Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Tis The Season

Well, the holidays are upon us whether we're ready or not and that means lots of pressure for pet owners. Pressure to make sure our dogs don't jump on anyone uninvited. Pressure to make sure they aren't table surfing, or worse yet, sampling off of plates on laps.  Pressure to make sure our cats aren't walking on the kitchen counter prep area and that the litter boxes are clean. While we hope our family and friends will understand that this is our house and that the pets live here year round, we do want those people visiting us to feel comfortable.  At the same time, however, we don't want our pets to feel left out and more importantly we don't want to feel judged.  There's nothing that takes the holiday spirit out of a pet owner faster than being judged.

My wish for you this holiday season is that your family and friends will see the hard work you've put into helping your pet companions thrive.  That they will see you working on your dog's barking, or your cat's furniture scratching behavior and complement you on your progress rather than criticize you for not having it "fixed." They need to embrace the fact that you are a pet owner and dogs do bark and cats do scratch and that's normal behavior for their species.  You would not have chosen a dog companion if you didn't expect them to bark, nor would you have chosen a cat if you didn't expect to have to teach them where to scratch. These are hard concepts for non-pet owners to understand.  The rest of us totally get it. So if no one tells you this holiday season, you know what? You're doing great! I see you making headway with your dogs and cats and I appreciate your efforts.

Look, I have an 8 month old puppy right now.  He's made huge progress but he's not perfect. Yet.  Hey, I've still got a month before Christmas so a girl can dream.  Just kidding. He won't be perfect then either, whatever perfect really means.  You see, he's perfect to me and he's becoming such a delightful companion, walking nicely on leash, only occasionally trying to chase the neighbor's cats now.  He rarely barks and when he does it's because he genuinely heard or saw something important.  He still eats the fruit and veggies in my garden, but at least he doesn't eat the furniture or my shoes.  He would like to sit at the table when people are eating, but he will go lay on his bed if asked.  Twice.  You need to ask him twice.  Still, that's progress.  He does try to jump on people, so he'll be wearing his collar and leash when guests arrive, but that's okay.  My friends and family accept that he's still a puppy.  An over 50 lb. puppy, but a puppy nonetheless.

It's also a good time to remember that letting your dog chill out in another room with something fun to chew on, or letting them hang out in their crate with a bone, are perfectly acceptable solutions to some common holiday woes.  If your dog hasn't mastered not bolting out an open doorway as guests enter, jumping up, table surfing, etc., then placing them in another room or in their crate is fine. It's safer for them and less stressful for you.  And if it's possible to keep them on leash, tethered to you, that's a viable option as well.  Now, if your dog is afraid of new people or aggressive, then you simply must put them somewhere else when you have guests.  It's your job to keep them under threshold for unwanted behaviors that put them (and you!) at risk.  Rather than having those out-of-town guests stay with you and your fearful or aggressive dog, instead suggest a local hotel or an Airbnb for their safety and comfort.  You can still get together at your house, confining your dog when they do, but the guests staying elsewhere means your dog won't have to be confined the entire length of their visit, thus making guests a big negative for them.  If you haven't already done so with your aggressive dog, now is the time to muzzle train them.  Muzzle training them means that they can be on leash and muzzled anytime they aren't confined. This makes it easier and safer for guests who are staying in your home. Muzzle training doesn't make you a bad dog owner or them a bad dog; it's a tool that can be used to increase safety and provide a reactive dog with an obvious on/off switch.

It goes without saying that your well-mannered, social butterfly cats and dogs will need to be watched as well.  You see, they are going to be the ones receiving often unnecessary or unsafe handouts from well-meaning friends and family as a reward for their "good behavior."  While one little piece of skinless turkey won't hurt a dog or cat, several pieces will definitely upset their stomach and it's not like guests will be tracking who gave your pet a tidbit and who didn't.  And your dog/cat sure as heck isn't going to tell, right up until the point they feel ill and begin experiencing vomiting or diarrhea!

Finally, I hope you take the time to enjoy the holiday season.  We all get so rushed trying to get everything done and make it all perfect that we forget to to enjoy the moment.  Pets are good at reminding us to relax, take a break, and play.  So, walk the dog, cuddle your kitty, and play with all of your pets. It's good for you and it's good for them.  Stress relief in the form of a nice boost of serotonin and a bit of dopamine for good measure.  Tell those judgy friends and relatives that your pets are good for your mental health, I'll back you up on that.

And as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Henley is ready to party!

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