Holidays can be a magical time, but they can also be a… stressful time. There can be a whole lot of obligation, negotiating, and compromising during this time of year– and that’s just between the humans! When you add in a pet with behavior issues this task can go from daunting to seemingly impossible.
One of the topics I discuss most frequently at this time of year with my clients is how to navigate the holiday season in a way that meets their pets’ needs, while also meeting their needs. Our Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework is all about meeting the needs of everyone involved- regardless of species- after all! Below are some of the most common topics I find myself discussing with clients to help them keep the peace.
Your pet does not need to attend your holiday party
There. I said it. You can absolutely still host a holiday party but one of the easiest ways to meet everyone’s needs during the holiday is to have your pet not be there. If you have a pet exhibiting stress, fear, or aggression around people, they don’t want to attend your holiday party. And, as I tell my clients, you probably don’t want them there either! It’s a lot to ask of anyone to manage their pet and host a successful holiday shindig at the same time. I know I would struggle with juggling those two things.
There are several ways to make this happen depending on what makes the most sense for your pet, household, and situation. For some folks, this is as easy as keeping the party on the main level and their pet on a different level of the house. If you have a ranch house as I do, your pet can hang out in a bedroom or office space that people won’t be entering. For some of my clients, this strategy means their pet going over to someone else’s house or being boarded for the day.
Ex-pens are your best friend
Exercise pens are like playpens made for dogs. But I more frequently use them to keep dogs out or away from something than keep them in! Christmas trees with presents under them can be asking for trouble. If you’re worried about how to keep your holiday traditions alive while also keeping your pet away from decorations, ex-pens are a great solution. Will it look as aesthetically pleasing as it would without the pen? I won’t lie to you- no. Will it save you a lot of headaches and possible heartache? Yes. To me, the tradeoff is worth it.
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Holiday traditions can be very… human
Obviously, humans created human holiday traditions. What I mean by this is that we can’t expect our pets of different species to care about holiday traditions and react in the same way as we would a human. Unrealistic expectations can lead to conflict.
Here’s an example. Every year for Christmas we get Oso a new jolly ball. He runs around the yard with it for about 2 minutes and then proceeds to start destroying it. If a human started immediately destroying their gift, I would be disheartened. In this situation, I have to remember that Oso is a dog, who doesn’t understand Christmas or gift-giving, and that destroying stuff is the way that he enjoys interacting with toys.
From an animal’s perspective, putting costumes on can be weird and uncomfortable. Sitting next to a stranger with a big hat and beard while someone takes your picture is weird. Bringing a tree inside the house that you’re not allowed to pee on when you’re allowed to pee on every other tree is weird! Humans have weird rules and behaviors, especially around the holidays.
If all of this brings you joy, go for it! However, keep in mind that your pet has a different perspective and may not want to share in all of your traditions. We have a holiday bow tie collar for Oso so he can look dapper (which brings me joy) but also not make him uncomfortable.
‘Tis the Season for Flexible Thinking
These are just a few examples that I talk through with my clients around this time of year, but of course, there are many more situations that can arise during the holidays! My best recommendation is to remain flexible in your thinking when it comes to meeting both your and your pet’s needs. We can get into trouble when we develop false dichotomies: either we have to do it this one particular way or we can’t do it at all. It’s either Plan A or Plan B. In reality, there are usually Plans C, D, E, F, and G out there which will get us closer to what we’re looking for. I find that much of my job as an animal behavior consultant is developing all of those different options with my clients!
- Is there a part of the holiday season that you’re dreading in relation to your pet? Something that worries you or makes you tense? Let’s start there.
- The first question to ask is: what are my options? Again, there’s probably more out there than just Plan A or Plan B! There are a lot of management options, like ex-pens, in addition to different ways to approach a situation. Once you know your options, it’s much easier to think through what the best one is. (If you’re struggling here, this is where a professional can help!)
- Go through your options to determine which will best meet your needs while also meeting your pet’s needs. Remember to look through this from multiple perspectives, not just the human one.
- Talk to everyone who needs to be involved in the plan so you feel 100% comfortable enacting it. Again, a professional can help with the details here and I especially recommend working with a behavior professional if you’re worried about any type of aggressive behavior.
Happy training & happy holidays!