Every year, during the holiday season, thousands of Bay Area shelter and rescue animals get adopted. Bringing home a new pet during a winter break has advantages: time to get acclimated, beginning potty training, and starting to teach important household manners. Bear in mind that even though your adopted dog has hit the holiday jackpot, getting used to a new home is stressful for humans and dogs alike. Most often, it will take a couple of weeks for your furry friend to settle into new digs. During the transition, make sure to take the time to step into his paws, and consider the experience from his point of view. Here are a few tips to keep you and your new friend cheery through the holidays.
Establish New Year’s Routines Before 2016
The most important thing for a dog’s first couple of days in the home is establishing a routine. Your dog wants and needs to build important habits for feeding time, play time, potty breaks, and alone time. Yet during the holidays, humans’ routines can be all over the board with shopping, parties and visitors. Help your dog adjust by focusing on consistency. Structuring routines to match what they will be once the family goes back to work and school after the New Year will help to assure a smooth transition. If your dog will get fed at seven in the morning on weekdays during the rest of the year, try not to sleep in (too much). Serving breakfast at 9 or 10 am for the holidays will be confusing for your new family member when you go back to normal. Even though you’re home more than you are during the work week, schedule regular doggie alone time so that when the house clears out, he doesn’t suddenly say, “Hey! Where did all my people go?”
Just Because You’re Having a Party Doesn’t Mean Your New Dog Wants to Attend
As much as I’m going to encourage you to not have a bunch of guests over or to take your brand new dog to the relatives’ house, realistically these things can be hard to avoid during the holidays. If you must, set it up in such a way that your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed. Don’t force meetings with extended family (humans or canines). They can wait until the next visit. If you really think your dog is ready to meet everyone, keep it to one or two people at a time. Find a calm space away from the party, like your bedroom or a spare bedroom. Bring along a familiar crate, bed, or blanket, and a super-yummy bone or favorite chew toy to pass the time. Load your iPod with calming “Through a Dog’s Ear” music, and make this space a sanctuary. Check periodically to make sure things are going OK, and as you leave, give your dog a treat so your departure isn’t a bad thing.
Pay Close Attention to Holiday Hazards
While you and your dog are doing the “get-to-know-you thing,” you may discover a chewer, a food-hound, or an otherwise mischievous mutt. Before you really know what tickles your dog’s fancy—naughty or nice—baby gates and crates can help when you can’t immediately supervise what he’s up to. Some dogs may see ornaments or pine needles as fun things to chew; boy dogs may see the Christmas tree as the best thing to mark; and other pups may make it their mission to topple over the big dish of Hershey’s kisses (the dark chocolate ones are many people’s favorite but some of the worst for dogs). Just say no to mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias; even though they’re great for decking the halls, they’re a quick and easy way to send your dog to the emergency clinic (and if you’re both a cat and dog person, keep the lilies out of the house as well). When New Year’s rolls around, consider celebrating the stroke of midnight with your new dog’s sloppy kisses, especially if you’re anywhere near where fireworks or gunshots go off. Such noises can be traumatic for any dog, but especially one who is just settling in to a new home.
This holiday season may be the perfect time to adopt your new shelter or rescue dog. Or you might decide it’s better to wait until the New Year. Remember, any time you adopt a shelter dog, you’re also saving a life. Whenever you do bring your new companion home, make sure to think of things from your dog’s point of view so that you are laying the foundation for a wonderful life with you, year after year.
Alison “Ali” Talley, M.S. is the new director of behavior and training at the East Bay SPCA. Talley received her master’s degree from the UC Davis Department of Animal Science and has worked in and with shelter animals for 20+years. Talley looks forward to a merry holiday season with her two- and four-legged family as well as all the dogs and cats waiting for forever homes at the East Bay SPCA. Find them online at www.eastbayspca.org.