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A Pawsful Holiday Season

Even competitive dog trainers may find that their dogs need some extra training and management around the holidays. Find out how to keep your dog relaxed and happy during the holiday season. Includes a section on great toys for keeping a busy dog... busy! By Jan Casey

Ready or not, we've entered the holiday season. For pet owners, that can be a very trying time. Company has notified us of their impending visits, be it for a few hours or a few days. Obviously our routines will change and our schedules will be out of sync. The family pets thrive on pattern and routine and they will be some of the first to show their discomfort with the changes. Now is the time to plan ahead and work to help your pet handle the changes with finesse. Even competitive dog trainers may find that their dogs need some extra training and management around the holidays.

Consider what may cause your pets to become anxious. Will it be the people arriving at the door? How about mealtimes when the smell of cooking turkeys and hams fill the air and the dog is banished from being near the kitchen and the table? Do you and your dog have a regular routine in which he is exercised and now you find there is no time due to extra chores? Are you tense when having company, sending your dog the message that he should be tense, too? 

There is no magic pill, no special "Perfect Dog in 7 Days" program, but you have a chance to make some improvements before the first guests arrive. Begin by teaching the dog to relax. It's the first thing I teach in puppy classes now and people are always astounded at how calm that class is by week three. Grab some candles, spritz the air with lavender calming spray, and put on some soothing music, either classical or a CD from Through a Dog's Ear (

Begin by reinforcing the dog on a mat, dropping small treats there. Use lower value treats, something that will not overly excite the dog. Ask the dog to lie down and begin some gentle massage or Tellington Touch ( If your dog is very excitable, you may need to begin rewarding for smaller steps such as soft eyes or nostril flares. As you see your dog shift her body position to one in which he is lying down with his hips rolled, you can add the cue "relax." As the dog learns to relax on cue, begin to use it in more distracting environments   on the porch or in the yard, even in the car. Just bring along the mat as the dog will associate that with relaxation (just like they associate leashes with walks).

Work on polite greetings at the door with the help of family and friends. Have the person enter through the door as you drop treats on the ground for the dog. As the dog becomes calmer, ask for a "sit." Build up to having the person knock or ring the doorbell before entering. Reward your dog for excellent behavior!

Got a drooly dog sitting by the table while you eat? Drag that mat back out and teach your dog to go to it on cue. Give her a frozen stuffed Kong® and let her enjoy that while you eat. You may need to tether her in the beginning (your cooking is probably tastier than whatever you used to stuff the toy). There is nothing wrong with rewarding with people food later, just don't reinforce begging by feeding at the table.

It happens every year - with all the special holiday activities, exercising the dogs gets put on the bottom of the to-do list. Keeping them well exercised will pay off with better behavior, so don't ignore their needs. Make sure they receive some type of tiring exercise every day the weather permits or consider hiring a dog walker so you can concentrate on holiday preparations. On the days when the weather keeps you inside, take time to teach the dog a trick. You'll have the extra benefit of being able to entertain your company with Fido's performance.

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