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How to Keep Your Dog Safe & Calm Over the Holiday Season

holidaysEach year around the holiday season we see many of our dogs involved in injuries or causing injuries.  Many of the accidents are avoidable with some simple steps; but first, we must be aware of the dangers our dogs are possibly facing right in our homes.

This year, I thought it would be a good idea to list the emergencies dogs have during the holiday season. In order to help our dogs we must first be aware of potential dangers.  Here are some stories that really happened.  You can avoid this with some simple preparations.

What first started as barking escalated into biting guests, jumping on and scratching their guest who was elderly and knocked them down. Another dog stole food from the counter (aka counter surfing) then ran away with the turkey leg in his mouth. The cooked turkey bone got stuck in dog’s throat, sending him to the vet for surgery.

This dog ate tinsel from a Christmas Tree then needed surgery to remove the tinsel from the dog’s intestines. Other dogs ate poisonous holiday plants of mistletoe & poinsettia. Also drinking the water from the Christmas tree well, some people put soda in the tree water well, the dog was attracted to this and l drank it. Many times the tree itself is sprayed with pesticides and it gets into the tree and works its way down into the tree well.

This list is to help you understand all the dangers your dog can get into over the holiday. I sincerely think it’s because of all the smells and excitement around our homes during this time of year. Due to all the distractions, we aren’t paying attention to our dogs like we normally do. Of course some of us have dogs that do this all year round. This is why I stay so busy!

Knowing what the dangers are is very good but knowing how to avoid them and what to do if they happen is even better.  Always have your dogs tags on, always know the location of the 24 hour vet’s office nearest your home.

Knowing that holiday plants can harm my dogs, I do not bring them into my home. But almost every year we receive one or two from a friend or family member as a gift. I do like them so we make sure its put in a high point that the dogs cannot reach and where the leaves will not shed on the floor. It’s that simple. it’s a good idea to research the plants in your area.

During the holidays we have lots of guests visit our homes. We have lots of new smells, new sights and sounds and even new people in our home. Normally our dogs feel safe in their home/den but on this day, maybe they do not feel as safe as they normally do.  It’s like a new world for our dogs and it’s our job to keep them safe. If we do not show our dogs that we are in charge and that we are keeping them safe, they may take matters into their own hands. Meaning they may try to find a safe place and hide under the table or bed, they may bark or growl or even jump up  at the new people.

What should you do?

First,  long before your company arrives (weeks) you should teach your dogs where their safe place is. Maybe its a crate, maybe the laundry room or bedroom but the idea is the dog needs to see this as their safe place and have access to it at all times. As their pack leader this is something you need to do for them. If your dogs are showing signs of stress bring them to their “place” and let them settle down. You may even consider a chew bone to keep them busy. Only use this if your dogs have no food aggression. When they settle down, you can bring them back out but if they are content, it’s okay to let them be.

happy holidays dog ownersIf your doorbell triggers your dogs to start barking, its time to start desensitizing them to your door bell, using treats for this one is a good idea. Start teaching your dog the door bell is nothing to get excited about. Always stay calm and start this process outside on your front patio. Put your dog on leash and ring your bell. The dog will bark, you stand still and wait. When the dog stops barking (it may take some time) praise and drop a few treats on the floor. Then repeat this process. After a few times your dog is going to be looking for the treat when the bell rings not barking. Be careful with your timing, you want to reward the wanted behavior and either ignore or correct the unwanted behavior. In no time at all you will be doing this inside your home. You don’t want to move inside the home until they are responding properly outside. When you do move inside, do it the exact same way.

Once your dog(s)settles down inside, you can start teaching them to sit or wait 20 feet away from the front door. But one step at a time. Remember in most cases its the doorbell that’s getting your dog excited from the beginning so if you can desensitizes them to this doorbell and then teach them the Sit and stay command, your front door will be a breeze! It will take effort on your part but it’s easier than you may think.

Keeping them away from the front door stops some of the jumping as well. If you just can’t get them to listen no matter what you do… put the leash on your dog and stay away from your guests until the dog completely calms down. Then slowly approach your guests. If your dogs starts up again, get that distance again until your dog calms down.

In some cases meeting outside can help you gain control. Meeting outside and coming in together helps some dogs trust more.

As a last resort its okay to bring your dog to Doggie Day Care. This is a great way to socialize your dog with other dogs and it can take a lot of stress off your plate. Keeping in mind this is a quick fix and its not solving your long term issue.

Counter Surfing Dogs: This one can really spoil your dinner, that’s for sure. Like all the tips I’m giving, if you’re waiting till the day of your party, it’s not enough time. You will need about two weeks for most of the tips I’m giving.

The common sense approach for this issues (counter-surfing) is the use of baby gates at your kitchen. The long term fix is to recreate the problem and teach your dog that you do not like this behavior. How do you communicate that you don’t like this behavior you might ask…

There are many ways but the easiest way is to first place a small hot dog on your counter top. Be ready… make sure your dog saw you put it on the counter, then act like you’re not watching your dog. Then as soon as your dog even looks at the hot dog you are gong to Clap your hands loudly and use a growl sound. As soon as your dog looks away or walks away, you will give your dog light praise. Good boy/girl! But do not over do the praise as this may get them too excited. Then you are going to repeat this over and over. Maybe 3 or 4 time on day one. Then do it for 3 days in a row, then skip a day. Repeat process for about two weeks. Another option is boundary control This is when we teach a dog that a certain room is off limits. This works well in some homes however in other homes it’s not possible due to the layout.

The most important tip to give you is to not wait till the day your guests are coming to deal with your dogs issues. Like humans, dogs are creatures of habit, breaking the patterns is key. Your dog needs socializing and leadership in order to behave around people. We can’t do that in one day and all the equipment in the world will only band-aid your problems.  The reason I focus on Relationship Based Dog Training is because when we have issues within our pack/family its like any other relationship, we have to work through it. Quick fixes normally do not last long. Slow down with your dogs and remember if you’re feeling frustrated, your dog is feeling it too.

Keep your training sessions short and successful. Build one win on to the next win and just keep stacking your wins. So when your dog listens during training, praise him and take a break and start again… We all tend to push our dogs and when they don’t get it right we get frustrated and try again…

This may be the wrong approach, if your dog fails, make it a little easier and then try again. If he gets it right build on it slowly.

As always, contact me anytime at The Dog Training Mobile 520-440-8848 or email me at gerard@dogtrainingmobile.com

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