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Wintertide Follies? Help Your Dog Enjoy the Howlidays

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Doggone it—some pups would bark “bah humbug” if they could. They just don’t appreciate the Christmas spirit.

Everything in their lives is upside down. The family is busily trying to attend to preparations for fall and winter holidays, starting with Thanksgiving right on through to the New Year. Well-wishing friends and neighbors drop in bearing gifts and food. At work, deadlines loom. You feel the pressure and so does your dog. Some caretakers believe their dog is “acting out,” when, in fact, the dog is merely anxious.

How Dogs See Holidays

Some dogs go with the flow. But some don’t. The change in routine throws them. They pick up on your stress, but they have no idea why you’re so frazzled.

Other dogs just don’t appreciate all the company. If they bark at visitors, it’s not because they’re acting out, it’s because they’re anxious if not downright fearful.

Rest Ye Merry, Gentledogs

Well before the holidays become a holidaze, make preparations for your dog to have a low-key place to retire when feeling stressed by all the goings-on. This can be an unoccupied bedroom, den, or basement. Set it up with food and water dishes and plug in an Adaptil diffuser to emit a welcoming chemical greeting. Adaptil is a copy of a naturally occurring pheromone, produced by lactating mother dogs, that helps to moderate anxiety.

If you set the room up early enough, your dog can learn to go there on his own and then he’ll be used to it once the holiday hustle and bustle begins. If packages are being delivered at a nonstop pace or you are expecting company to arrive and the constant doorbell dinging is disturbing your dog, relocate your buddy into the sanctuary room, make sure he has a Kong toy stuffed with goodies or a food puzzle to occupy his brain (avoid if multiple pets will be in the same room and competition over the resource may occur), turn on some music–classical, reggae, or music composed especially for dogs are all good choices–and close the door.

Don’t think of it as punishment. Your dog is worried or afraid. You are helping him to relax and giving him something fun to focus on.

Holiday Play

For dogs who don’t mind the throng of friends and relatives, but are thrown by you being gone more often, and feeling stressed, the answer might lie in a squeaky toy or tennis ball. While you may not have time for that long walk, you still may be watching your favorite reality show. At commercials take out the squeaky toy or, better, skip the show and toss the ball in the backyard.

Think of indoor activities to keep the pup occupied while you’re wrapping gifts. Dogs love games of hide ‘n seek. If you or the kids are too busy to play along, hide treats or a toy with treats stuffed inside.

Another advantage of playing with the dog is that it’s likely equally as effective a stress buster for you as it is for the dog.

Advanced Relief                                                

If your dog isn’t distracted by games and treats, and background music and pheromones don’t do the trick, either, there’s nothing wrong with going a step further and asking your veterinarian about nutraceuticals that may help to reduce anxiety.

Zentrol is a proprietary blend of plant extracts. Studies have demonstrated that this chewable can lower fear, anxiety, and stress as well as related “negative behaviors.”

Zylkene contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient that has calming properties.

Finally, for long-term relief, seek professional help for your pet’s anxiety about visitors from a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, a certified applied animal behaviorist, or a qualified Fear Free Animal Trainer.

Asking for a stress-free holiday is likely going too far, but here’s hoping you can keep that stress at manageable levels, and that you and your entire family (including four-legged and feathered family members) stay safe. Happy HOWLiday!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He’s a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He’s appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world.

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