Day Two: Active Fun


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.)

13 thoughts on “Day Two: Active Fun

  1. It’s too bad more people don’t think of their dogs/cats/other furry critters during this busy time of year. Christmas can be so hectic and crazy and they are often overlooked. Great tips for those that actually care about their pets! I’m fortunate in that I can have all the main festivities at someone else’s house so Blueberry won’t feel overwhelmed. For her, it’ll be just another day – other than the gifts I will have her “open”. 🙂


    1. I don’t think it’s always deliberate neglect, which is the point of the series. Sometimes we get caught up in the moment and don’t think.

      We travel for Christmas and do some creative dodging to get Silas out of the worst of the actual festivities. We definitely don’t host any parties in our own house–that would be way too much.


  2. Wow, those are two amazing lists of inside activities. I need to print them out and put them on the fridge.

    I also find that reminding family how many calories we’ve been consuming often gets everyone interested in taking a walk. It’s not just good for the dog.

    And thanks for sharing the nosework link. I haven’t restored my pages yet but I’ll make sure I get that back up soon. It’s been very popular.


  3. Such a great post. We experience the snow-ball-stress-effect around here frequently. Perhaps the UPS man comes, then we go for a walk and Lucas flips out at something that he would’ve otherwise ignored. I do the same thing when my work day is stressful! These are really great suggestions. I’m going to incorporate more nosework into our days for sure!


    1. It was a huge lightbulb for me to realize–“Why is he freaking out about this? It doesn’t usually bother him!” “Oh, yeah, four extra things happened first this time.” Now I try my best to watch for it, but sometimes it sneaks up still.


  4. Thanks for the wicked lists! This year is the very first time we will be travelling for the holidays and it has got me wrapped up in knots. I adored our quiet holidays at home with just me, my husband, and the animals. This year is going to be much more stressful and our dog is going to be encountering many new people, NOT her favourite thing in the world. I just hope we can all keep it together!


    1. We’ve always traveled with Silas. The older he gets the more he prefers things to be HIS WAY, but he’s also learning some coping mechanisms. So we’ll see how it goes. I especially worry about Christmas with my in-laws, where there’s another dog.

      I’m sure we’ll both manage just fine. 🙂


  5. One thing that really helps tire our dogs is to kennel them outside for part of the day. I think the mental stimulation can be as tiring as a walk. Of course we aren’t doing either right now because it is too darn cold. But that pheasant hunt Saturday was good enough to carry them until…probably tomorrow. 🙂


    1. Oh, yeah, outside time is a great idea for people who have the option. Our “outside” is a patio the size of a small living room, which is probably why it never occurred to me. LOL.


  6. Our walks have been cut down due to Sampson’s surgery. While he is allowed to walk and run I notice he is very tired after a short walk around the blog. That doesn’t mean Delilah is tired though, so I will have to come up with ways to entertain her.

    thanks for the great list!


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