Doggone Holidays

Yesterday I got a really sappy e-mail from some e-mail list. It instructed me, very sweetly, to “meditate on how you want your children to feel over the holidays!” I don’t have children and probably shouldn’t be on this e-mail list.

My sarcastic brain immediately kicked in–“I should just replace ‘children’ with ‘dog.’ Then everyone would understand how ridiculous this is.”

But, wait. How does my dog feel about the holidays?

I can sum it up in one word. Stressed.

For people, holidays are about putting up beautiful decorations, shopping for thoughtful presents, gathering with our families and/or friends, and eating delicious food. From your dog’s perspective, that same list means: a lot of new off-limits objects in the house, being left at home alone more, less exercise, strangers in the house, a kitchen full of potentially dangerous food items, and a lot of pressure to behave well. It’s even worse if you travel. Combine that earlier list with long car-rides and being in a strange environment, possibly even with strange dogs. Your dog can also pick up on your stress. Hate your in-laws? Want to kick the radio every time “Santa, Baby” comes on? Your dog knows.

Some dogs thrive on a house full of laps and would never dream of opening Grandma’s present for her. For other dogs, it’s an almost unbearable burden. Stress is cumulative, and by the time your poor dog is facing down your cousin Lisa’s over-tired toddler on Christmas night you could have a really bad situation on your hands.

I’m going to run a series over the next week about helping your dog cope with some of this stress. The first post will be up Monday, starting with things you can do right now before things are too hectic.


Has your dog ever had a bad holiday? What’s your biggest challenge?

7 thoughts on “Doggone Holidays

  1. My most memorably worse doggie Christmas was in 2007 with my last two dogs, Lasya and Freya (the doggesses). They had a rocky beginning and a few scuffles, but with careful management they lived together for almost ten years in relative peace. That Christmas, though, the change in routine and a lapse in supervision resulted in a holiday emergency vet visit. We were at my parent’s house on their mountain property, where my city dogs got to experience a lot of freedom. They were always fed separately, Lasya out on the front porch and Freya in the kitchen, but that day there must have been a crumb of kibble on the porch that Lasya had missed. They were both outside and my mom and I heard some snarling. They were already separated by the time we opened the front door, and we thought it was all bark and no bite until Lasya turned to face me and her eye was filled with blood. Freya had bitten and torn the very corner of her eyelid. It looked much worse than it was, but we called in and rushed off to the country vet’s office about 35 minutes away. Lasya did not require stitches, but the poor thing did have to spend the rest of our holiday in the Cone of Shame so she wouldn’t scratch at her eye.

    It is definitely the time of year to pay extra attention to your dog’s stress levels and try to minimize changes in routine.


  2. Now that the nieces and nephews are older and my husband’s parents have passed, we celebrate Christmas in a very low key and low stress way. With no traveling.

    But our most stressful holiday was when our car broke down on Christmas day while traveling home with my mother in law and our dogs, Agatha and Christie. We managed to limp the car off the road at a rest stop where I stood in a back vestibule with the dogs for 3 hours hoping no one would kick us out while my husband was getting the car towed and arranging transport home.

    Luckily (and surprisingly) my mother in law and both dogs were on their best behavior, despite the sub zero temps and stress.

    Nowadays the only stress Honey has over the holidays is wondering if she’s going to get some French toast for Christmas breakfast. 🙂

    Glad to hear about your series. I know many people never think about how upsetting the change in routines can be for any dog.


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