The holiday is a time of year that is joyous and wonderful, but for many people, it can be stressful too. Being a calm and assertive pack leader is important at all times, but it’s particularly important to stay mindful of your state of mind during the holiday festivities to make it a calm and balanced — and peaceful — holiday for your canine companions too. Here are a few suggestions:


Before company comes over or before leaving your dog at home while attending a holiday party, make sure he is well-exercised. Draining his energy is a good way to ensure he will rest, relax, and remain calm while you are away or entertaining guests.

Be mindful of tree ornaments and decorations.

Your dog doesn’t know the difference between a toy and a decoration without you showing him. Before leaving him alone in the house with all the decor, make sure he knows and respects his boundaries. Dogs can get themselves into trouble quickly — every year I hear a story of a dog who pulled an ornament off the tree and the tree comes tumbling down with it! For complete peace of mind, consider crating your dog while you are away if decorations are in the reach of your dog.

Watch out for unexpected toxins around the house.

With the holidays comes goodies, treats, and cheer, so be careful with chocolates, candies, and anything else that may be toxic or harmful to your dog. Ensure the trash can is secure as well. Make sure guests in your home are informed as well. Not everyone has pets and therefore may not be aware that giving Fido grapes or chicken bones isn’t a good idea! Also, common holiday plants like Holly and Amaryllis can be toxic to your dog, inducing vomiting and upset stomachs, often requiring a trip to the emergency vet.

Prepare your dog for the weather.

Many breeds are not built to handle cold weather. Make sure that if you are spending time outdoors in the cold, your dog is prepared with the appropriate supplies, like doggie boots and coats. And if the weather is simply freezing and you are unable to exercise outside, allow your dog to step outside and feel for itself that it is too cold or too stormy to go on a long walk. Instinctively, the dog will understand why it is coming back inside where it’s safe. And then create an indoor activity to engage in instead.

Give back.

Take some time this holiday to do something special for others. Spread the warmth of the season with your neighbors and complete strangers alike. You’d be surprised what a basket of freshly baked cookies can mean to an unsuspecting friend, relative, or co-worker. The holidays are an especially good time to appreciate what you have and to embody a generous spirit. Consider visiting your local animal shelter and volunteering your time, donating to a family in need, or participating in a local charity program that brings families in need a warm meal.

Dogs can make wonderful gifts, but they aren’t as easily returnable if the fit isn’t just right.

The new owner must be ready to make a commitment for the animal’s entire lifetime and be prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with their new family member. For this kind of gift, a carefully wrapped IOU can be given in place of the animal itself, to let the person know that their gift is coming.

Practice good manners.

When guests come to the door, use this as a training opportunity to encourage polite well-mannered greetings with both humans and dogs. Instruct your guests to practice no touch, no talk, no eye contact when they arrive and not to give affection until the dog is calm. Never introduce an excited child to a dog either. The holiday cheer can send kids into a frenzy with Santa and gifts and candy, so try to encourage all family members to celebrate, but to do so with calm energy. If the excitement is elevated, use your best pack leader skills to bring the energy and environment back to a calmer state as soon as it feels right to do so.

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