Keeping your dog safe during the holidays

It’s finally here. That time of year where there’s a hint of fall in the air, the smell of turkey and stuffing in the oven and your rarely used guestroom is overflowing with guests!  While most of us look forward to this scenario each year, it can be a frustrating, frightening or downright dangerous time for your canine pal. Here are helpful tips for making sure your pup is safe during the holiday hubbub.


Certainly you have noticed that your dog has memorized every second of your family’s normal schedule – from the moment you first blink in the morning, to every meal, to resting while you’re at work and to the moment you are to return.  The holidays brings schedules that have us off work more days, entertaining visitors more frequently, and dashing out to shop before the sun rises.  With so much on your own plate, it is easy forego the time you should be spending walking and exercising your dog.  Even the meal schedules tend to run amok, as you may stop at the mall rather than getting home in time for his dinner.  For an animal dependent on predictability and stability, this change can cause signs of anxiety.


Anxiety can cause various changes in behavior in your dog, such as having “accidents,” or starting to chew items that you were sure he had outgrown destroying, to nervous and ear-splitting barking.  Be aware of these signs so that you don’t punish your dog for simply showing his emotions.  This is a great time of the year to remember to add in a little extra mental stimulus for your dog.  It can be as simple as a game of “find me” or more difficult like letting your dog work his kibble out of a food-dispensing toy rather than gulping out of a bowl.  Play music designed for relaxing dogs when you can’t be there.  Consider paying a neighborhood teen to take him for an extra walk or romp in the yard while you are wrapping gifts.  These extra exercise periods will release endorphins, which will in turn keep your dog more relaxed.

So, as the holidays approach, take some extra time to work your dog’s schedule into yours.  If you are going to be entertaining guests frequently and your dog is not the “I love everyone” type, don’t force him into being a part of the party.  This can be a recipe for disaster.  A nervous dog that is being petting and touched by strangers can feel trapped and threatened.  Even the best-behaved family pet can end up biting someone if the warning signals are not heeded.  Don’t feel guilty if you need to remove your dog from the party area — he will likely thank you for it.  If you are lucky enough to have that Welcome Wagon dog, still be aware of the dangers that lurk – one too many cookies, turkey bits or cheese cubes and his tummy will pay the price the next day. And watch that ever-opening door – many dogs are lost during the holidays as the unsuspecting guest lets them make a quick escape. [Here are tips for teaching your dog not to run out the door.]


Finally, keep the home safe at all times for your best friend.  Some of the hazards that can cause big troubles include

  • Holiday plants – especially poinsettia – can be hazardous to your dog’s health if ingested.
  • Ornaments – don’t use food-based ornament where your dog can reach them.  That popcorn chain or glazed cookie ornament may just be a decoration to you, but is an appealing snack to your dog.
  • Don’t place wrapped food gifts under the tree – no amount of wrapping can disguise the scent of something tasty.
  • Candles– candles are a lovely addition to ambiance, but make sure that all are above head and tail level. Better yet, consider the new “flameless” versions available.
  • Holiday lights – always unplug all tree lights when you are not home.  A new cord can be just tempting enough to chew.
  • Doors – be cautious when entering and leaving, and watch your friends and relatives; it is easy to make that one quick dash out the door.

Above all, remember that your dog is an important part of your family, and his emotional and physical needs need to be met during this time of year as much as, if not more than, all other times.  Keep him safe and feeling protected, and you will enjoy many more holidays with your dog!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Cynthia Gordon CPDT-KA is a Victoria Stilwell-Approved Positively Trainer. Check out her website: Gentle Touch Dog Training. Gordon is an AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, APDT Professional Member, Tellington TTouch Practitioner Apprentice Examiner and member of the American Temperament Testing Society.

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