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How to Take the Howl Out of the Holidays

‘Tis the season is right around the corner. Reduce your dog's anxiety during the hustle and bustle with these helpful tips.

Arden Moore  |  Nov 19th 2015


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our October/November issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Halloween unleashes the holiday season, which continues with Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah festivities through the end of the year. These three months can tax even the calmest of canines because daily, predictable routines disappear.

See these holiday traditions from your dog’s viewpoint. That explains his barrage of barks when a steady stream of strangers wearing masks ring your front doorbell and yell, “Trick or treat!” And, a month later, the house is filled with guests and suitcases for up to a week. The grand finale takes place in December with the emergence of a giant tree in the living room adorned with tempting decorations to inspect and to swat.

As much as we wish to be jolly and full of folly, the reality is that the holiday season can unleash anxiety in our dogs and in us. Dogs display anxiety in a variety of ways: Some may pace. Others may howl. Some try to calm themselves down by chewing up household items or flee into the bedroom when you attempt to dress them up in a pirate or princess outfit for a Halloween party. Some respond by making urine puddles in front of the Christmas tree so they can make the holiday-decorated home feel more like a canine home.

Moving in with my sister early last December meant merging my two dogs and a far-too-curious cat with her three terrier mixes. The “Furry Brady Bunch” definitely uprooted some Christmas traditions last year and probably for years to come.

We both love Christmas but love our sanity more. That’s why we nixed the notion of putting up a big 6-foot tree decked out with treasured family ornaments and tinsel. We simply didn’t want to spend Christmas Eve at the emergency veterinary clinic, because we feared any or all of these disasters could occur:

  • Dog A would cut her paw after swatting a glass ornament off the tree and stepping on the broken shards.
  • Dog B would mistake tinsel for spaghetti noodles and began choking.
  • Dog C would sniff out and devour a box of gourmet chocolates placed under the tree and have to be rushed to the clinic to be treated for chocolate poisoning.
  • The orange tabby would scratch his cornea climbing on a tree branch and sprain his paw plummeting to the floor from the top of the tree.

To help you keep the “ho, ho, ho” spirit from turning into “oh, oh, oh” or worse, “no, no, no!” situations, here are some anxiety-crushing tips to ensure a happier holiday season for you and your dog.

Dog issue No. 1: Hey! Did you lose your watch?

Dogs crave set daily routines. Like clockwork, he counts on you for daily walks and playtime sessions. But two weeks before Christmas or Hanukkah, you don’t have time.

Solution: Your dog needs those walks to give him outlets for his pent-up energy and work his mind, so arrange for a professional dog walker to be your proxy during the holidays or treat your dog to playtime at a doggie daycare center if he plays nice with other dogs.

Dog issue No. 2: Did someone steal the sun?

It turns out that dogs also can suffer from seasonal affective disorder. In many places of the country, winter signals fewer daylight hours, causing even some dogs to get the winter blues, according to Alice Moon-Fanelli, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in private practice in Eastford, Conn.

Solution: Leave lights on in your house for your stay-home dog when you dash off to a holiday party. Soak up some sun-soaked Vitamin D together with a quick walk or game of fetch. Both of you will benefit by this mini-playtime to clear your head from your growing list of holiday must-dos.

Dog playing fetch by Shutterstock.

Dog playing fetch by Shutterstock.

Dog issue No. 3: Halt! Show some ID!

Holidays usher in lots of houseguests. You know your Aunt Jill or your coworker Bob and maybe even the delivery person coming up your walk with a handful of packages, but to your home turf-protecting dog, they all seem like stranger-danger suspects. He responds with a barrage of barks and lunges at the door.

Solution: Keep your dog in a bedroom with his favorite items during the initial meet-and-greet and let him properly meet the houseguests once they have brought in their suitcases and are in a calmer state of mind.

Dog issue No. 4: You want me to wear what?!

Okay, I admit, I did put faux reindeer antlers on Chipper, my otherwise-dignified Husky/Golden Retriever mix for a holiday photo. Her hangdog look evoked enough shame in me that I promised never to don her in holiday garb. And I did attempt to dress little Cleo as a baseball player for a Halloween party. Her entire body shook until I removed the jersey.

Solution: Know your dog. She may be outgoing and a doggie diva who really enjoys dressing in holiday attire. If so, be sure and “ooh” and “aaah” when she struts your way for the holiday photo. But if your dog fusses to paw off the outfit, drops her head or runs away when you bring out the outfit, respect her clear message: Let me just wear my collar.

Dog in reindeer antlers by Shutterstock.

Dog in reindeer antlers by Shutterstock.

Dog issue No. 5: Ah, too many temptations, too little time

With their superior sense of smell, dogs can quickly detect the gift under the tree that contains any kind of f-o-o-d. And, with holiday parties, guests can absentmindedly park a half-finished holiday-spiked punch drink or chocolate-filled cookies on tables easily within paw’s reach. Your dog’s begging talents go into overdrive and can result in achy tummies, unwanted diarrhea dumps, and urgent trips to the veterinary clinic.

Solution: Keep your dog in a closed but comfy room during the holiday party. Let him have his own mini-party with a treat-filled toy or other keep-busy toy, comfy bedding, and food and water. Mute some of the party’s chatter and singing by turning on a television or radio in that room.

Finally, while you may be able to hide your holiday-induced anxiety from coworkers, family, and friends, you can’t fool your loyal dog, who is always tuned into your emotional state. He may act clingy, want to shower you with more kisses, or drop toys in your lap in attempts to oust your anxious thoughts and get you back to being the person he adores.

Pay heed to these canine cues and stop, take a deep breath, and exhale slowly. Unleash a smile. And then hug your dog. The mood-elevating tail-wagger will prove to be the best holiday gift of all, because he keeps giving and loving 24-7 year-round.

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About the author: Arden Moore, The Pawsitive Coach, is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first aid instructor, author, and host of the Oh Behave! show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at Four Legged Life and follow her on YouTubeFacebook and Twitter