Keeping Your Dog Happy This Holiday Season

Dog ready to celebrate | Image by vecstock/Freepik

The holidays can be a critical time of hyperactivity and anxiety for dogs due to all of the unusual sights, sounds, smells, and guests in the home.

Kyler Wittwer, lead trainer of Dog Training Elite Dallas, which serves the DFW metroplex and surrounding cities, spoke with The Dallas Express to offer dog owners some holiday advice to help keep ‘man’s best friend’ calm and happy, starting with the dog’s diet.

“Just because we’re getting nice and fat over the holidays does not mean our dogs need to,” Wittwer joked. “Opt for lean turkey rather than the fattest parts, and avoid foods like mashed potatoes, bread, and dairy products.”

Some ingredients are absolute no-nos, warned Wittwer. Chocolate, garlic, onions, caffeine, cooked bones, and alcohol can be toxic to dogs. Pay special attention to avoid giving your dog grapes or raisins, as these can be fatal even in small doses.

If you are looking for something to put in your dog’s stocking, Wittwer recommends options that mentally stimulate your dog, such as KONG toys and beef cheek rolls.

“Or give your dog some training for Christmas,” Wittwer suggested. Dog Training Elite offers free home evaluations to see what training would best suit your dog. The company provides training for a variety of intended-use dogs, including service dogs, therapy dogs, and personal protection dogs, as well as for puppies and family dogs.

“The hardest part for most dogs is the initial meet and greet,” said Wittwer.

There are things dog owners can start doing now to help acclimate their dogs to potential holiday changes. For example, Wittwer suggests going home and ringing your doorbell multiple times a day to “make normalcy with things that are not necessarily normal with your dog.”

If you are planning on being gone a lot during the holidays, Wittwer advises starting crate training ahead of time to lower potential stress for the dog. Get a kennel, and introduce the crate positively by putting yummy treats inside, offering “a nice, safe place.”

If your dog tends to get hyperaroused with guests, plan on mentally stimulating your pet beforehand, as dog owners can “accomplish a lot more with mental stimulation versus physical stimulation in a shorter amount of time,” according to Wittwer. When time is of the essence, this can be valuable knowledge to help you prepare.

An easy tip to instigate mental stimulation is to get a metal food bowl and put some crushed-up dog food in it. Mix in low-sodium broth and then freeze it. Once frozen, set out the dish and let your dog lick the treat. “This helps drain a dog mentally in about 20 minutes versus a one-hour run,” added Wittwer.

Other tips to keep your dog calm during the holidays include putting your dog on a leash or in a crate when guests arrive, allowing guests to settle in, and giving dog owners control of the environment before introducing their dog.

“Be your dog’s biggest advocate,” Wittwer advises.

If your dog is not comfortable being touched, tell your guests. Additionally, for guests who are uncomfortable around dogs, Wittwer notes that dogs can sense an individual’s lack of confidence. “A person’s stress will translate to the dog, making the dog uncomfortable.”

An easy solution for guests who are timid around dogs is to advise them to avoid or ignore the dog rather than try to force interaction, which can increase the risk of the dog biting if it feels unsafe.

Wittwer commented, “Most of the reactive dogs I deal with are not the dogs people generally associate with being aggressive, such as German Shepherds, pit bulls, or Dobermans. They are usually ‘Fluffy’ the Labradoodle or Chihuahua who got scared.”

“Every dog can be a loving, sweet dog,” added Wittwer, reminding dog owners to take responsibility for properly training their dogs and helping their dogs remain safe and calm this holiday season.

A typical dog owner is estimated to spend $10,000 to $20,000 throughout the lifetime of his pet, according to Duke University. Hence, keeping our ‘best friend’ healthy and safe is an emotional and financial investment.

For more information about Dog Training Elite Dallas click here.

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