Monthly Archives: November 2013

Happy Holidays with Your Dog Part 1

For many of us, our pets are like family. A 2011 survey found that more than half of pet owners bought their pets a Christmas gift. Another survey said that in 2011, 68 percent of pet owners traveled with their pet.

So chances are you are thinking of taking your dog with you if you travel for the holidays or that you will want your dog to be part of your holiday plans if the family is coming to your house. For the gregarious dog who has never met a stranger, the holidays can be fun. But, for the shy dog or a dog that is easily overwhelmed by anything new, the holidays can be stressful.

Below are some things to think about as you decide whether or not to include your pet in the holiday scene.  Before anything else though, know the signs of stress in your dog and start training for some behaviors that will help ensure your dog has a great time this year. You can learn more in the second part of my Happy Holidays with Your Dog blog by clicking here.

Meeting people

Your dog will meet all kinds of people during the holidays. But, dogs may not like everyone they meet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the age group of 5-9 is the most bitten age population in the United States. If your holiday plans include lots of children amped up on candy canes, make sure your dog really does enjoy the company of young people. It is not fair to ask your dog to not be a dog or the kids to not act like kids at Christmas time.

If you are unsure how your dog feels about meeting lots of new people, have him on leash for his first interactions and have a game plan in place to remove him from the situation if he acts as if he is getting stressed. It may be better to have your guests seated before letting the dog in to meet everyone. My dog Batman LOVES people, but he gets super excited when guests are arriving. Instead of allowing him to meet everyone at the door, I keep him in a crate until everyone has arrived. Then I let him out. He runs around nosing hands and asking to have his butt scratched rather than barking and jumping on everyone as they arrive. Tell your guests not to try and coax a dog to them. If the dog wants to interact, he will, but if he needs some space, that’s ok. Provide your guests with some tasty treats and ask them to reward the dog if he comes by to say hello (as long as all four paws are on the floor). Remember, you may enjoy being head butted  by your dog, but many of your guests may not.

Watch your dog throughout the evening and if you see him becoming stressed, act quickly to give him a break in a quiet place away from people.

Don’t allow a dog to get trapped in a corner by guests, especially children. Dogs need escape routes. If you see the dog in the corner and someone is approaching the dog, ask them to stop and let the dog come to them.

Meeting other animals

If everyone in your extended family is bringing their dogs to your holiday feast, it can be stressful. Just like all people don’t like each other, all dogs don’t like each other. If you are allowing dogs to meet, do it in a place where there is plenty of room (a fenced yard is always best). Have the dogs drag their leashes, but try and not hold them back. It is far better if the dogs can meet on their own terms and approach or retreat if needed. Some growling or lip curling may be appropriate. Don’t rush in to stop every confrontation, but do be prepared to step in if things become heated between two dogs. If the dogs are dragging leashes, it is easier to separate them. Never separate two dogs by sticking your hand near their faces or collars. Even your beloved dog could  bite you if he is stressed over the encounter with another dog. Some dogs do fine meeting another dog one on one, but get stressed when meeting multiple dogs. Take it slow, and always watch the dogs. Don’t just leave them to their own devices.

And just because your dog loves your cats, that doesn’t mean he will love your brother’s cats. When meeting any other animals always keep the dog on leash until you are certain that all will be well.


Does your dog enjoy car rides? Then chances are he will be fine going over the river and through the woods to see grandma. But, don’t take a long trip with the dog if he has never been in the car before. Make sure the car is fun. Find a way to put a crate in your car if possible as that is a far safer travel option than letting the dog roam freely around the vehicle. Of course, make sure your dog loves his crate and is used to getting into it in the car before you take that trip.

Make sure your dog is microchipped and is wearing an ID tag. Do not let your dog off-leash at the rest area or your grandma’s house. Even if you have a great recall at home, your dog could be spooked by a new environment and run off. Take a 30-foot leash with you so you can adequately play ball or provide other exercise if needed. If your dog is not in a crate, make sure his leash is clipped before you open your car door. Many dogs are lost each year because they dart out the door before their owners are prepared.

Both an ID tag and microchip are important. Many dogs end up losing their collars when they are lost so the microchip will be a permanent method of identifying your dog. But, if someone finds your pet right away, a tag with a phone number may ensure a quick reunion. Make sure both your microchip information and your ID tag contain up-to-date phone numbers.

