It’s early November, which means that Thanksgiving and Christmas are just lurking around the corner! We look forward to opening our homes to friends and family and always imagine that perfect Hallmark Christmas! We imagine our dogs behaving at their very best, and Grandma is smiling and nodding, rubbing their heads and offering small tidbits which our dogs take gently, without jumping up on Grandma, or nipping her fingers when they take their snack from her.
Go ahead. Close your eyes and imagine that idyllic scene….in your house and with your dog! That scene really can happen, but not without some consistent, targeted work. But when you’ve got a high needs, fearful or reactive dog, that scene feels like a pipe dream!
Training your high needs dog in anticipation of the holidays at this point in time, is a little like training for the Olympics a month before the games begin!! To be honest, if the holidays are the Olympic event for our dogs, then training needs to start much sooner than November!
It’s not enough for a dog to simply learn what to do in a given situation. That’s only part of the equation! Dogs don’t generalize information easily or well, and it really takes a decent amount of time for a dog to understand how to behave when there are heavy duty distractions and big energy present in a given situation. High needs dogs need much more time to process all of that information, simply because their emotions often rule the day!
Starting early in the year will enable you to have time to work through distracted training, so that by the time the big Olympic event happens, you and your dog will have practiced plenty enough times so that you both know exactly what to do! To plan ahead for 2018, you’ll want to hire your trainer right after the holidays and get things well in hand long before next Thanksgiving or Christmas.
But, having said all of that, what about owners who didn’t start the process early? What about dogs who get adopted in November or December of 2017? What then? Are the holidays doomed for everyone this year? Is there no hope at all for those dogs and families? Trust me….I have plenty of hope for you!!
When we can’t effectively train through something, we can take some preventative measures instead, and that’s what I’m going to suggest for you today. I’m going to give you some very effective but simple things that you can do which will help you survive those wonderful, but stressful holidays that are just around the corner! It will get you through in a pinch, but you’ll definitely want to follow up with training your dog so that next year will be a piece of cake for you and and your dog! These tips will work for all dogs, but will really be especially helpful for those of us with high needs or special needs dogs!
- Leash Your Dog. It’s so very simple, but so incredibly effective!! When your dog is on a leash, he’s not able to jump on anyone, raid tables or counters, and as a result, you’ll find that he’s going to get into far less trouble! It also becomes a bit of an umbilical cord from the dog to his safe leader, which is going to help the wacky emotions of your dogs dramatically! It keeps your dog and guests safe, which is always number one in my world!
- Be sure to Exercise Your Dog Before Your Guests Arrive. That means a long, focused walk, doing some basic training, work some puzzles or do some tricks. Play some fetch outside in the fresh air, or any game that will allow your dog to run around a bit and work off some energy. Simply putting your dog out in the back yard alone doesn’t mean that your dog is getting any exercise. He’s simply doing a mosey in the yard, and not really working off any energy, or he’s right outside the door, waiting for you to come back and let him in. That’s not exercise!
- A fearful or anxious dog will really benefit from some exercise, because that helps calm down those raging emotions. The old saying that a tired dog is a good dog is absolutely true!
- Be sure that your dog is comfortable in a confinement area. Have a backup plan so that your dog is already accustomed to a confinement area. This can be a room or crate confinement, depending upon which is most effective for your own dog. I’ve used both areas successfully with Rugby James.
- If you’re using a room confinement, I always prefer using a walk through dog gate in place of closing the door. Dogs often feel more inclined to be a part of the family and not shut out with a gate versus a closed door. However, safety is the most important factor, so if any sort of aggressive behavior is present, be sure that your dog is secure in his confinement, which may mean a closed door!
- In most cases, you’ll have plenty of time before the holidays to acclimate your dog to a confinement area if you start that process now. That way, when your guests arrive, or you’re ready to eat, or when your dog has simply had enough fun for one day, he will have a safe place to go where he’s happy and comfortable.
- Watch Your Dog’s Body Language and Let Him Tell You When He’s Had Enough! I can’t stress this one enough!! Many anxious or edgy dogs that I train can do well for a few short hours with new guests in their home. But often for the holidays, people stay and stay and stay! Sometimes the fun can go on for hours, and sometimes it goes on for a few days! When your dog is done, he’s done! Fair is fair! If you’ve trained him to be comfortable in confinement, he will be grateful and happy to go chill and escape the stresses of new people and extra activity and energy in his home!
