by Heather Mishefske
Holidays. The word should mean family, rest, relaxation, festivities, and celebration. To the family dog, it has a different meaning. It means house invasion by strangers, loud noises, enticing smells, furniture rearrangement, and disruption of schedules. While we the humans look forward to this chaotic time, our family pet does not always share the feeling. Anxiety, destruction of objects, regression in housetraining, separation issues, and other signs of stress can appear in our pets during this “happy” time of year.
As owners, there are many things that we can do to help Fido get through the holidays. Here are some morsels of advice:
1. Keep to a schedule. Dogs thrive on routine. Try to keep as many daily walks, feeding times, and potty times as close to normal as possible. Stress sometimes brings about bowel changes, so keeping normal outdoor rest times is very helpful.
2. Keep rich treats to a minimum. Just as we have upset tummies from too much rich food at the holidays, make sure that your pup is not overwhelmed by rich treats or overindulgence in leftover turkey over these festive days. Use things like Kongs stuffed with their own dog food (mixed with water and frozen) to create mind occupying games. Check out some of the interactive toys like Buster Cubes, Squirrel Dude, Kongs, and Everlasting Treat Balls to give your dog a fun way to use his mind AND his mouth!
3. Daily exercise is a must. Daily walks, hikes, trips to the dog park, days in dog daycare, or walks from the dogsitter are crucial to both their mental and physical health. Research has also shown that it will benefit BOTH animal AND human to be out on a walk together.
4. Use adjunct therapies to help create a calm atmosphere. Rescue Remedy is a great remedy for you and the dog. This blend of 5 Bach flower essences helps to calm a wired body and mind in both you and the dog! Another personal favorite that we have had success with is Super Calming Blend (www.gooddoghealth.com/supercalm.html), which is a blend of essential oils that helps induce a calm state of mind, and smells amazing!
5. Use touch as a way to calm down a dog that is worried about the chaos of holiday chatter. Long soft ear strokes down the ears, circles across the dog’s chest, and small circles between the dog’s eyes and forehead are all strokes that have acupressure points that help to quiet the mind. Use these while sitting next to your dog on the floor. While applying these strokes, it is important for YOU to be breathing naturally and deeply, as this helps the dog to relax.
6. Use classical conditioning to help the dog accept friendly strangers into the house. When someone unknown to your dog enters the house, have them avert their eyes, ignore the dog and toss something scrumptious near the dog. This pairs a negative (the stranger) with something that is good (food). Over time, the dog will look forward to “treat bearing strangers” entering the house.
Many dogs do just fine and dandy during the holiday chaos, but these tips may help decrease some of the stress that surrounds the next three months. As always, contact your regular veterinarian if your dog presents with any sign of stress that causes concern. Happy HOWLidays!
Heather Mishefske owns Embark in Eau Claire and is a CPDT (Certified Pet Dog Trainer) and CCMP (Certified Canine Massage Provider) More information at www.embarkdog.com/doggy-day-care