We have a wonderful 2-year-old Lab named Max. He's friendly, but shy around new people. He also gets uncomfortable around small kids. For the first time since we've had Max, our family is traveling to our house for the holidays. In addition to six adults, there will be two children, ages 4 and 6 staying with us. I'm worried that Max is going to be overwhelmed by all the activity. What can we do to help him get through this?
The Thompson Family
Dear Thompson Family,
The holiday season can be as overwhelming for our dogs as it is for us. It can also be dangerous. You are very smart to plan in advance. Brush up on cues such as Off, Go to Bed, Down, Stay, and Leave it, but don't count on training exclusively. Some management will be necessary to keep Max happy and safe.
It sounds like the combination of adult and child visitors may be too much for Max. Consider putting him in a quiet bedroom or in a crate with a stuffed Kong or extra special chew toy for an hour or so a few times a day. Quiet time will help him calm down and get a break from the commotion. Kids tend to find endless ways to torment dogs when they are not closely supervised and even wonderful dogs like Max may snap or bite when cornered or scared.
Max is a Lab, so you have to expect that he's going to be on patrol for some yummy food. Jumping up, counter-surfing and stealing food are normal dog behaviors. At a busy party there is ample opportunity to snatch the goodies and run. Some polite dogs take a different approach. My dog loves to snuggle up to some unsuspecting guest, give them "the look" and get fed a yummy appetizer. Rich, fatty foods can cause stomach problems ranging from simple upset to pancreatitis which causes pain, vomiting, and dehydration. This is a very serious medical condition and can require hospitalization. Dogs should never be fed cooked bones which are soft and can splinter, causing obstructions and choking. In addition, many holiday foods contain ingredients which can be poisonous to our pets. Onions, alcohol, chocolate, and xylitol (artificial sweetener) are especially dangerous.
Lastly, make it a point to get Max out for a long walk every day. After some exercise, he will be more likely to find a quiet spot to take a nap. This strategy will also be good for you and your guests can enjoy some fresh mountain air.
- Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org