Having holiday guests over can be very stressful for your dogs! First, it's important to understand your dog's needs and how this stress can be managed proactively. The hierarchy of dog needs starts with biological needs (nutrition) followed by emotional needs (security, love, and trust). Social needs are next on the list, which includes play!
So consider these needs when you have guests over this holiday season! Enrichment and play are key to a calm dog but remember they also have basic needs that must be met first. Your goal should be to work with your dog before stressful events occur like having holiday dinner at your house!
Linda Michaels, M.A. Psychology tells us,
The best way to set up your dog up for success is with enrichment activities (some distractions) and you should try a number of these techniques months before the holidays if possible to see what works best.
The book and guide, "Beyond Squeaky Toys" offers many ideas for pet parents! Let's talk enrichment when holiday guests arrive. There are six enrichment categories that talk about ways to provide mental stimulation for your dogs! Consider hide and seek games, Kongs, tennis balls in muffin tins, rope toys, snuffle mats, food dispensing toys, nose work games, and chew toys!
Engaging your dog's sense of smell is important and keeping your dog's routine the same over the holidays helps, too. The most important piece is to make sure your proactive so no behavior problems occur. These apply to shy dogs and super high energy dogs. A lot of the below suggestions have been tried with shelter dogs and remember that all dogs are good dogs!
The bottom line is a bored dog can be destructive. What can you do to avoid unwanted behavior? You can guarantee that bored dogs during the holidays are hard to manage!
1. Social enrichment
Go shopping at a dog-friendly retail outlet or better yet, take your dog to the beach! Even taking your dog to the office perhaps a few times a week will help. Consider a trip out of the house before holiday dinner so they have an opportunity to problem solve early in the day.
2. Cognitive enrichment
Are you familiar with canine nosework? This odor game is a great opportunity for your dogs (even reactive dogs) to search for treats and learn that certain odors pay in hot dogs! The National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™) is the official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport of K9 Nose Work.
Learn more about the organization that started it all. You can practice nosework over the holiday season!
3. Physical enrichment
Pop-up tunnels or agility tunnels are available at many retail outlets and Chewy.com has a few you can purchase. Use treats and this type of enrichment should be exhausting for your dog! Just throw treats in the tunnel to teach them that they can run through this and get rewarded.
4. Sensory enrichment
Bubbles are the BEST way to distract and enrich your dog in the backyard. If pet parents are agreeable then in the kitchen this is a fun activity too!
Have you ever tried this? If bubbles aren't their thing, then herbs and spices work well, too! Mint (it's safe) is a good toy addition to encourage sniffing.
5. Feeding enrichment
Yes, puzzle toys are the best way to enrich your dogs when guests are over. These can be found at almost any pet supply store and you should stockpile these before the holidays. These can be filled with kibble or hard treats while your dogs are in their crates or behind baby gates during dinner.
6. Toy enrichment
Stuff old clothing with anything smelly! Do you have any leaves left over from your trees? What about grass clipping? Be mindful as you don't want your dog to eat foreign objects but a few old t-shirts can be stuffed and then tied off at each end! Or just take your dog out for some good old-fashioned fetch before guests arrive and end the activity with a puzzle toy.
Enrichment activities eliminate boredom and all of the above activities can be used to help manage a dog that isn't getting as much attention as they normally do!
We hope these enrichment opportunities are good options for you during the holiday season! If gobbling up a bunch of enrichment toys isn't possible then you can get creative with ice cube trays, stuffing peanut butter (Xylitol free) into Kongs, or just physical exercise. If your dog is very challenging than work with a dog trainer to come up with a plan so everyone (including your guests) is stress-free. Your dog will thank you!
Have you tried any of these activities with your dogs? Please let us know what we missed in the below comments.