Q: How do I keep my pets safe and stress-free during the holidays?

This question appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Citizen Pet and was answered by Liz Nishimura, master dog trainer and behavioural therapist with FURRY LOGIC Home Dog Training in Calgary and Alana Robb-Douglas, certified trainer educator and behaviourist with Pawsitive Dawgs Training in Calgary.

By Liz Nishimura
A: There are two important approaches to having a great time with your dog during the holidays. The first is to have good training in place and the second is to manage the environment.

Educate your dog about how he should behave when the doorbell rings. We don’t bark and bark and run around and jump on people when they arrive. Understand that when your dog displays this behaviour, it is not joy, it is stress. Oh come on, you say. Look his tail is wagging madly. He must be happy! Not so. What your dog is saying is that his job is “keeper of the entryway” and it’s his family home and he determines who may enter.

While many people say that their dog eventually settles down, this can become a nightmare on Halloween. October 31st is not the day to start front door training. Practice days ahead of time under controlled circumstances, to teach Rover that he is relieved of door duty. Failing that, put Rover in his safe place for the evening: his crate or wherever he sleeps at night.

And that leads to the second approach: manage the environment. Do not drop your guard when it comes to holiday food. Have the kids put their Halloween candies where Buster can’t reach them. Remember raisins (grapes) and chocolate are poisonous for dogs. Also, a good host does not allow his dog to bother people at the dinner table. Teach him to lie down away from the table or simply send him to his safe place.

If it’s your puppy’s first Christmas, don’t be averse to putting a barrier around the Christmas tree. It may not be pretty, but more Christmas trees have been knocked down, gifts torn open, cherished Christmas ornaments destroyed, electrical wires chewed because people had no idea how curious or quick, their little puppy could be.

Also, make frequent use of your dog’s leash indoors as a management tool. If you haven’t taught him how to behave in new situations yet, your leash will give you much better control than picking him up, chasing after him, grabbing him with your hands or, the most futile tactic of all, yelling at him after the fact.

Start training your dog now to enjoy a stress-free holiday season. If you need help, contact a reputable dog trainer who can teach you and your dog so that you can be more confident about his behaviour. Then both you and he can have a safe and happy holiday season.

By Alana Robb-Douglas
A: Halloween, the first main holiday of fall, is a fun and exciting night. Keep in mind, however, that it is a foreign concept to our dogs. Here are a few tips to keep Halloween safe for your four-legged buddies.

  • People wearing Halloween costumes and masks can be quite frightening to dogs, so leave your pet at home while trick or treating.
  • When people are trick or treating at your house, keep your dog in a quiet room away from the door. Play some music like opera to help them relax and drown out the noise of people coming and going from the house.
  • It is important to keep all candy in a secure spot so your dog can’t get into it. Both chocolate and Xylitol (which is an artificial sweetener) are toxic to dogs and can be fatal when ingested.
  • While I don’t advocate dressing up your pet for Halloween, for those who do, please make sure safety comes first: make sure the costume does not restrict their movement and there are no parts that your dog can chew or ingest.

Other hectic holidays include Thanksgiving and Christmas. Keep in mind — it is your house and your rules, and you have to speak up for your dog. Let everyone know that they are not allowed to feed human food to your dog, as your pet can get sick from it. This practice also encourages your dog to beg for scraps, and they may go as far as stealing a snack from an unsuspecting child, which is not cool!

At Christmas, keep all presents with food off the floor until the gift opening can be supervised.

Holidays often bring a change in routine, with extra activities and people around the house. Just like you, your dog will need to take a breather away from it all. Have a designated spot for the dog’s bed or crate that is off limits to guests in the house. That way your pets have a safe spot to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed with all of the commotion.

Most importantly, ensure you take the time to make sure your dog gets exercise and mental stimulation over the holidays. Both you and your dog will appreciate the time spent together, and it is a great chance to bond and enjoy each other’s company. After all isn’t that what the holidays are truly about?