By Tracie Korol
The holiday season came bustling in this week with all the bells, bows, rich foods and company. As we settle into the hustle, let’s remember our Best Friends appreciate a happy, safe holiday, too. When planning a festive occasion, consider the following:
Train, don’t complain: Our dogs don’t come pre-programmed, they rely on us to teach them acceptable behavior. Jumping up, stealing food, counter cruising, idiot barking and digging are all perfectly normal behaviors — to our dogs. Unfortunately, they are also behaviors that irritate owners. When holiday house guests arrive, when there’s an excited energy in the air and when the household is completely off schedule, it becomes the perfect time for our dogs to engage in unwanted activities. Help remind your dog to remember what is expected of him by practicing and rewarding desired behaviors on a daily basis. Even your old, well-trained been-around-forever dog will welcome the attention of a brush-up of basic skills.
Decorations or disasters? It was our first Christmas in Vermont. My son and I cut our own tree. It was a big spruce, almost touching the ceiling. The tree was so big we used every ornament we owned. And then we went to bed. The next morning, my son called up the stairs in that tone all parents recognize, “Mommmm?!” During the night, Tucker, our 7-month-old Labrador meticulously removed and smashed almost every glass ball from his standing head height down. To illustrate, as if on cue, he reached up, grabbed the last ornament and smashed it in his mouth, wagging furiously. He was so proud, he got down all the BALLS. A quick check of his mouth for cuts, a quick call to the vet: “Bread?” — “Yep, bread. Watch his stools.” Just the words you want to hear on Christmas Day. From then on we had small, tabletop trees. A cautionary tale to be mindful of holiday decorations — strings of lights, breakable ornaments, poisonous plants and glowing candles can fascinate curious pups.
The gift of management: In a perfect world our dogs would behave just like those robot-dogs in the Hallmark specials. However, in the real world we need to affect our management skills to out-think or pre-think our beloved pets. If Barney is a skilled, if occasional, counter-cruiser, consider baby-gating him out of the kitchen during peak preparation/service times. Use your dog tools — baby gates, tethers and x-pens are extremely useful in times of high-level distraction. Whenever possible, give your dog something to do rather than let him get creative and find something to do. Pre-gift your dog a stuffed Kong or a Buster Cube. Working a food puzzle or a chew is the dog equivalent of “sit and color.”
Leave the leftovers: While it’s nice to think we’re going to maintain a good diet through the holidays, the solution is not peeling off the turkey skin and handing it to the nearest dog. Rich, fatty foods will cause stomach problems ranging from simple upsets all over the carpet to pancreatitis, a serious condition often requiring hospitalization. At your holiday table, provide tiny bowls of kibble or baby carrots for guests, who might feel guilty in their own personal gluttony, to slip to the dog lurking under the table.
Respect each other: Avoid forcing your dog on non-dog people and do not let your guests force themselves on your dog. Some folks become very uneasy upon getting “haired up,” as I like to call it and conversely, some dogs do not care to serve as pony for the rodeo-grandchild. Set clear ground rules for how your dog is to be treated and if necessary, be prepared to remove your Best Friend if guests are unable or unwilling to follow them. Watch your dog for signs that he’s uncomfortable — yawning, lip licking, turning away or actively trying to get to anywhere else. If you know you dog has a fear or aggression issue, do everyone a favor and park him, with his Kong, in his crate, away from the action.