The holiday season is one of the happiest times of the year, especially for puppies! There are so many new scents, sights, and people to explore. During puppyhood, it’s important that your puppy has positive experiences with all of the newness that the holidays bring. This will help prevent your puppy from developing fear-related behaviors later on in life. Around this time of year, I often get asked how pet parents can best prepare their new puppy for the holiday season. Here are some of my top tips!
1.) Stick to a Routine
When things are chaotic at home, it can be easy to slip out of your regular routine. With a pet parent distracted, a puppy is left to (mis)behave. These are times when unwanted puppy potty training and inappropriate chewing can occur. For potty training, I recommend developing a food, water, and potty schedule well before the excitement of the holiday sets in—and sticking to it throughout the chaos. For chewing, I recommend following these recommendations to teach toy play and maintain consistency even during the holidays. Always keep 8-10 appropriate toys out for your puppy to keep them entertained as well. A short, 6-ft tether can help manage your puppy’s behavior during more challenging times.
2.) Increase Exercise
Increased daily exercise will also help keep your puppy’s energy level under control. If you want your puppy to be with the family during a big meal or opening presents, go on a holiday hike before the festivities begin. You could also bring a long line with you so your dog can run around to their heart’s content. You could even practice your puppy’s come when called skills! Some of my favorite memories with my dogs include holiday hikes. I absolutely love exploring the woods with my 4-legged family members who run safely ahead, checking back in every minute or so. The whole family can come along and this added exercise will help your puppy will be calmer afterward, allowing you to relax in peace.
If you or your extended family do not live in an area safe for a long hike, a local dog park can suffice. Meeting up with other like-minded pet parents to burn a little energy can extend your social gathering beyond your extended family. Or, meet up at the park with cousins, siblings, or aunts and uncles with their 4-legged family members.
I encourage you to brave the weather on these cooler days, get out, and enjoy the crisp air. Later in the day, if you are not up for another jaunt in the woods or at the park, but your pup has other ideas, play fetch in a long indoor hallway, play hide and seek, work on recall training, or try one of these mentally and physically stimulating toys!
3.) Know Your Puppy’s Signs of Stress
First, let’s talk about ideal pro-social puppy behaviors around new people. Your puppy should excitedly approach guests without hesitation. They should appear wiggly and not actively avoid extended family members.
Observe your puppy’s behavior and look for these signs of stress:
- Pinned ears
- Excessive panting
- Erratic eye movement
- Tail tucked between legs
- Hiding under furniture or behind you
- Showing teeth and snapping
If your puppy does not look comfortable around new people and is showing signs of stress, it’s time for you to intervene. Create distance between your puppy and the person they are fearful of and have the person start tossing treats using the method outlined below.
4.) If Your Puppy is Fearful of New People, Plan Accordingly
If your puppy has shown any signs of stress around new people before, I recommend speaking with any holiday guests in advance to set some boundaries in place. You want to set your puppy up for success in having positive interactions with new people. Maybe your puppy will even leave the holidays with some new lifelong friends!
Consider withholding half of your puppy’s breakfast so your puppy is hungry and motivated when your guests arrive. Set a baggie of the remainder of your puppy’s breakfast outside of your door. Tell your guests to already have some kibble in their hands before they enter your home. This will help your puppy create a positive relationship with the guest right off the bat! Once your guest first sees your puppy, have them toss a few pieces of kibble, one after the other assuming your puppy is eating.
Your puppy should come closer and closer to the guest as they are tossing treats. Eventually, your puppy should be showing wiggly, friendly body language towards your guest, happily approaching them, and eating treats from their hand. Keep some easily accessible containers of kibble or puppy treats around the house to continue building positive associations with your puppy’s new friends.
Make sure your guests aren’t crowding your puppy or picking up your puppy if your puppy has shown hesitation around people before. You want to keep things as light and positive as possible!
5.) Build Positive Associations with Children
The holiday season might be the first time your puppy interacts with children. You want to do everything you can to make sure your puppy is super comfortable with children so that your puppy does not develop any fear-based behavior towards children as an adult.
Regardless of your puppy’s past interactions with children, you should always have children toss treats to your puppy. Rather than encouraging lots of physical attention or letting the kids pick up your puppy, have the kids help you with “training”. This can be super fun for both your puppy and the kids!
Ask them to be the special treat feeder and practice some repetitions of “sit” with your puppy. Whenever you tell your puppy to sit and they sit, have a child give them a treat. This will help build a super positive relationship between the kids and your puppy!
6.) Take Advantage of Guests for Puppy Socialization
If your puppy hasn’t been around a lot of people before, you might consider taking your puppy to a couple of different busy puppy-friendly places before the holidays. We always recommend that your puppy meets 20 new people, 20 new friendly dogs, and 3 novel locations per week.
Treats should be paired with all novel experiences to ensure your puppy creates positive associations and is well-socialized.
If your puppy is already comfortable with new people, you can play what I call “pass the puppy”. If you have a young puppy, you can have your guests sit in a circle on the floor and pass your puppy around. This will help your puppy get used to being handled by many people which will prepare them for vet and groomer visits.
7.) Monitor Play with Other Dogs
It’s no secret that puppies love to play! Let your puppy have fun playing with other dogs in the house to their heart’s content. However, you should be the referee of play and make sure that there is an equal balance between the dogs when playing. Play should be back and forth and both dogs should be on their back for similar amounts of time.
Your puppy shouldn’t be pinned down by another dog for more than 10 seconds. If you see your puppy’s tail tucked or any other signs of fear, remove your puppy from the situation.
If you aren’t sure whether or not the play is too much with another dog, move the other dog away from the play area. If your puppy doesn’t try to follow the other dog, your puppy probably needs a break from play. If your puppy follows the other dog and tries to engage in play again, the level of play is good.
8.) Manage Any Resource Guarding
If your puppy will be around an older dog that has a history of resource guarding over the holidays, make sure any items that the older dog typically guards are put away in another room. Common items include toys, bones, beds, and any other edible items.
During mealtimes or even when the smells of meat cooking are wafting in the air, put your puppy in a crate behind a closed door in another room. Even the smell of a delicious turkey in the oven could trigger aggressive behavior in a dog with a history of resource guarding. If you want your puppy to still enjoy part of the meal, you can feed them unseasoned, plain dog-safe foods stuffed inside a toy like a Kong.
9.) Review Dog-Safe Foods
It can be super tempting to feed a cute puppy part of your delicious holiday meal. However, there’s always an uptick in vet visits over the holidays due to puppies getting sick eating foods that are not dog-safe.
Make sure your guests and family are all on the same page about which foods are dog-safe. Stick to unseasoned, plain, fruits, vegetables, and meats (NOT skin or bones). Steer clear of grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, scallions, xylitol, butter, alcohol, fatty foods, sweets, and chocolate.
10.) Practice Obedience
The holidays can be a great time to practice your puppy’s obedience around lots of distractions. Practice place while everyone’s eating at the table or practice a down-stay while kids are running around.
If you need help with your puppy’s hosting manners before the holiday season, we’d love to help! Our in-home puppy training programs are completely tailored to your puppy training goals. We also have Board and Train programs if you want your puppy to learn advanced obedience skills while you’re away for the holidays. Schedule a free consultation with us today and we’ll create a customized training plan just for you and your puppy!
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