Surviving the Holidays with Your Dog by Shane Windatt
Personally, I'm not a big fan of the Christmas season. To me, it just means bad music and an excuse to buy more than we need. But, love it or hate it, it's hard to ignore. For many, it's a time to visit with family, which means either traveling or houseguests. How does your dog fit into the picture?
It depends on the temperament of your dog...AND your family. If your dog is confident and friendly, and your relatives easy-going and dog-friendly, there's probably not a problem. But if your dog is nervous around crowds or uneasy in strange surroundings, she might prefer to be left out of the festivities. All sorts of catastrophes can happen when people are busy and distracted and dogs are uncertain what's going on.
Unless your dog actively enjoys young children, you'll need to plan how you'll protect her from your small visitors. To children, a dog is likely to be the most interesting guest at the party, and it's easy to imagine your canine backed into a corner by too much invasive attention. It may be better to leave her in a bedroom when things get busy, or in a covered crate. Unless she is somewhere safely away from the guests, you will have to keep part of your attention on where she is and what's happening to her. If that's your plan, stick to the plain eggnog.
Are other people bringing dogs? If so, is everyone likely to get along? You'll need to devote some time to introducing dogs who are new to each other, and to supervising their play until it's clear that it's a good match. Don't just put them together in a backyard and wave goodbye.
Identify anyone who is afraid of or dislikes dogs, and make sure to run interference for them. They are not going to have a good time if your dog is insistent on making friends.
There is likely to be a lot of traffic through the front door, and many people are not inclined (or, in some cases, able) to stop someone else's pet from leaving the house or yard. Will your dog stay with you reliably when there's a lot going on?
And then there is, obviously, the food issue. There's a lot of yummy stuff around during the holidays, and many people aren't used to thinking about where it's placed. If your dog is likely to steal or guard food, she doesn't belong at a busy gathering.
If you have to travel to see your family, can you drive there or will you have to fly? I would personally hesitate to fly with my dog, and this goes triple for winter travel during the holidays. It's hairy enough for passengers to get where they're going. You can expect everyone at the airport to be under extra stress, and your dog's welfare may not be uppermost in anyone's mind.
If you're feeling uncertain about your dog's ability to cope with your Christmas plans, who could you trust to care for her instead? It's likely that most of your friends will have their own plans at this time of year. What about a kennel?
It's sad to imagine your dog locked in a cage by herself while you're enjoying yourself. The up side to this picture is that, assuming the kennel is well-run, your dog will be safe. She may not have fun, but when you go to get her, she'll be there in one piece and very glad to see you. On the other hand, you might spend the holidays feeling guilty and your dog might develop separation anxiety. Surely there's another alternative?
Well, there might be, depending on where you live and what you can afford to spend. Small businesses are popping up to cater to people just like you. Search the internet for "in-home pet sitting," "home boarding," "bed and biscuit," "dog ranch" or "dog camp" and you will find plenty of examples of caregivers who are eager to provide more than just a safe place to store your dog. With only a month to go until Christmas, many of these services will be booked solid already, but check them out for next time. In an upcoming blog, I'll share some tips for evaluating these options.
Shane Windatt, CTC, CPDT
Pawsitive Spin Dog Training and Boarding