This may not come as a surprise to you like it did me, but there are just 18 days until Hanukkah and 25 days until Christmas. It's like one moment I was selecting pumpkins and the next I was stressing out about Christmas cards. Can you relate? I'm, once again, not ready for the holiday season. I love this time of year, but I also find it incredibly anxiety provoking. Apparently, I'm not alone. I've already received a dozen calls/emails from pet parents needing assistance "before December __ when family arrive for the holidays." While I am happy to provide guidance to these folks, I also know that it is more than likely that the issues they are facing won't be "fixed" by that looming date on their respective calendars.
You see, anxiety is often at the root of the problems for which people seek my assistance. Anxiety requires understanding, accommodations, and adjustments to our behavior, as well as our pet's. It can't be solved with a pill, a crate, or a trip to a board and train. While anti-anxiety medication might help, it takes weeks/months to reach an efficacious level in a pet's brain and body. While crates are helpful, you can't crate an anxiously aggressive dog for 10 days while you have guests in your home. And while sending a dog off to boot camp may feel like you're killing two birds with one stone (getting them training and having someone else watch them for you), dogs returning from board and train situations often come home with more problems than they started with.
I don't want these new clients to feel discouraged, but I do want to be honest with them. We aren't going to fix everything in one session. What we can do in that first session, however, is come up with an action plan of what needs to be done to reduce their pet's anxiety and make the holidays a bit less stressful for all concerned. I've been doing this a long time (over 30 years!), so I am nothing other than realistic with my clients. I'll help them reach their goals, but it will take work and more time than those 18 to 25 days before the holidays hit us like a freight train.
Here's the other thing I know about the holidays. I'm not the only human who feels stressed out and anxious this time of year. And I KNOW my own stress is felt by my dogs. Ozzie often becomes extra-clingy this time of year as he tries to help me accomplish my tasks; he is my shadow, a daily reminder to take walks, drink water, and pet the dog. Understanding that our own attitudes and coping strategies affect our pets' behavior is important too when you're trying to come up with a way to make it better for them!
So, here's my advice for you, the humans. Walk your dogs. Take frequent breaks. Drink lots of water (especially if it's flavored with coffee or tea!). Nourish you body with yummy foods, bonus for those foods your pets can have too (pumpkin, apples, pears, a bite of gingerbread!). Relax, even if it's just for a few moments; petting a dog or cat is good for them and for you. Prioritize what you need to accomplish and be realistic about what you can actually get done.
And if what you need to prioritize is help for your pet, then I'm here for you. If they jump on guests, bark at visitors, freak out over the holiday lights and decor, forget how to use their litterbox, or pull on the leash to greet everyone, let's get on those issues now. If your pet is anxious, experiencing issues related to fear or aggression, let's start working on those as well. No need to make those issues your New Year's resolutions when we can start tackling them together now.
I love that the woman I spoke to this morning told me how afraid she was to call me, but now feels nothing but hope. She said she couldn't believe I'd made her laugh and smile, when she'd dialed my number practically in tears. I'm going to consider that a win right out of the gate. She's now in a better head space for us to work with her challenging dog. Bringing hope to pet owners is definitely part of my job and one I take seriously (though I do like making people laugh as well).
Let's try to go into this holiday season with joy in our hearts and patience for each other and for the pets in our families. As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.