How to Handle Holiday Stress in Dogs

Dog with Santa hat
Treats, snuggle time and matching human-pup Christmas sweaters? Wags all around for this holiday season! ©Anna-av | Thinkstock.
Last Updated on December 3, 2018 by

The holidays are right around the corner, but your dog is acting anything but jolly. He’s lost the jingle in his step. Gone is his ready-quick grin, the goofy barks and the jubilant dash to fetch a favorite tossed toy. Just like us, holiday stress in dogs can extend past the festive ushering of the new year.

Consider this: Your loyal canine pal is so tuned into you, your emotions and your schedule. But the comforting predictability of the household routine has been upended by your erratic comings and goings, the arrival of a large tree in the living room with don’t-touch ornaments, the smell of oh-so-tempting goodies from the oven and the not-so-welcomed appearance of strange and sometimes obnoxious people referred to as “relatives” by you. That’s a doggone lot to deal with, especially for your confused canine.

Look for these clues of holiday stress in dogs (although they could also be due to a health concern, so consult with your veterinarian):

A dog playing tug of war with a human.
Boisterous behavior might be a sign of holiday stress in dogs. Photography ©caliburn82 | Thinkstock.
  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Lack of energy and interest
  3. Lip licking and/or yawning
  4. Becoming boisterous or whining
  5. Hiding, cowering or ignoring your “come” calls
  6. Chewing up sofa pillows or comforters that he has left untouched before the holidays
  7. Turning into a Velcro dog, shadowing your every step in the house
  8. Piddling and pooping in the house after years of stellar potty habits

If you don’t address these behavioral changes, the doggie blues can continue after the holidays when you return back to work and the kids head back to school. This is especially true for highly social dogs who welcome the holidays because they know they will get more attention in the forms of petting, cuddling and, especially, treats from you and visitors. Suddenly, they find themselves home alone.

Whether you plan to take a holiday vacation sans your dog or intend to stay home and fill your house with lots of guests, Dogster offers these effective solutions to prevent Yule time from turning into yowl time.

How to ease holiday stress in dogs if you’re taking a vacation without your pup

If you plan to take a dog-free vacation, hire a professional pet sitter or take your dog to a reputable boarding facility. The choice depends on your dog’s health, age, temperament and experience with other dogs.

“Dogs who are shy, quiet and get intimidated by the presence of other dogs or loud barking will likely prefer to be at home,” says Leni Kaplan, D.V.M., a veterinarian at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. “Dogs who can handle changes in their routines and environment, who are used to being around other dogs and especially those who go to doggie daycare are best candidates for boarding.”

In choosing a professional pet sitter, consider one who belongs to a professional pet sitting organization, such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International. Members of these organizations must show proof of being licensed and bonded. This is not the time to save money by hiring the neighbor kid or an untrained house sitter.

“A professional pet sitter is prepared for emergencies and, in many ways, can be like Santa Claus to your dog,” says Joette White, president of Park Cities Pet Sitter in Dallas, voted the 2016 Business of the Year by NAPPS. “A pet sitter will feed, walk, play and love on your dog as well as pick up your mail, water the plants and take out the trash. We do all we can to let your dog know that he is loved and well-cared for during your absence. Plus, your dog gets to stay in his own home.” Boarding your dog — or taking him for doggie day care — are options if you have an energetic, social dog or one who acts up when there is a change in household routine.

“We get requests from people who know that the in-laws coming for the holidays don’t want dogs in the house or may be allergic to dogs or insist on bringing their dog who does not get along with your dog,” says Ash Vaughan, owner of Canine Republic Resort in Plano, Texas. His company was recently voted best boarding facilities by Plano Magazine. “We also get a lot of requests for doggie day care when people need a staycation at home or want their dogs in a safe place while they get the house ready for holiday guests.”

He advises that you scout out local boarding/day care facilities in advance and give your dog a “trial run” before the holiday to gauge his level of acceptance. His company offers a free day of day care during non-holiday seasons and encourages people to tour his center before booking a reservation.

How to ease holiday stress in dogs if you’re celebrating at home

A man kissing his dog.
Schedule five to 10 minutes of cuddle time each day with your dog. Photography © avemario | Thinkstock.

If you plan to stay home for the holidays with your dog, here are some ways to save the sanity and fend off stress for you both:

  • Power walk with your pooch. Book time each day to take a daily brisk walk or run with your dog to stave off some of the holiday stress bubbling inside you both. Use the walk to mentally map out your holiday gift list or holiday dinner game plan — or as a good excuse to escape irritating or demanding relatives who are visiting.
  • Schedule canine cuddle time. Calmly call your dog over and cuddle with him on the sofa for five to 10 minutes each day. Enjoy being in the moment with your four-legged pal. You will be amazed how this daily ritual will help you and your dog survive, perhaps even thrive, this holiday season.
  • Dish up a holiday treat. Show your dog how much you love him by baking him a special batch of canine cookies or snacks. (See the sidebar for Marvelous Mutt Meatballs recipe).
  • Book an activity that your dog can join you in. Take your leashed dog on a walk through a neighborhood all decked out in holiday lights and decorations. (Bring a stash of his favorite treats and poop bags.) Or check online for any special dog holiday parties or events in your area.

Keep tabs on your dog through technology

Whether you are gone from home for the day or the entire holiday, you can keep tabs on your home-alone dog 24/7. There are lots of high-tech monitoring devices that enable you to see, speak and even dole out a treat to your dog with the click of a button. Some gadgets even allow you to remotely play fetch or have your dog chase a laser toy from apps on your smartphone.

Nix holiday stress in dogs by making these New Year’s resolutions:

Be ready for the next round of holidays by creating and embracing some New Year’s resolutions to benefit your dog. Here are a few to consider:

  • Become a label reader. Select quality commercial products that list a real meat (such as beef, chicken or salmon) as the first ingredient. Choose food made in North America to ensure quality compliance.
  • Schedule daily mini-play sessions indoors, especially during inclement weather. Mix and match different types of dog toys to maintain interest. Toss a tennis ball down the hallway or engage in a friendly game of tug-of-war with a durable rope toy, or praise him for stalking and “capturing” a plush toy with a squeaker inside.
  • Invest five minutes every day to brush your dog’s coat. Select the right brush or comb that fits his coat — short-haired, long-haired or nearly hairless like the Chinese Crested Dog or Mexican Hairless Dog (Xoloitzcuintli). Or use grooming gloves designed for use on dogs.

Have pet safety hotlines on hand

Keep your dog safe year-round by posting the contact information of your veterinarian, after-hours emergency veterinary clinic and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in a visible place, like the refrigerator. The APSCA’s 24-hour hotline can be reached by calling 888-426-4435 or you can visit its website at

This piece was originally published in 2017.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Anna-av| Thinkstock.

Arden Moore, The Pet Health and Safety 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

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you

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