Winter Holidays – The Best Gift for our Dogs

The Best Gifts for our Dogs

As wonderful as this season can be for the humans, it can be a tough and stressful time for our dogs. Routines are disrupted. Decorations, gifts, indoor trees, and temptation are everywhere. Strangers come and go with noise and excitement; loud music and tempting smells fill the house. Food is everywhere: In gift bags, on the counter, in children’s hands, on an elderly relative’s lap.  With the best of intentions, we over stimulate our pups with too many new toys all at once, and then wonder why they guard these prizes or snark at visitors, another dog or even us.  We laugh at their excitement, overlooking the signs of stress, and may even mislabel/misinterpret the unhappy behaviors that result.  Confusing our dog’s reactions with `aggression’ or `dominance’ when they’re really just showing over-excitement, fear, or confusion.

Here are some of those “But he’s never done this before!” moments:
+ A typically easy going dog growls at, barks, or charges a noisy in-law who has a loud voice or moves chairs about with quick and unpredictable moves. (Fear)
+ A red velvet and lace couldn’t-possibly-be-cuter-toddler is nipped or bitten when the dog steals food from her hands. (Lack of impulse control)
+ An older child plops down next to a pup on the couch and is growled at or bitten. (Space guarding if awake, Sleep aggression/fear if dozing)
+ Urine or poop mysteriously appears in the living room . (Anxiety or a missed walk)
+ A visitor in a Santa costume or just a noisy nylon ski jacket and pom-pom cap is greeted not with a wag and a sit but with a full charge, snarls and teeth. (Fear)
+ Two dogs who live peacefully as best buddies end up at the vet after a fight over a new and way too special toy. (Resource guarding of high value item and over stimulation)

What happened? Busy and distracted, it’s easy to overlook the signs of anxiety and stress and forget to give our pups what they really want and need during this hectic time: Structure, exercise, predictability, routine, management, and that safe place that they have during the `non-holiday’ season.

Signs of stress and fear or anxiety:
+ Yawning inappropriately (this is a calming behavior) or mouth licking when there’s no food involved
+ Leaving the room entirely (flight response)
+ `Wall eye’ (usually the head is turned away and an unusual amount of the white is visible)
+ Stiff or rigid posture
+ Closed tight mouth and staring
+ Vocalization – barking, whining, — (not to be confused with a ROO – which is typically a happy excited sound)
+ Tucked tail and/or shaking or even cowering
+ Growling – a warning which should be respected – never trained out or discouraged.

The Gifts our dogs deserve before we see these signs
+ As much routine structure and exercise as we can provide during this chaotic time of year.
+ Limited time with guests for managed and supervised interactions and then a safe place with a kong or new toy that’s away from the hubbub of unfamiliar activities and unpredictable people. Crates or gates can allow the dog to watch but still be safe.
+ One new toy at a time. And if there are two or more dogs, be prepared to take the toys away for later if there’s just too much excitement and competition over that honking orange monkey.
+ Supervision and management always.
+ Trade Up – if pup takes possession of someone else’s gift, remember to TRADE up for it with some of those yummy treats he got from Santa. Don’t ever try to remove a valued object from his mouth.

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season!