Food and water

Many people feed their dog on a strict schedule, but when you are traveling, it may not always be possible to feed or water the dog at the same time. Before you travel, be sure and vary your dog’s eating habits. Make sure he can eat and drink from different types of containers. Take enough food for your entire stay to avoid tummy upsets. If your dog doesn’t eat as much as normal, or if he refuses to eat, don’t panic. Give the dog a quiet room for his food and water and give him a chance to relax.  And don’t forget the poop bags if you travel. Be a responsible pet owner and always pick up after your dog.

Vaccination records

If you are traveling with your dog, be sure and take a copy of his current vaccination records. Some areas require dogs to always have on their rabies’ tag when they are in public. If an emergency arises, you need to be able to tell someone what shots your dog has had and when. Before you travel check with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is up to date on all shots.


Remember, a counter with a turkey or a stove top filled with ham will be very tempting to your dog. Don’t leave the food sitting out unattended. A dog could eat something that is poisonous or he could over-indulge. Know what plants and foods are poisonous to pets.

A few simple precautions and some fun training will have you and your pet enjoying the holidays.


Happy Holidays with Your Dog: Part 2

It’s the holidays.

You’ve spent the last two weeks putting up lights, baking, cleaning, setting up seating arrangements so your feuding uncles stay as far away from each other as possible and now it’s time; your guests are beginning to ring the doorbell. Your smile becomes frozen to your face as your dog barrels in from the back room and starts body slamming the door — barking in a hysterical, high-pitched noise that is sure to be heard even by your grandpa who forgot his hearing aid again. You gamely grab the dog’s collar and try to manhandle him away from the door, when the cat, freaked out by the sudden commotion runs out into the night.

No wonder people are stressed this time of year.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. While I can’t help you with the feuding uncles, there is still time to help your pets enjoy the holidays. Here are three tips for a more festive holiday season.

#1 Teach a rock-solid sit

If your dog knows sit, he cannot possibly jump up on your guests because his butt will be glued to the floor.

It’s great that your dog will sit when you are alone in the kitchen and holding his favorite treat, but what you really need for the holidays is a sit that works while the doorbell is ringing and the guests are coming through the door. Many people get frustrated with their dog because they think he is just being stubborn when he doesn’t sit when company comes pouring through the door. It would be like asking you to do simple arithmetic in a quiet library vs. asking you to do the same problem while trying to find a parking space at your favorite shopping mall at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Distractions make even simple tasks more difficult. Take your sit on the road, meaning that wherever you go and whatever is going on, ask your dog to sit. Start small with few distractions, but work up to more challenges. Make it fun for the dog; when you up the distractions up the value of the reward he is getting.

Tip: Teach your dog to sit the first time you say the word. Many people repeat cues over and over and still give the dog his reward. There is no reason for the dog to sit the first time, if he still gets the treat after you have been shouting “sit” at him for 3 minutes. It is your treat, if the dog wants it, he will learn to earn it on your terms. Instead of shouting “sit” over and over, ask one time. If he doesn’t sit, take one step or count to 30 seconds and ask again. The first time he sits after only one cue have a huge party with lots of treats. Soon your dog will learn that sitting fast is the quickest way to the reward.

Tip: Teach your dog to sit even if he doesn’t see the treat. Your dog isn’t stupid. If you only ask him to sit when you are dangling something the dog really wants above his nose, he will have no incentive to sit when he doesn’t see the reward. Hide the treats in your pocket or put some on top of the refrigerator. Ask him to sit and magically make the treat appear from someplace else. He will learn that even though he can’t see the treat, it is still possible to get it. Once he is doing great, don’t give him a food reward every time he sits. Sometimes tell him “good dog,” or scratch him under the chin. Mix it up so he can’t predict when the awesome food reward will come and when he only gets a “good dog.” But, always pay him with something when he sits, even if it is just “good boy.”

Tip: Teach your dog to sit beside you. Many dogs learn to sit by being in front of their owners. Make sure you practice asking your dog to sit beside you. A dog sitting beside you looking up at your face is less likely to be jumping up on company.

Once you have these things in place, begin practicing with the doorbell. Start small with only one person on the other side of the door and work in short sessions. Break out your highest value treats. Slowly up the distraction level so that the dog is always winning. You have now made sitting at the door one of the best games in the whole world.

#2 Teach your dog to love his crate

Many people get anxious about putting a dog in a crate. Some people think it is cruel. But, as long as you make the crate an awesome place, your dog will love going into it. When I yell “crate” at my house, my two dogs scramble to find the nearest open crate because that word means something really tasty is coming their way. For many dogs, being in the crate away from the hustle and bustle of the arriving guests will be much less stressful. But, you don’t want to try stuffing your dog in the crate for the first time 15 minutes before your guests arrive.

