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Navigating Canine Holiday Cheer: Your Guide to Creating a Stress-Free Holiday with Your Dog

The holidays are upon us, bringing with them the warmth of festive gatherings, laughter, and the joy of connecting with loved ones. As we prepare our homes for a season of celebration, it's essential to consider the needs of our dogs during this exciting time.

This guide will explore practical strategies to introduce your dog to holiday guests seamlessly, from curbing the exuberance of jumping to creating safe spaces for your dog's retreat. We'll delve into effective training techniques that foster good behavior and create a stress-free environment for everyone involved.

Understanding Your Dog's Behavior

Before introducing your dog to holiday guests, it's crucial to understand the unique behaviors and reactions that may arise. As inherently social animals, dogs get excited when new people come over. However, these expressions of excitement can sometimes overwhelm them and us. Dogs have difficulty differentiating between happy excitement and scared, anxious feelings. Because of this, we can get conflicting behaviors, such as asking for pets then nipping or running away, or barking at someone they've met many times.

Working to understand your dog's behavior will set everyone up for success. Every dog's personality, past experiences, and comfort levels will dictate how they handle this excitement. As their owner, it is up to you to know how to read your dog's body language so you can easily navigate them through the situation.

For a quick refresher on understanding dog body language, check out this video and BAMK9’s Quick Reference guide.

The Guests are Here!

Family you haven't seen in a while, friends bringing delicious plates of food, and people stumbling through the door with a huge box of gifts! Everyone's emotions are high, and sometimes your dog has difficulty reading the situation, which can result in over-aroused behavior. We suggest starting your training now to address common behaviors like jumping, barking, and door-dashing so that you can set your dog up for success in the coming weeks.

Jump for Joy (minus the jumping)

The "Four on the Floor" Rule: Introduce the concept of the "four on the floor" rule, encouraging your dog to keep all four paws on the ground when greeting guests. We recommend keeping a leash on your dog while working on this skill so if they jump, you quickly correct the situation instead of starting an unintentional game with your dog. When all four feet return to the floor, mark and reward this behavior.

Barking Pups

If your dog shows excitement through barking, here are a few tips:

  • Try keeping your dog in a separate room (specifically in their crate) when your guests first arrive.

  • Once the excitement has died down a bit, slowly introduce your dog to the guests.

  • After introducing your dog, have them trail a leash (attach a light leash to their collar or harness to drag around) so you can quickly control a situation of excitement.

Door "Dashers"

Do you have a dog that tries to bolt out the door whenever it opens? Before the big event, start working on their threshold manners.

  • Each time you approach a door, and your dog follows, pause and wait for them to sit or walk away—Mark and reward for either.

  • If your dog is insistent on going out the door, throw a leash on them and ask them to sit as you approach the door. If they sit, mark, reward, and move closer to the door. If they get up, start again.

The goal is to have your dog stay in a sit while you open the door and allow visitors to come in.

Dinner Time! Did someone say ham?!

Few people enjoy a dog jumping up to the table and taking their food off the plate. A simple command can help, "Place." Integrating the "Place" command into your dog's training regimen can be a game-changer for holiday meals. This command enhances your dog's manners during mealtime gatherings and provides a calm and enjoyable experience for your dog and guests.

The "place" command means: "Go to a designated spot and stay there until I tell you to leave." It's a wonderful cue for teaching impulse control amidst the temptation of a delicious holiday meal. "Place" is a simple command to teach- the key is consistency. We recommend having a trainer walk you through the ins and outs to get the most benefit from the command. However, here are some basic steps to start you on your path teaching "Place":

  • Lure your dog onto their "Place" with a treat, and as their last foot lands on the "place," mark and then reward.

  • When your dog starts to understand that being in “Place” means treats, you can start adding in the verbal cue "Place" right before you lure them to the area.

  • Now, you're ready to stop luring them and begin to use your verbal cues only.

  • As your dog gets better at this command, you can add some distance between you and the area and increase the time your dog remains in "Place."

  • Practice and consistency will have your dog running to ”Place" from the next room and staying for your entire holiday meal!

Now that your dog knows the "Place" command, they’re ready to be part of the holiday festivities without becoming a distraction during mealtime. Make sure you educate your guests about the "Place" command and how it enhances your dog's behavior during meals. This shared understanding fosters a cooperative environment, ultimately setting everyone up for success.

Overall, remember to educate your guests about your dog. Only some people know that Fluffy will take the food off your plate or that Rover loves to be around people but prefers his personal space. As your dog's owner, it’s up to you to communicate their needs to those around you.

Holiday Wrap-up

As we embark on the holiday season, let's embrace harmony with our canine companions. Navigating the festivities together requires a blend of understanding, preparation, and a commitment to creating an environment where you and your dog can revel in the season's joy.

We hope this BAMK9 Guide to navigating the holiday season with your dog has helped you prepare for the festivities. Remember that fostering harmony is a dynamic and evolving process. By embracing the uniqueness of your canine companion and incorporating thoughtful practices into your celebrations, you'll create a holiday season filled with joy, connection, and shared happiness. We wish you and your dog a harmonious and festive holiday season!

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