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.
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.
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.