Pet parents may be experiencing challenges with the puppies they adopted during the early stages of the pandemic. Stay-at-home restrictions made socialization and engagement with new people, places, and things difficult, if not impossible. There is a distinct social component that is critical to a dog’s early growth between 8-12 weeks of age.
During their first holiday season, these puppies will likely encounter unknown situations and even some that are scary to them. The pandemic-related challenges paired with holiday stresses may cause puppies to exhibit new, unwanted behaviors because their ability to cope may be limited.
In addition, there may be higher behavioral expectations mistakenly placed on those approaching their first birthday because of their larger appearance. It is important to keep in mind, however, that it takes approximately two years for a dog to reach the next stage of emotional development.
Strategies to help your new pet better handle changes and any associated stresses include maintaining a balanced, nutritional diet, basic obedience training, appropriate exercise, and ample rest.
As the training manager at Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center and an expert on holiday pet tips, Jessica Philp utilizes positive reinforcement methods to create lasting results for pet parents and their dogs. Jess—along with the Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center and Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care teams—believes that clear communication is the key to fostering confidence and establishing positive relationships. Of course, consistency is the key.
Read on for some of her holiday pet tips that may prove particularly invaluable this season:
If your dog does not have an outlet for his or her energy, they may expend it in unwanted ways, from barking at noises and people to getting into things they shouldn’t (such as food), and more.
When it comes to food, trainers often suggest finding different ways for your dog to “work” for their food. This is in no way synonymous with withholding meals; it’s simply giving dogs an opportunity to use their brainpower to work for their food.
Some dogs may eat their meal too quickly. Using an enrichment toy or slow feeder, such as the Kong Wobbler, your pet will have a chance to “work” for the food. Not only does this slow your dog down, which is better for his digestion, but it also rewards him with food he was going to eat, anyway. Your dog should be more settled and less excitable for any socializing during the holiday season.
Pet owners also frequently ask if it is OK to give their dogs table scraps during a holiday meal. Setting aside the nutritional component for a moment, the question you should ask yourself is “what precedent am I setting?”
If you never give your dog table scraps, and suddenly give him or her a piece of turkey or a slice of ham from the table – you’ve started a new habit. Before long, your dog may start begging. Again, consistency is the key. If you allow food from the table, your dog is always going to ask for food from the table.
You cannot expect dogs to make wise decisions when it comes to food. Instead of allowing them to beg by the table, give them something else to do or somewhere else to go – a bed or a safe spot in the house. Follow-through is critical. If your dog does not remain in its personal area, you may have to gently – but consistently – lead them back and repeat the command.
Also keep in mind that a balanced, nutritional diet is the key to maintaining your dog’s robust immune system. The physical and social stresses of the holidays – over-heated homes, travel, boarding, guests, and, of course, the colder temperatures – all take a cumulative toll on our animals. Diet, sleep, and exercise are the foundations for a healthy, happy pet. Your veterinarian can help you establish and stay the course.
Getting Used to the Holiday Decorations
During the holidays, your entire house looks different to pets—so many bright and sparkly things to peak curiosity. Puppies, especially, have never encountered a Christmas tree or other holiday decorations before. Basic obedience becomes very important in helping a dog adjust to a change in environment. By teaching a dog simple words, like “come” “sit,” or “leave it” in conjunction with certain hand signals, you create a common language that assists with the training process. Reinforce what items are off-limits by using consistent follow-through. Constant, consistent monitoring is perhaps the most important holiday pet tip any trainer can offer.
Training During the Holidays
One of the first things many pet owners teach their dogs is the “paw” or “shake” command, but this too may set a bad precedent that it is okay to paw at or jump up on guests. When training, your dog should receive positive attention when all four paws are on the floor, especially when greeting people. Resist the urge to teach the “paw” command, at least until your pet has learned the basics. Remember: dogs will continue to repeat behavior that is reinforced. They are constantly thinking “what do you want from me?” Set them up for success.
Activities such as puppy preschool, daycare, and/or basic obedience training can go a long way in reducing holiday stress. Participation in daycare activities or training classes uses a lot of quality physical and cognitive energy. Giving your dog the appropriate amount of exercise and attention creates more opportunities for quiet, restful periods, and fewer chances for unwanted behaviors to arise.
Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care and Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center offer exceptional pet services.
Free Puppy Social Hour classes are held weekly at the pet resort. These classes, which are for puppies only, allow for abundant socialization and appropriate play. Simultaneously enrolling in a puppy preschool program provides more opportunities for socialization as well as establishing a foundation of learning.
The daycare programs at Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center also offer phenomenal opportunities for socialization, exercise, and enrichment games for puppies and dogs of all ages, breeds, sizes, and personalities. At the end of the day, a tired dog is a happy dog!
Finally, training opportunities abound. Group classes, as well as the popular Play & Learn and Stay & Learn training packages, are available. Contact us today to learn more and get started and have a happy and healthy holiday season!