With a little forethought, holiday family gatherings with the pooches can be merry and bright.
By Lucy J. Phillips, Lucy photo courtesy of Hannah J. Phillips
With the holidays approaching, I can’t wait to find all the gifts and treats waiting in my stocking on Christmas Day. I’ve already barked a letter to Santa Paws promising not to eat all his cookies if he’ll keep me on the nice list. That said, I am a little nervous about traveling with my human for the holiday to visit her parents out of state. She has assured me I am going to love their dachshund, Delila, but I get anxious when traveling—especially when I’m forced to make new friends. Do you have any advice so we can keep the holiday cheer flowing?
Henry the holiday Havapoo
This is truly the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t it? My neighborhood is aglow with beautiful lights, and though I am terrified of a few of the fancier holiday displays (I can’t trust those moving inflatable snowmen!), I love seeing and spreading the holiday spirit.
You were wise, of course, to correspond with Santa Paws. I hear he checks his list twice and I’m certain he’ll see your nice moments far outweigh the naughty. Perhaps your planned holiday travel and meeting Delila the dachshund is another opportunity to show off your best behavior. Still, I know how intimidating it can be to get packed up in a crate and hauled off to a new home with new smells and other doggos, especially when you are visiting for a whole week. I think our humans often assume—especially for short visits—dog dynamics will naturally work themselves out, but it’s important to recognize the tremendous stress we can experience in these situations.
Luckily, I happened to recently overhear my human chatting with an expert on this topic. (She thought I was napping and didn’t notice my ear twitching away as they talked.) She called up Crystal Dunn, host of the podcast Far Fetched, which is all about debunking dog myths and misconceptions. Here are a few tips I took away from their conversation.
First of all, this time of year can bring additional stress, even if you don’t travel, according toDunn. The holidays mean more parties and gatherings at home, which add a lot of extra energy in the house for us dogs. Dunn recommends our humans keep tabs on our physical and mental health by giving us the extra quiet time and exercise we need.
“Those things tend to suffer this time of year,” she says, “since it gets darker and colder.”
The good news is more exercise benefits our humans too since they also tend to feel extra stress this time of year. It turns out consistent exercise benefits us all, especially in a season when it’s so tempting to cozy up inside.
As for meeting new friends, Dunn advises having a quick chat with family members to make a game plan that will set both dogs up for success. Knowing whether either dog tends to guard resources like food or attention will ensure no one ends up fighting about those things.
“Nobody likes a surprise roommate,” Dunn says with a laugh, “and that’s essentially what we’re asking our dogs to do for a week.”
To ease into your new environment (or adjust to a new roommate), Dunn suggests these five quick tips:
Take a pack walk: “Strolling through the neighborhood, give each dog distance so they can sniff each other in a neutral environment,”she says. “Walking also tires everyone out, which minimizes that wound-up, toxic energy at the first meeting.”
Do a drive-by sniff: “With both dogs on leash, let them walk past each other. Distracting one dog with food, let the second dog take a quick drive-by sniff. Reward them for walking away with you, then repeat until the dog loses interest and let the other dog try,”Dunn suggests. “This helps remove curiosity entering the home.”
Start with a blank slate: “Before entering, make sure all toys and bones are picked up.Introduce these slowly to make sure everyone is cool with sharing,” she says.
Stay out of the kitchen: “Most altercations between familiar dogs happen in the kitchen, usually when someone is preparing food, whether for dogs or humans,” Dunn notes.“The best safeguard is to keep dogs out of the kitchen, even feeding them in separate rooms behind closed doors.”
Monitor backyard time: “Once you have a plan for sharing inside space, you’re much more likely to have good vibes in the backyard,” she says. “Still, introduce gradually to demystify the other dog.” Ultimately, Dunn says the best effort our humans can make to keep the holiday spirit involves setting boundaries so we know they are managing our environment. I hope her tips help you have the coziest holiday with all the creatures you’re surrounded by this season!
Love and season’s barkings, Lucy
If you have a dog-related question for Lucy, reach out and follow her on Instagram @asklucydog.