‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!’
-said no person or pet who has ever suffered from any sort of anxiety. With only one down and two holidays remaining, it’s going to be a little while before things settle down.
As our routines change, holidays can be a particularly challenging time for both two and four legged participants. We are on display and surrounded by people we may not know that well, or even like. Add in stress of travel, festivity planning or funds, plus a lack of sunlight or deficiency of key vitamins and minerals and holidays can become a perfect storm of disaster. Of course, whatever stresses you out will also impact your pets.
Luckily, the advantage of foresight is on your side. In preparation for the predictable chaos that accompanies the holidays here’s a few handy suggestions that could save you from a heaping side of stress!
Boost Your (and Your Pet’s) Immunity
For your canine companion be aware of the potential for harm from ingestion of poinsettia plants, batteries, cooked bones, chocolate, grapes/raisins, and antifreeze. Conversely, pro-biotic supplements, fermented foods, and meat broths are great foods to sustain healthy guts and brains.
One the best things you can do to help the holidays proceed with out hitch is to ensure that the humans stay healthy. Eating raw vegetables and fruit and getting plenty of sunlight is easy and cost efficient. Bodies with nutrient deficiencies can not fight disease effectively. Known as the ‘second brain‘ your gut is second only to the brain in the number of nerve cells. How one feels on the inside is directly correlated to how one behaves on the outside.
Know Thyself (and Thy Animal)
Are you a social butterfly or a wallflower? What about your pet? The holidays bring about a unique form of stress which can negatively impact our resistance to disease. Having realistic expectations along with intentional measured breathing can help prepare you for some stress as well as manage it in the moment.
Some animals experience less stress during family gatherings if they can hideout in a back room. Others may be the life of the party and be stressed by separation. Young puppies need consistent positive interactions with new people with allowance for frequent naps. Sleep, in general, is very important for both you and your pet. Whatever personalities are involved, honor those needs. Now is not the time to fit a square peg into a round hole!
Not sure if your dog likes Uncle George or not? Check out this handy diagram on Doggy Language by Lilly Chin!
Have a game plan.
Holiday plans often include travel, guests, unfamiliar environments, and other predictable but potentially chaotic variables. You may not know what’s going to happen; you DO know it’s going to be crazy. What does it take to get you back below threshold? Write out an agenda for the day that includes your dog’s daily needs. This will help remind you when to give the dog a potty break or enrichment activity.
Divvy up chores ahead of time and make simple requests for help. Who’s responsible for feeding the animals? Who’s job is it to walk them and take them for potty breaks? While things may not always go perfectly according to plan, having an idea of how you want things to be will give you a formula for success.
Designate a place off the beaten path where you and your pets can go for quiet time even if only for a few minutes. If pets from multiple families will be in attendance give consideration to how each pet will be housed and coordinate with other guests. Provide appropriate accommodations for pets who may have sensitivities in regards to other animals. You alone are your pet’s best advocate!
In social situations, your game plan will largely consist of channeling inhabitants in certain directions. Baby gates or exercise pens can keeps people and pets separated when necessary and also keep pets out of potentially sticky situations. Furniture can be arranged to minimize access to certain areas and also to allow for escape routes in the event your animal becomes overwhelmed. Be aware that many conflicts happen around bottlenecks and dead ends so take extra precautions with sensitive dogs.
If your pet has sensitivities, politely make other guests aware in advance, especially when young children are present. When giving directions use positive statements like, ‘Hands up, eyes up,’ ‘Step left/right/back forward,’ ‘turn your back,’ or ‘Pet his back,‘ to let others know specifically what your pet requires in that moment. When you are talking to others remember that ‘Don’t’ statements are generally interpreted as ‘DO’ statements. Phrases like ‘Don’t pet the dog,’ are likely to get you exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead, focus your energy on what you want them TO DO.
Using Feeding Times to Your Advantage
Your pet’s mealtimes are the most valuable and undervalued times in a day. Think of the meal as your dog’s paycheck for good work. Wouldn’t it be nice to get paid to stand by the food trough? Meal times are an opportunity to reinforce to your dog that people are good as well as to help your family become a little more dog savvy.
Reinforcing your dog and your family for doing things you like. If the dog is friendly, social, and safe, and especially if it is a puppy, give the meal to any children present and show them how to get the dog to perform simple tricks like spin, sit, down, and roll over.
If you prefer guests refrain from feeding your dog table scraps be sure to provide ‘treat stations’ with appropriate snacks or food through out the area. Dog’s that display timid but non aggressive behavior can benefit immensely from being hand fed by a variety of ‘strangers.’
Mastering the holidays begins with identifying and mastering your own stress reaction. The goal is never to eliminate stress entirely but to disperse it effectively in small doses versus accumulating it to the point of melt down. Allowing yourself and your pet the opportunity to burn off excess energy and decompress between stress inducing social situations ensures that the holidays will be memorable for only the most positive of circumstances!
Cheers and Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones!