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8 Tips to Help You and Your Dog De-Stress During the Holidays

Keep your dog calm and collected through the holidays -- and year-round! -- with these tips.

Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST  |  Dec 21st 2015


The holidays are a stressful time of year for many of us, including our pets. And just as there are strategies to reduce human stress, there are great ways to keep dogs calm and collected through New Year’s Eve. While these ideas focus on the holidays, most are tips that can help both you and your pups year-round!

1. Prepare for guests

If your dog is nervous around strangers or other people, don’t force him to be involved in the party. Put a crate-trained dog in his crate in a room that will be quiet, and give him a toy or bone. If your dog is not crate trained, still put him in a quiet room with something to do. Check out our story “How to Prepare Your Dog for Holiday Guests” for more tips.

Some dogs love being in a comfy crate! Photo by Abbie Mood

Some dogs love being in a comfy crate! (Photo by Abbie Mood)

To deal with your guest-related stress, stop and take a few deep breaths, or take a few minutes to just sit by yourself. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your dog will be. Our dogs are masters of body language and tone, so if you are rushing around the house with a short temper, they are going to wonder what is about to happen.

2. Exercise!

We know that even just a few minutes of movement a day can reduce stress and make a difference when it comes to our well-being, and the same can be said for our canine companions. Ideally, we would be able to take our dogs on at least a daily 20-minute walk, but depending on weather, even a quick jaunt around the block can make a difference. And maybe a little extra walking will help you counteract the effects of that pumpkin pie!

3. Use calming scents and sprays

This could be a simple as burning a lavender candle or getting Rescue Remedy or Frogworks’ Merlin’s Magic Calming Potion. I would recommend using these whenever something new or out of the ordinary is happening (you’re putting up decorations, for example) or whenever you are starting to feel stressed after a crazy day at work — the blends in these sprays aren’t just for dogs! Lavender, juniper berry, Roman chamomile, and cedarwood are all relaxing essential oils for humans. Put a few drops in your hands and breathe in. Sprays are also great to use in the room where your dog stays during parties. I know some people have really great luck with the D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) diffusers, too, which are perfect to use in a room.

4. Give calming treats

These are great for dogs who need help getting the edge off in certain situations, but don’t necessarily have enough anxiety to need prescription medication. For some dogs, eating calming treats might allow them to be around when there is a party. For others, it might help them calm down in a room by themselves. There are a variety of chewable treats at pet stores, but my favorite is called ProQuiet. You can order it online or get it from the vet, but it doesn’t require a prescription. Whatever treats you choose, look for ones with chamomile, brewer’s yeast, L-tryptophan, and B vitamins.

ProQuiet is my go-to treat when Buster needs a little help calming down. Photo by Abbie Mood

ProQuiet is my go-to treat when Buster needs a little help calming down. (Photo by Abbie Mood)

5. Get a ThunderShirt

Many dogs love the ThunderShirt, a tight garment that provides consistent pressure for your dog, which in turn is quite calming and relaxing. What can you do that is calm and relaxing? Wear super comfy pajamas? Take a nice warm bath? This one is about soothing and calming your body, which will in turn soothe and calm your mind.

6. Don’t schedule vet or grooming appointments during the holidays

Sometimes this is unavoidable, but for most dogs, these appointments are uncomfortable and can add to overall stress. And try not to overextend yourself during the holidays. Only say yes to the things you really want to do, and limit yourself, especially on days that you know might be more stressful (for example, you always work late on Wednesdays, so don’t agree to go to a holiday party on a Wednesday).

7. Play games with your dog

It’s already colder and darker than usual, meaning most dogs are getting less exercise and less time outside as it is. When you put the stress of the holidays on top of that, it’s a recipe for disaster. Luckily, there are some really great games you can play inside with your dog to get her thinking and moving, like hide and seek and nosework, or you can use use a food dispensing toy.

Stuff a bone or Kong with peanut butter and a few treats, then freeze it. That will keep them busy for awhile! Photo by Abbie Mood

Stuff a bone or Kong with peanut butter and a few treats, then freeze it. That will keep them busy for a while! (Photo by Abbie Mood)

Games are a great way to spend some quality time bonding with your dog, but you could also take an agility or training class with him, or even just dance with him around the house! Dancing is a fun stress reliever for you, and your dog will burn some energy chasing you around.

8. Don’t let them eat too much junk

It can be natural for some of us to toss our dogs scraps as we are making Thanksgiving dinner, or to even just feed them extra treats during the holidays, but try to limit this. Besides the potential for weight gain due to an increase in treats and a decrease in exercise, junk food is just going to make them feel worse! Not to mention that many holiday foods can be harmful to your dog.

This one applies to us, too. Eating junk is going to make you feel worse and more stressed, so try to throw a salad or something healthy into every meal — and avoid walking by the cookie tin in the office break room every 30 minutes!

Read more on Dogster Holidays:

About the author: Abbie Mood lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues, food culture, and the human experience through her writing. You can find out more about her atabbiemood.com or her blog, lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow Abbie on Twitter @abbiemood or Instagram @abbiemood.