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

Prep Before Travel

If your holiday festivities involve traveling to visit friends or family, be sure to talk with your hosts ahead of time. Have a conversation about what their holiday plans look like and how your dog can 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 help everyone have a positive and successful experience.

You should also ask about who else will be attending — both people and other dogs — and 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. It’s also important to have a plan for if introductions don’t go well, such as staying in a hotel or keeping dogs crated in different rooms during meals.

Create a Private Space

Whether you’re at home or traveling, holiday gatherings can be stressful and overwhelming for dogs. Things like platters of holiday food can be especially tempting and distracting. It’s always a good idea to give your dog some private space to retreat to. Try to give your dog breaks before they begin getting overwhelmed to keep the holiday positive for everyone. Giving your dog intentional breaks from the festivities allows them to relax and recharge. Then they can 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. There’s also no shame in putting your dog’s needs first and giving them a “nap.” This is an especially good idea if you’re going to be distracted and unable to give full attention to your dog, like before a big meal.

Cane Corso laying down in front of a Christmas tree at home.
©anastasiyaand -

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 dogs. This means there will always someone able to make sure the dogs are being safe and successful. If a dog is getting overwhelmed with the festivities, this person can also give the dog a break and can make sure they don’t get near open doors or 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 with your dog, make sure to pack your dog’s supplies: food, bowls, dog toys, and, of course, a dog crate and dog 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 away. 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 foods 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.

German Shorthaired Pointer with a gift in its mouth at Christmastime.
BranstonandTwiglet/Getty Images Plus

Find Dog-Centric Activities

While it’s important to ensure the holidays aren’t stressful for your dog, there are also many 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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