By Sara Reusche, CBCC-KA CPDT-KSA CVT
Q: Help! I have two very different dogs, and a big extended family coming to our house for the holidays. One dog is only 6 months old and wild. The other one is 8 and barks constantly whenever we have visitors. If they try to pet her, she barks louder and snips at them! How do I get both dogs to just calm down and behave?
A: Patti Anderson, CPDT-KA of Paws Abilities Dog Training (as well as an official Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) instructor and Pet Partners evaluator), says that you’re not alone in this issue.
“[The holidays] can be overstimulating for our dogs. When there is a change in their routine and lots of people gathered in what they consider their space, they may have some undesirable behaviors.”
Anderson recommends a multi-pronged approach to keep your pups at their best.
Exercise. First, “make it a priority that your dogs get lots of exercise that morning.” A tired dog is a good dog, and extra energy can contribute to crazy pups when your guests arrive. Whether you choose to get your pup’s ya-yas out at the dog park, play fetch until your arm gets tired, or go on a long run or hike, make sure that you take some time for a thorough workout session early in the day.
Management. Anderson also advises that you pre-empt the barking and general chaos with some stellar management. “Remember seeing a toddler out shopping with their parent at a store and throwing a temper tantrum? Once dogs [or tots] are that upset, there is no reasoning with them.”
Keep your dog from reaching meltdown mode by confining them away from the guests for the majority of the festivities. Anderson says that you can “secure them in a room or a crate where there isn’t so much stimulation. Give them something to do such as chewing on a good bone or a stuffed Kong toy (only if they are separately crated or in separate rooms for safety).”
Boarding. For dogs who can’t be confined, don’t rule out boarding. If you know that the stress of the day is too much for your pup, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a mini-vacation at your favorite pet sitter’s or boarding kennel for the day. [Author’s note: I’ve sent a previous dog of mine to A Dog Spot, a Lanesboro kennel, for just this reason. It took a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that she was safe and happy instead of stressed out by young houseguests.]
Training. Training can help with your younger pup’s manners and your older dog’s anxiety. Some training groups, including Paws Abilities, offer special holidays manners classes. Basic obedience or in-home private training will also offer some good tips.
Calming. Anderson also recommends a calming tool for dogs who are especially prone to excitement. “Thundershirts work well for quite a few dogs to help calm them.” While the tool doesn’t help all dogs, it has about a 75 percent success rate in our training practice, and comes with a money-back guarantee if it’s not a good fit for your specific pup.
Buy local at Rochester Pet & Country Store or Chuck & Don’s for an easy return in those few dogs who just don’t dig the tight wrap. Or, DIY with Anderson’s favorite life hack: “For a temporary do-it-yourself Thundershirt, a child’s t-shirt (from a thrift store) with the sleeves cut out that is snug but not so tight your dog can’t lie down, is a simple way to make your own.”
A little bit of empathy, and maybe a turkey-, mashed potatoes- or pumpkin-stuffed Kong toy can go a long way towards making the holiday happy for your pups. Happy holidays!
Sara Reusche, CBCC-KA CPDT-KSA CVT, is owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training.