Welcome to Day Two of my Holiday Management series! Today we’re going to talk about avoiding the cumulative effect of stress.
Something that your dog can handle perfectly well when it happens by itself can be a major event when it happens after a long buildup of elevated stress levels. Just like you’re more likely to snap at your spouse after a bad day at work, your dog is more likely to snap (metaphorically or literally) at little Timmy after a long holiday party. We’ll talk more about the Big Day itself later in the week, but for today we’re going to tackle that constant low-grade stress snowball.
How can you stop the stress from accumulating?
Give your dog something fun to do!
We’ll start with the basics. You’re not home as much as usual, right? So, who’s walking the dog? If your dog is used to an hour of exercise every day, and suddenly you’ve dropped down to a quick 15 minute walk in the morning, you’re going to get some behavioral fallout. I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’m guessing under-exercised dogs are much more likely to eat the Christmas tree. That regular exercise also helps to relieve stress for your dog, just like ladies’ magazines always tell you. Find the time from somewhere or consider hiring a dog-walker (if your dog would like that) to minimize changes to your dog’s routine.
You can also de-stress your dog with some fun things to do around the house. Nose work of any kind is great for a dog’s brain. It can be as easy as just hiding some treats, or your dog’s favorite toy, then turning him loose to find them. You can even have family-members hide for the dog to find, in a dog/people game of hiden-n-seek. If you want something a little more structured. Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes has a great introduction.
If you’re one of those unfortunate people who are dealing with both a hectic schedule and truly miserable weather right now, you may want to come up with some inside games. Here’s a link to some of ours, and this is a mega-list of things to do inside.
While you’re busy wrapping presents and baking cookies, keep your dog busy with a puzzle-toy. Using his brain will not only tire your dog down, but it will also get his mind off his problems. Know your dog and pick a puzzle accordingly. If it’s too hard it may increase your dog’s stress level. (The same goes for the nose work games above.) I ran down some of our favorites here, and our strategies for using them with raw food here, but there are millions of them on the market right now. Most of them involve food, but a few don’t. Despite the number of expensive widgets I’ve bought, Silas’s favorite is a cardboard box filled with packing paper and a few treats, then taped shut. Which is why I’m wrapping my presents and then putting them on a high shelf.
The sneaky benefit of all these is that they’re good for you, too! Exercise and play are good for you in their own right, and having the dog occupied while you do your chores will take a weight off your mind.
(The fine print for the whole series: Don’t trust anyone on the internet for advice about serious training issues. If your dog has a history of biting, separation anxiety, extreme fear, resource guarding, or generalized anxiety, please get professional help.)