Tip: Bring your crate into whatever room you relax in. Leave the crate door open and just sit down. Have a bowl full of high value treats. If your dog looks at the crate, give him a treat. Don’t throw the treat into the crate; just give the dog a treat for looking. If the dog is comfortable just being in the room with the crate, start tossing some treats near the crate door. If the dog is going up to the crate door without issue, begin tossing treats inside the crate, but just inside the door. As soon as your dog figures out that being near the crate door is fun, close the crate (without the dog in it) and ignore it for a few minutes. You want to end this game with the dog still wanting to interact with the crate. Open the door back up again and reward the dog for being near the crate door. Begin tossing treats into the crate. Once the dog is all the way inside the crate, call him out, close the crate door and ignore the dog. You want the dog to decide that the crate with the door open is a really excellent game. If you open up the door and the dog races into the crate you are ready to give this a name (like “crate” or “kennel”). Now you have a dog that will race into his crate on cue.

This puppy raced into a crate the very first time it saw the door open to chase a hot dog. Then it decided to stay awhile to play with its toy and finish finding the hot dogs.

This puppy raced into a crate the very first time she saw the door open. Then she decided to stay awhile to play with her toy and finish finding the hot dogs. She now has a safe place to ride out a holiday party.

Next, close the crate door for just a second with the dog inside and then have a huge treat party as long as the dog is not whining, barking, or digging at the crate door. If he is, go back to just tossing treats into the open crate. If the dog is ok in the crate with the door closed, latch the door and step back. Then go right back and let the dog out with lots of praise and treats.  The final step is to find something your dog REALLY wants to chew on. I suggest bully sticks, elk antlers or a Kong filled with peanut butter. As you close the crate door, give the dog one of these high value things to chew on. When the crate door is open, the high value item goes away. It only appears in the crate when the door is closed and the dog is inside. Soon the dog will learn that being in the crate with the door closed is a magical place.

Items such as Kongs, elk antlers and bully sticks can help keep your dog entertained while he is in a crate. IndyHumane's retail store sells these items and all proceeds go to help the animals. Customers mentioning this blog post will receive 25 percent off all elk antlers, Kongs and bully sticks through Dec. 31, 2013. IndyHumane's retail store is located at the shelter at 7929 N. Michigan Road, Indianapolis, IN

Items such as Kongs, elk antlers and bully sticks can help keep your dog entertained while he is in a crate. 

Tip: If your dog is so stressed by being in the crate that he cannot eat or if he injures himself while in the crate trying to get out, seek the help of a professional dog trainer or consult with your veterinarian. This may be an indication of a more serious issue.

Tip: Never use the crate to punish your dog. Don’t grab his collar and force him into the crate. You want the crate to remain fun, and you want the dog to run in on cue.

Now you have a dog with awesome crate behavior. Move the crate to different rooms and practice going in and out of the crate. Find the room farthest from your entertaining area and get the dog comfortable before guests arrive. Give him his favorite item to chew on. Put on some music and close the door so inquisitive guests or children don’t go in and bother the dog. For many dogs, this is the best place to be during the holiday party.

#3 Know the signs of stress in your dog

If you live with another person, you know the warning signs if your significant other is not happy. You might say, “Honey, can you get Uncle Jim another eggnog “and be met with “the look.” You know that look. Chances are good that asking for eggnog was not the issue, but that the request was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many people don’t realize their dog is stressed until he growls (or even worse nips at someone). But, your dog gave you lots of clues before that growl happened.  Get to know how your dog looks relaxed so you can begin to notice changes.

Tip: The following may be clues that your dog is getting stressed: lip licking, excessive panting, yawning, excessive scratching, excessive sniffing or pacing, shaking as if he just came out of a bath, seeing lots of white around his eyes, turning his head away from someone approaching him, tucking his tail or putting his tail up higher than normal and flattening his ears back. If you see these things it might be time for your dog to take a break from the crowd. Don’t ignore signals like this. These are clues your dog is sending out and he is trying to tell you he needs just a little more space or something is making him nervous. If you ignore your dog’s early warning signals, he could decide he has no choice but to growl or snap.

Tip: Just because your dog’s tail is wagging doesn’t mean he is having a good time. Dogs wag their tails for many reasons. Some of those reasons may indeed be happiness wags, but many tail wags actually mean back away.

Now you have a dog with a perfect sit, you know the signs of stress, and if he gets stressed you can ask him to go into his crate for some relaxation chewing. Your holidays just got less stressful for you and the dog.

Just don’t forget the cats. Most cats will be happiest shut up in the back bedroom before the company begins arriving. That way they won’t dart out the door or jump onto the kitchen counter for the caviar.