I receive the most inquiries and panic emails over the holiday season. You’d never imagine such a joyful time of year to result in such stress and panic, unless your dog struggles with guests or going to others homes.
It’s more common than you’d think. So many households have dogs and many of them were acquired during COVID. People were not having anyone come into their homes at all and that coincided with a lot of puppies that were not socialized to guests coming over. The demand for dogs during COVID resulted in people not being as selective as to where they obtained their dog from. We know genetics play a large role in how our dogs develop into who they are today which means fearful and reactive behaviour is often inherited.
Now, no matter WHY your dog is reactive, if you are stressed about the upcoming holiday season here is some information that I hope helps.
If your dog struggles with guests spending time in the home this is where it’s really important work with a certified professional like myself. We can develop a plan so your dog isn’t so stressed AND you can relax for periods of time.
There are a variety of reasons for dogs being uncomfortable with guests;
Having a space that you’ve conditioned in the home for your dog to relax in behind a baby gate (closed doors tend to stress dogs out a lot) has helped a lot of my clients. What I mean by this is that leading up to any guests coming over you’ve had your dog spend time in the space with you and without you. You've spent time hanging out, engaging in food toys and getting comfortable in the space. We can’t expect to put our dogs in a different part of the home only when guests come over because they will have a really hard time with that. Note: this is not to banish your dog forever when guests come over, it’s a space to give them breaks and to give you breaks if you need. Depending on the dog, we would have an incremental plan that would also include training exercises when your dog isn’t in their Zen Space. Often the goal is to have your dog can spend the majority of visits out in the general living space when guests are over.
As mentioned, this is something you need to work on in the weeks leading up to guests coming over. You can’t rush this. If you know it’s too difficult for your dog to handle guests over, arrange for your dog to be elsewhere to prevent incidents from happening. Safety first.
Preparation is key. It’s exciting for our dogs to go places, which culminates as stress in the body. Being prepared means “what if it goes wrong?”. That means if you’re staying at someones home you can bring your dogs crate or bed, bring a baby gate to give your dog breaks from the rest of the household and get the sleep they likely need too. The key message here is that your dog needs breaks. That can also mean going out on a long walk, just you and your dog to decompress.
If there are other animals in the home, be aware that resource guarding is very common. Water and food bowls, beds and toys, bones and treats. Your dog may not have resource guarding tendencies but do the other dogs in the home? If no one knows, it’s best to keep all these things up and away and feed the dogs separately (you’ll be glad you brought that baby gate and/or crate!)
When food is being prepared and snacks are on the coffee table just be aware, this is prime time for over-excitement and possible issues to arise. You may want to time your dogs dinner in a slow feeder during these times to enjoy in your room to prevent any conflicts. Better to be overly cautious than to have regrets.
It’s VERY difficult to have to listen to unsolicited advice and face judgment when it comes to family and friends. It seems everyone has an opinion about how our dogs should and shouldn’t behave. I often advise going the route of not engaging in conversations if someone tries to give advice. Nodding and saying “thank you” and changing the topic or needing to leave the room to tend to something, this is much better than getting into heated debates about your approach to training and how you live with your dog. It’s akin to politics. Just don’t go there!
Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy holiday season!
© copyright 2024 by Bravo Dog Training Inc.
Dog behaviourist, North Vancouver and Vancouver dog trainer and behaviour consultant