Pet behavior considerations during the holidays

While preparing for the holidays, consider the impact of your events on your pet. Here are five things that can impact your pet’s experience during this hectic time.

  1. Unfamiliar people may be coming in droves. If your dog is worried around strangers, keep him separated until you’re able to really watch him and monitor interactions with others (or just keep him separated throughout, with a tasty food toy). Remember that dogs don’t feel comfortable with strangers reaching to pet them at first introduction – or, for some, ever.
  2. With all the food comes the potential for resource-guarding. Dogs who are otherwise oblivious may growl or bite when a guest reaches for something they put down. They may also lie under tables and, again, bite if a guest reaches to pick up a dropped drumstick.
  3. Traveling with your dog to a relative’s house may include a long car ride; consider acclimating your dog to a crate for the car (which will also be handy at the destination). If a baby is traveling along, consider separating the dog and baby in the car. Also important, be cautious about introductions to the host’s dog, who might herself be anxious and guard her belongings.
  4. If you travel without your dog, there are considerations about boarding or hiring a house-sitter. If your dog is prone to anxiety, be sure to introduce the sitter in advance and insist that s/he sticks with the dog’s usual schedule and any cautions – for example to avoid pulling the dog off furniture. Boarding kennels should be advised of any behavioral special needs – for example the dog might need to be called out of a kennel, rather than being cornered by someone entering.
  5. Fights can erupt between pets when treats, toys, or food are involved. Separate pets to avoid competition.

Simple behavioral considerations can help make the holiday smooth and trauma-free for your dog.

Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVBIlana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB
Dr. Reisner has been a board-certified veterinary behaviorist since the specialty of veterinary behavior was established in 1995. She has expertise in both normal (though often undesirable) and abnormal behaviors of all companion animals. She graduated from Oregon State University and completed her Internship in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Michigan State University. After completing her residency in Behavioral Medicine at Cornell University, she stayed on to earn her PhD in Behavioral Physiology. Dr. Reisner joined NorthStar VETS in October 2012.

Previously a member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine where she headed the behavior service at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Reisner provided clinical services to pet owners, served as mentor in a clinical residency program, and taught both clinical and undergraduate veterinary students. She has published and spoken extensively on all aspects of behavior problems in dogs and cats and has an ongoing research interest in dog bites and public health.

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