The holiday season is here! And no matter what you celebrate, the holiday often means that you will, at some point, be expecting company!
Parties can be stressful not only for the people throwing them, but for their dogs, too. Even the most social of dogs can get overly aroused or overwhelmed by the many movements, sounds, smells, constant hands reaching in for back scratches, head pets.. and the never ending activity and noise. So imagine the impact this could have on a fearful or anxious pup. If you’ve got a canine pal at home who might not do so well in crowds, fear not - we have some helpful tips on how to prepare for an evening to alleviate some of that discomfort.
Know that it's okay to separate your dog and choose your area.
It’s important to know that it’s okay to separate your dog from those stressors, despite pressure you might receive to "let the dog say hi". Start by picking a room ahead of time your dog can hangout in that will be super comfortable for them. Some things you'll want to think about is distance and sound proofing when you choose this area. You'll want to pick a room as far from the commotion as possible. Utilizing a carpeted room (if possible) will help buffer those sounds from the party, which will help them be able to relax.
Make this a fun place to be.
Now that you’ve chosen your room, it’s time to get your dog acquainted to spending more time here. If your pooch hasn’t spent a lot of time in this room, start by making it a point to do daily activities with them here together. You could feed them their meals and spend the night with them in this room as a way for them to start associating this space as a good place to be. You want to make sure you’re not closing them in this room before they're fully comfortable. The goal is to turn this room into a fun and safe area, so using this room for enrichment and/or training will help lead your dog to feeling confident and happy when it does come time to be closed in. These fun games and exercises can turn their feelings of this room from being a good place to be to a great place to be.
Include a plan for the evening where you will provide your dog with fun activities to work on throughout the evening. The goal will be preventing their exposure to the different sights and sounds that will inevitably be occurring with having guests over and give them something else to work on while they're having their own little mini party. Odds are, your dog will want to investigate the sounds to see what’s going on (without realizing how overwhelming it might be). You can help ease that anxiety/stress/arousal by filtering some of it out with a radio playing or having the TV turned on with the sound up. Prepare your enrichment activities ahead and plan to bring your dog a different, fun item every few hours so they will have something that is enjoyable to them to keep them busy. Having a frozen kong, an enrichment box, a treat-hide puzzle, and/or busting out a new toy could be some great options!
Plan your potty breaks.
Don’t forget about bathroom breaks! Plan a route to getting your canine companion outside in a way that avoids people traffic. It is in no way a faux pas to ask your guests to avoid certain areas for brief periods of time to alleviate some of that stress for your dog. There is a chance you’ll run into someone and you might hear them say “oh just let him come say hi” or “all dogs love me” (as they reach for your fearful dog’s head). Don’t feel bad turning that hand away! No one knows your dog better than you, so that peer pressure can be thwarted by having a script prepared that they can’t dispute! You can always explain that your dog’s training plan needs to be followed strictly, but they could meet them another time when the stress is low.
Practice, practice, practice.
Practice makes for a more successful evening! Try out these methods in smaller ways before escalating to bigger crowds. Start by having your dog in their designated room receiving enrichment toys when no one is around for a shorter period of time. Slowly adding time and people to the equation may lend to better results. If this isn’t possible, prep as much by following instructions in #2 as much as possible before the event.
Now you’re ready to get a plan started for your holiday get togethers that will help your dog feel more comfortable.
Know that holiday gatherings aren't for every dog, and it’s okay to be an advocate for them! Don’t feel bad for separating your dog from the commotion because their nerves might thank you for it later.
Questions? As always, we're here to help!
Author: KJ Johnson