Keeping the Bumpus Hounds at Bay

The ubiquitous dog-related holiday disaster story appears in "A Christmas Story". Still, every year, I am contacted by distraught owners who just didn't realize how predictable and, sadly, preventable, holiday hoopla could have been.

To ensure you & your dog have a smooth holiday
Assess your situation:
Is this the dog's first holiday experience at your house?
Is the dog an adolescent (age 4 mos -3 years)?
Have you had the opportunity to properly socialize the dog?

Assess reality:
Are you able to make this a positive learning experience for the dog?
Have you been providing the correct levels of exercise, training, and stimulation over the past few weeks?

WHY are the holidays so tricky? So much can be non-routine. Here are some occurrences that your dog may not ever encounter apart from the holidays:

  • tired owners (alcohol or fatigue have similar effects on ability drive a car)
  • stressed owners have litte patience or calmness in working with the dog
  • rushed owners have no time for the dog
  • irregular schedules
  • prolonged confinement
  • kenneling, pet sitters, or daycare sessions
  • skipped or reduced-length walks and training sessions
  • extended, overnight visits from family and friend
  • visits can include other pets
  • crowded rooms in your home
  • unsupervised children
  • food left out or accessible (You don't really think the trash can is inaccessible, do you?)
  • atypical, highly-stimulating objects (toys that make noise or even move, blinking lights, candles, etc)

When making decisions about how to handle the holidays, forethought is your best defense. Once something has already occurred, it isn't as if you can rewind time and "unteach" what happened! However, being overly cautious may result in your dog never learning to handle holiday-related stimulation.

INCREASE, rather than decrease walks, training, and exercise. Bad weather means "bundle up", not "skip your walk". Get help if you can't realistically make it happen. Hire a trainer, a dog walker, a pet sitter, .... Even a trustworthy neighbor or family member will do!

Replace extended confinement whenever possible. Consider letting your dog spend the day with a trustworthy friend or family member, or use a reputable doggie daycare. Confinement to a crate, room, pen, or backyard, while safest, increases exercise demands to maintain desirable behavior.

Enroll in a training course. Not only will you learn great tips and tricks, but you also get a terrific opportunity to see what your dog can handle. A group class environment is a great indicator of how your dog may handle other highly stimulating environments (like your holiday get-together).

Test run confinement before the big day.

Don't skip exercise; add extra. If you aren't providing extra exercise to accommodate increasing stress levels, you are adding risk factors. Skipping exercise is a risk factor above and beyond that.

Supervise, supervise, supervise! Multi-tasking is a myth. At moments when you can't provide the appropriate level of supervision for your dog's level of expertise, confine the dog to a mistake-proof area.

Deliberately teach through as much as you can handle. Calm is key. Feel harried, anxious, or rushed? Don't handle your dog. Opt for confinement until you feel calmer. Ask your favorite resource how to teach through real-world scenarios like greeting guests at the door, greeting seated guests, going to a designated spot and lying down on command, etc., while in a highly stimulating environment.

Avoid the problem. While a terrible long-term solution, it may be most realistic for your situation this year. Find a reputable boarding kennel, daycare, or even a dog walker, pet sitter, dog trainer, groomer, vet assistant, or other dog pro who can be trusted take the dog to their home. Realize that everyone else and their cousins will do this, too. Plan ahead.

There is no way to absolutely guarantee nothing will go wrong. Make the best choices you can, and don't worry about any minor mishaps. At the end of the day, if no one bled, no one died, and your home is mostly intact, call it "success", ... and memory material. Even the legendary Bumpus Hounds just made for a great story.


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