cooking, and aren't paying close attention, the doggos strike! The biggest concern is, of course, things your SideKick may ingest, but there are also hazards associated with the holiday comings and goings and a variety of other one-off weird things due to the holidays.
Unsafe to Ingest
Unfortunately, lack of supervision and temptation can lead to some exciting (for your SideKick) opportunities to counter surf, grab things off the tables or from people's plates, etc. This may mean our SideKicks end up ingesting something that is harmful for them or that may even lead to a trip to the ER vet! Keep a close eye on the following things to make sure your SideKick isn't eating anything they shouldn't have:
Chocolate and candies (and the wrappers/packaging)
Grapes and raisins
Pain killers and medications
High fat foods
Decorations, Christmas trees, poinsettia, holly, mistletoe
Garlic and onions (and similar foods)
Garbage and recycling bins (best to just put these fully out of your dog's reach, so they aren't tempted to check on what they could find)
People Coming and Going
With guests, family members, friends, and neighbors coming and going during this holiday season and during celebrations, your dog - even if not usually a door dasher or runner - may be presented with extra opportunities to get out of the house for a walkabout town.
Be aware of doors opening, so your dog doesn't have the opportunity to escape - the back and front door, sliding or patio doors, the garage door(s), etc.
Make sure your pet is secured inside behind a gate or closed door, tethered to a person or a heavy piece of furniture, etc.
Assign one person to be responsible for the dog and keeping them in the house
Ensure that your dog is wearing their collar with ID and that the microchip information is up-to-date in the event that your dog does get out
The holidays generally mean we have extra things out that aren't usually there for the rest of the year or that your dog may have never seen before (if this is their first holiday season with you or if you've added to your collection during some pandemic online shopping...).
A tree or holiday village and other decorations often involve extra power strips, candles, and wires and cords; any of these things may be extra chewing opportunities or chances to get tangled and injured.
Be careful of anything that can get warm, hot, or has an open flame that your SideKick may not know to be careful around.
Gifts under the tree can be a treasure trove of fun for your SideKick - there are new things to chew and tear apart and create enrichment with! Be especially conscious of putting food gifts under the tree - your SideKick will definitely sniff that out and make you aware of it if you didn't already know...
Even if preparing for all of the potential hazards your SideKick can get into or find, it's wise to prepare and have your pet's emergency vet details (phone number, address, and holiday hours of operation) ready - just in case!
The Season of Stress
The holidays can be a wonderful time spent with family and friends; we see folks we haven't seen for a year or more, perhaps, and we exchange cards and gifts. In general, we're able to celebrate the close of another year (and I'm sure most of us are extra excited to say good-bye to 2020...). As fun and exciting as the holidays and celebrations can be, they're often also stressful - the logistics of cooking holiday meals and planning for the arrival of guests alone can be a headache all its own!
While your SideKick is not helping to organize the holiday potluck and when you'll be visiting the in-laws, the season can be stressful for them, as well.
Furniture is often moved to accommodate holiday decorations and the tree (this may sometimes include things that are relevant to your dog, such as the bed / blanket / resting places, feeding areas, toys, etc., which can cause confusion and stress).
Outdoor holiday decorations in your yard or around the neighborhood can be scary - particularly the inflatable or animated pieces that move on their own (or by the power of the devil, of course) or sway in the breeze.
The holidays also bring a variety of different costumes or coats that our SideKicks may not be superfans of; if your dog isn't cool with a coat or costume, don't force them to wear them.
Extra cleaning around the house and yard can lead to strange or strong smells and, of course, involve the (possibly) dreaded vacuum, broom, Swiffer, or mop.
Some dogs show extra interest in projected lights (often projected onto the exterior of houses) and reflections caused by twinkling lights and may find themselves in an unsafe situation chasing lights or shadows. You may notice this with your dog especially if you utilize a laser pointer to play with your dog.
Changes to your dog's routine or a lack of routine during this season can be stressful.
With the hustle and bustle during holiday periods, dogs may get less exercise, entertainment, and attention.
Stress, extra energy, lack of sleep or daytime naps, inconsistent trips to the outdoor bathroom, etc...All of this stuff can mix and combine to create the perfect storm of conditions that create or see a resurgence of destructive behavior, overexcited greetings, barking, jumping, resource guarding, house training concerns, and other undesirable behaviors.
Not All Doom and Gloom!
I realize listing off all the reasons the holidays can be stressful for our SideKicks makes it seem like we should all hermit inside our homes to prevent the stress from happening, but I promise that's not the case (unless you want to do that - a hermit holiday is not a bad option!).
So that it is not forgotten, schedule some nap time or quiet time away from the action for your dog, as well as exercise and enrichment time with you - in the yard, the basement, or at the park, etc.!
Know your dog: introduce additional management (read about some options here) for various scenarios that may cause your dog trouble, such as the arrival of guests, energetic children, deliveries, the presence of high-value foods (ripe for the stealing or knocking over of children to get it), and so on.
I recommend assigning an adult or older, responsible kid to the dog and supervising the dog throughout the gathering, so there is someone consistently monitoring the dog, supporting them, keeping them safe, out of trouble, and (of course!) offering rewards for good behavior!
Get the entire family on board with planning and preparation, so that everyone is on the same page and helping out.
Adjust your expectations of your dog: yours may need support during holidays and it's up to you to help them. With everything the season throws at your dog, you can expect that they won't be at their very best and adjusting your expectations reduces frustration for all parties involved.
Ask, "does my pet need to be part of this?" If your dog won't cope well with a particular event or gathering, remove them from the action - it may be best for everyone. Prepare a special chew or stuffed Kong (or Kong-like toy with some of the options from this post) and set them up with their bed behind a closed door or baby gate away from the main event.
Overall, plan ahead! Of course, planning ahead is the golden rule of making life easier and, while it seems like an obvious suggestion, planning ahead for your SideKick isn't usually something you may think about right away when making holiday accommodations. Whether you'll be including your SideKick in the festivities, traveling elsewhere, or making other arrangements for them, plan ahead for what you may need for them or to do for them to make life easier for everyone (and know that this post is not an exhaustive list of the hazards or help involved in the holidays)!
Have a happy (and safe) howl-iday season!