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The winter holiday season is upon us — are you and your dog ready? The holidays can be overwhelming for our canine companions, but they don’t have to be! There are tips that you can utilize to support your dog during the holiday season and make the holidays more enjoyable for you and your dog!

Prep Before Travel

If your holiday festivities involve traveling to the houses of friends or family, be sure to talk with your hosts about what their holiday plans look like and how your dog can and/or can’t be incorporated. Knowing your host’s rules and expectations for dogs ahead of time — for example, if dogs are allowed on furniture — can everyone have a positive and successful experience.

You should also ask about who else will be attending — both people and other dogs — as well as if there are other kinds of animals in the house. If there will be other dogs, find out if those dogs are social and be honest and realistic about how your dog manages meeting new dogs. Make time to intentionally introduce the dogs outside and away from the festivities to reduce stress, and have a plan for if introductions don’t go well such as staying in a hotel, keeping dogs crated in different rooms during meals, etc.

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Create a Private Space

Whether at home or traveling, holiday gatherings can be stressful and overwhelming for dogs and things like platters of holiday food can be tempting and distracting for dogs and puppies. It’s always a good idea to give your dog some private space to retreat to. Be proactive and give your dog intentional breaks from the festivities to allow them to relax, recharge and then come back to the gathering and continue to be successful. Putting your dog’s bed or crate in a bedroom or other quiet area of the home separate from the festivities can be helpful. Puzzle toys or food-stuffed toys like Kongs are ideal for giving your dog something to keep them occupied and provide some relaxing mental stimulation. Try to give your dog breaks before they begin getting overwhelmed to keep the holiday positive for everyone. There is no shame in putting your dog’s needs first and giving him a “nap.” This is an especially good idea if you are going to be distracted and not able to give full attention to your dog, like before a big meal is served.

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Designate Someone On Duty

It can be easy for dogs to get into trouble if everyone assumes that someone else in the family is watching the dogs. At any holiday gathering, it’s helpful to designate at least one person who is going to be responsible for the dog(s). This means there is always someone able to make sure dogs are being successful. If a dog is getting overwhelmed with the festivities, this person can give the dog a break and can make sure the dogs don’t get near open doors or into decorations.

Keep Routines Intact

Dogs thrive on routines, and the bustle of holiday activities at home or when traveling can disrupt that. As much as possible, try to keep your dog’s routines intact. If you are traveling, make sure to pack your dog’s supplies: food, bowls, toys, and of course a crate and bed. Watch how many special treats and snacks you or your guests are giving to your dog and be sure to keep any hazardous treats way. Remember that many of the foods that we love over the holidays can actually be very dangerous for your dog including chocolate and alcohol as well as turkey bones. You’ll also want to avoid food like fruit cake or recipes that involve garlic, onions, and raisins. even the best-behaved dog can be tempted by the aroma of holiday treats and might be inspired to counter surf or raid a trashcan. It’s best that holiday dinner trash is immediately brought outside or kept in a secure trashcan.

Find Dog-Centric Activities

Holidays don’t have to just be stressful for your dog, and there are fun ways you can incorporate your pup into the festivities. Finding ways to keep your dog occupied during the holidays can be a great way to spend time with everyone you love. Invite your friends and family to join in your dog’s favorite games or walk with you and your dog in the neighborhood or to a local park. Not only will this give you the opportunity to spend quality time with your dog, but keeping your dog physically and mentally exercised is a stress reliever. You can also find fun ways to involve your dog in your traditions by making or buying festive holiday treats or snacks as well as seasonal gifts.

Host a Dog Talent Show

Have you and your dog been training in a new sport or working on new tricks this year? If so, planning a small talent show can be a fun way to center your dog at any holiday gathering. Even just teaching your dog a few simple tricks to show off can be a fun way to channel your dog’s energy and impress your friends and family. If there are multiple dogs in attendance at your holiday gathering you can even organize a family trick contest — be sure to have prizes on-hand for the winner!

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