- When things go south, they really can get ugly! An overly tired and stressed dog will not respond well, so let your dog tell you when he needs a break so that you aren’t faced with a dangerous situation which can escalate super fast! Safety first!
- Remember that your anxious/fearful/reactive dog is likely not a social butterfly to begin with. They are introverts who will be very happy to have a safe place to chill and relax. A nice snack like a filled Kong toy will help them feel good about their confinement while the activity is going on in another room.
I’ll let Rugby explain the process that we use in our home when guests come over!
I has plenty to say about this subject, on account of I likes the idea of guests over, but when it all happens, I always remember that I really doesn’t like stuff being different at home! It wigs me out. I barks lots, and sumtimes I nips and bites at new Uprights or even the Mama or the Daddy when they is trying to help me calm down. I doesn’t think anything through when I’m all wigged out…..I just react, and the Mama sayes that mostly I doesn’t use good judgment about these things! Pfft!
Before we has company, the Mama does lotsa things to get me ready for it. She puts the dogger gate up in the hall, sos I’m already used to seeing it and using it. She doesn’t wait until the last minute, on account of I needs time to process those changes and relax wif them.
The Mama always puts my Thundershirt on me a few hours before company comes over, and she puts my harness on too….sos I’m all ready to go when the strangers comes over. She has my leash handy sos she can grab it right away and doesn’t hasta hunt it down!
She does stuff to get me tired, like yard play wif me, or tricks and puzzles what I lubs a big much!
Then, she puts me in my crate at least fifteen minutes before sumpawdy comes over, sos I’m confined and all comfy. The Mama always uses my crate for me as my safe place. It’s plenty big sos I can fully stand up wifout my ears hitting the top of it, and I can lay down, curl up, sprawl out, and turn around very easily. She puts a rabbit bottle on the side of it, sos I can get sips of water on account of I’m always panting extra when I’m scared or wigged out. I lubs my crate, so I’m always a happy boy to get in it!
When strangers comes over, the Mama tries to see them arriving before they can ring the doorbell, on account of the doorbell is one of my really bad triggers and I can bark for an hour or more after the doorbell rings! So she has the big door open, and she’s usually waiting right there to let sumpawdy in.
I can hear the new strangers from my crate, and I always barks my stranger danger barks, only nopawdy pays any attention to that! They always come right in anyhow, even though my family could be in real danger! Sumtimes I doesn’t getsa meet the new strangers, so after a while, I stops barking and settles down.
Once I gets quiet for a while, the Mama will come get me wif the leash and sum high value snacks in her bait bag what she wears on her jeans. She puts my leash on and then she takes me out to my special placemat what’s right by where she sits, and purty far away from the strangers. She helps me focus and uses words I know like “Leave it” and “Watch me.”
When I has relaxed from that step, she will let me off my placemat and she quietly takes me sumplace in the room where I can do some tricks to really focus and pay attention, even if the Mama and me is bof moving. Then she puts me on my placemat and lets the strangers frow high value snacks to me. Mostly I gotsa stay right on my placemat or behind a gate on account of the Mama sayes I’m a lil bit unpredictable.
Sumtimes I does really good wif strangers, but sumtimes I does a nip too, sos I doesn’t getsa take any chances unless I gotsa basket muzzle on. The Mama at my house is really big on keeping everpawdy safe. If I’m hasing a good day, the Mama will let me meet strangers wif my basket muzzle on, and over time, I getsa has it off if I’m being able to cope wif fings okay. Mostly strangers gotsa leave me alone at my house. I really likes it when they frows treats to me on my placemat though. That’s grand!!
When the Mama can see that I needsa break, or when she can’t watch me real close, she puts me behind a dogger gate or lets me hang out in my crate for a lil bit. Usually she gives me a loaded Kong toy or sumping specials sos I getsa has my own pawty when I’m confined! Mostly if strangers leaves me alone for a long time, I does really good wif them in the house. I needs long transition times to understand that sumping different is happening.
So that’s what we does at my house, and I hasta say that I likes this plan purty good. Mostly I doesn’t really wanna meet the new people; I just doesn’t like being left outta stuff what’s going on. I’m just nosy that way! So the Mama and me has worked out a plan that works really good for us!!
This post is part of a blog hop. If you look below, you can see additional blog posts on this subject written by blogger friends of mine!