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Be Festive, Not Freaked Out

It’s December. The days are short, and because it’s also the holiday season, for many of us, so is our time. From the dog’s point of view, this often means less exercise, more time spent alone than usual, and tolerating houseguests and parties — all things that shake up the routine and may make December a rough month for our four-legged buddies. Here are my top tips for keeping Fido feeling festive rather than freaked out during this hectic time of year:

When it comes times to parties and dogs, less is best. If you are hosting houseguests or having holiday shindigs, please consider setting up a quite, comfortable spot for your dog in a room away from all the action. Even a social pet can become over-stimulated or end up over their threshold of tolerance and become grumpy when there are too many people in their space. With kids eating extra sugar and adults imbibing alcoholic beverages, perhaps everyone won’t be in the best mindset for decision-making when it comes to interacting with dogs. While you’re busily distracted, your guests may accidentally leave a door, cupboard, or gate ajar. Puppy paws and tails get stepped on in crowds. Also, at parties, inappropriate snacks and beverages are often left in places where pets can reach them, and this can lead to gastrointestinal distress, loose stool, pancreatitis, or in some cases, even poisoning. So in most cases, it is best if your dog sits the parties out, or only makes a brief, leashed appearance to say hello and have a few doggy snacks when you are ready to pay full attention and supervise for 20 minutes or so. If the party goes on for hours and hours? Break out your canine celebrity a few times to work the crowd. Just make sure there is plenty of doggy downtime with a tantalizing chew project in a quiet spot between appearances. 

Which brings me to my next tip: Don’t be cheap with the chews. Your pup will likely be spending less time outdoors going for walks hanging out with you and also, perhaps, will need to spend even more time than usual home alone. For most of us, the holidays are a busy time of year, and whether we’re social butterflies or reluctant revelers, we are out and about, often shopping or at social obligations where dogs are not welcome. A good way to help your dog pass the extra solo time is by stuffing hollow rubber toys with their meals, rather than feeding from a bowl. There are also puzzle toys that hold kibble, balls that roll out the goods a little bit at a time, and tons of healthy edible chews on the market for dogs. These food-extracting toys will prolong mealtime in a way that is very satisfying
to a dog’s nature. They get to use their noses, their jaws, and their brains at mealtime, prolonging and savoring each morsel, rather than just scarfing down their meal in 40-seconds flat. Mental stimulation is just as good as physical exercise as an outlet for your dog. 

Speaking of exercise, cold days and early dark evenings don’t inspire most people to take their dog out as much as summer weather does. We humans like to hibernate a bit. It’s OK. Your pup doesn’t need to be in Iditarod shape all year round. If you can’t get out for your normal hour-long evening hikes, why not try to get in two 20- to 30-minute neighborhood walks instead? If you don’t usually walk in your ’hood, your dog will really appreciate the change of scenery. And if you are a regular neighborhood walker, try a new route to freshen up your routine. There will be new sights, smells, sounds, and different passersby. Change is a form of mental stimulation, too. When it comes to exercise, the important thing is not to give up entirely just because you can’t do a big run. Ditch the all-or-nothing mentality and get out with your furry friend whenever you can, even if it’s just a 10-minute stroll on a busy day. The bonus of changing up the routine is when you finally do have time to romp for hours, your dog will tire out and satiate more quickly, and you’ll get more bang for your buck. 

Another fun way to spice up your winter routine is to take a few minutes a day to train indoors. I personally like teaching tricks in the living room while I catch up on the latest true crime podcasts, but you could also do scent work, canine conditioning, or just work on a really rock solid stay with distractions. 

Last but not least, my favorite thing to do with my dogs in December is to simply take a break from all of the excitement and extra energy and pressures of the season to just chill out with my canine crew. Doggy-downtime is the best way to recharge and enjoy the season. Happy holidays, warm woofs and wags from me, Lazaretto, Mars, and Missy. 

Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training,, the family business.

Main article photo by: Dorottya Mathe / iStock