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The Holidays and Dogs- Handling Greetings, & Helping Your Dog Calm Down

Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner I felt it would be fitting to write a post that helps with some of the things that come with the holidays.

Typically it is a time of year when suddenly a bunch of people are coming over. Which means lots of people shuffling around, being noisy, and trying to pet and train your dog

... (and often giving lot of unsolicited dog training advice- everyone's favorite!lol!)

Cooking and cleaning and setting up for lots of people to come over can feel exciting and stressful at the same time. Our dogs will definitely pick up on this and note all the little changes going on.

Depending on your dog's personality they will need more or less reassurance through this process.

Right now I would close your eyes and imagine everyone walking in the door and think of your dog's response.

Now that you can visualize it, open your eyes and take a look at the graph below. (Link to it below)

Chances are your dog will experience eustress (positive stress- excitement) or distress (negative stress- anxiety) or a bit of both in response to everyone coming in the door.

Eustress would look like happy jumping, barking, and like your dog is so excited they can barely contain themselves.

Distress would look like your dog is completely unable to calm down, stop barking, or seems nervous, anxious, stiff, tense, or fearful.

Something I am always telling people is that:

Whenever your dog winds up, you need to wind them down before moving on.

When you need a break chances are your dog does to-->-crate your dog when you feel overwhelmed and get back to it when you feel ready.

The idea is not that you have to constantly be in training mode at all times with your dog forever for the rest of your life.

The idea is that you prepare them when you are in training mode prior to events you know will wind them, and you, up.

(If you missed the boat this year on Thanksgiving, there is still time before Christmas!)

So whether your dog is experiencing eustress, distress, or both it's important that you

  1. Have a strategy for helping them calm down.

  2. You practice this concept of wound up to wound down in less challenging scenarios prior to the often highly challenging event of a holiday party.

With enough training your dog will need less and less help winding down over time.

What I love in that picture above is that it also points out that if your dog is experiencing distress- anxiety/panic, they are also overloaded and burnt out.

Which means they are not enjoying the party!

Whenever I suggest crating a dog at a holiday party (even temporarily) people immediately feel a lot of guilt. I hope that this makes it clear that not crating your dog or giving them quiet time when they are panicked, anxious, tense, or fearful is also bad for your dog.

It also means they have less ability to learn or train so it's not beneficial to work with your dog in this scenario until they are calmer or have more training on board prior to this.

If your dog is crossing into this zone chances are the best thing to do is to crate your dog and give them a break until they calm down, then try again.

The length of the break depends on the dog and the scenario.

If you look back at the graph, there is a zone that is optimal for working with your dog. Where they can learn, and they are not overwhelmed. Anything past this point requires a break - probably crate time or quiet time in a separate room.

So what can you do with your dog who seems able to learn,and train, but is just really excited? One tip I can give here quickly without diving into another blog post is to keep lots of small soft treats or kibble on you. Whenever your dog gives a calming signal (looking away, licking lips, sniffing ground, grooming, stretching, yawning, laying down, relaxing a part of their body) toss them a treat .

Whenever they do something you like toss them a treat.

Whenever they do something better toss them a treat.

There is more to it than that, but just that alone might get you through some of those tougher moments in a greeting.

So as you can see, training is really all about practice skills in easy circumstances and working up to "the challenging thing" whatever that might be for your dog. This applies to anything you are working with your dog.

You always do a rehearsal before the performance right?

The same is true here.

I hope this was helpful and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your dog and your favorite people!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving...

If you are struggling with your dog-

Instead of focusing on all that is going wrong, try to focus on all that is going right, and be grateful for the ups and the downs. I swear this will change the energy you bring to the situation and may even change how your dog behaves.

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