Worst Holiday Pooch Problems: Solved!

Whether you're taking your pup with you or leaving him home for the holidays, seasonal stress can take its toll on both owner and canine. The Dog Shrink, Kathy Santos, shares the secrets to surviving the season - and how to avoid a potential costly trip to the emergency vet!

1. Problem: My dog keeps eating decorations!

Solution: The decorations that he only sees on holidays make a particularly enticing target, hence his penchant for them vs. the furniture that he sees year-round. Although you can take a warm bath to decompress, your dog's options are usually of the oral variety, so be sure to offer him plenty of new (durable!) toys, and monitor him closely whenever he's near the decorations. And when the basics are met - a healthy diet, proper training, affection, exercise, and toys that are appropriate for your dog then everyone will have a happy holiday season.

2. Problem: My dog hates his winter coat.

Solution: Although wearing the newest Burberry coat or Prada boots might be thrilling to you, your dog is, well, a dog. However, some dogs do need extra warmth and protection. Short-coated, very young, and frail, geriatric dogs are coat candidates. You'll need to do a little training to teach your dog how much fun it can be to wear clothes. Start by dressing him in an oversize T-shirt - a child-size shirt is big enough for small dogs. It will be easier and less upsetting to put his head and legs through than a tight sweater. Practice putting on the coat, allowing him to wear it around the house for short periods. You should give him fabulous rewards - my dogs will do anything for a jar of chicken baby food! - to motivate him.

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3. Problem: My dog hates his carrier bag!

Solution: Use the T.R.I.P. method for training a dog to travel:

  • Teach them to love their bag. Keep it on the floor at first, so he can hop in and out of it at will. Make sure lots of cool snacks randomly appear in it, and he'll keep coming back.
  • Recreation inside the bag is key. New toys that your dog has never played with will ensure that she looks forward to going on her next outing.
  • Introduce them to traveling with short trips. For dogs who are extremely sensitive, this might mean going from your kitchen to the living room in the bag.
  • Please release me. Dogs shouldn't live in their bags. Especially in the beginning, give them frequent opportunities to get out and walk.

4. Problem: My dog barks endlessly.

Solution: If your dog begins barking when you're leaving and refuses to stop until you walk back in the door, he is (loudly) telling you he is either lonely or bored. He knows that his bark will produce a reaction out of you. During the holidays, you probably have even more to do than normal, but make sure that he is exercised. Try giving him plenty of toys before you leave the house, and keep the good-bye unemotional.

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5. Problem: My dog doesn't have much experience traveling.

Solution: Bringing familiar items such as his bed, a few toys, and dog bowls will help ease the transition into a new environment. If your dog is used to a crate, by all means bring it. If you don't have a crate, consider investing in pressure-mounted baby gates. By giving your dog the security of his possessions from home, allowing him proper socialization with the new people he's going to be cohabiting with, and being considerate of your host's indoor and outdoor environment (ask where your dog is allowed to potty and be sure to pick up after him), you'll almost guarantee that you - and your dog - will be invited back.


6. Problem: My dog steals food off the table.

Solution: Kathy says, "To stop the dinnertime insanity, take control of the situation before it breaks down." This is particularly important this time of year when candy and chocolate are in abundance. Your first step: Don't get angry after the food-stealing occurs. Dogs do not understand our anger. The trick is to train your dog to perform a "down" or "sit" command in another area in the kitchen or dining room. This should not be done at mealtime, rather at some other time when there won't be any distractions. Try keeping a comfy dog bed in that room. This way, your dog can be in the room while you eat, but you can calmly keep him from approaching the table.

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7. Problem: We need to leave our dog with a pet sitter, but our pup gets nervous and is people-shy.

Solution: If your dog is nervous and shy, have your pet sitter drop in for a few minutes as many times as possible between now and the time that you leave. Once your dog is comfortable with her presence while you're home, arrange for her to stop by when you're out. As their relationship progresses, teach your sitter the obedience commands that your dog knows (leave a written list when you leave) and have her incorporate practice sessions into the visits. Eventually, your dog will become comfortable - or, even better - delighted with the new person in his life.

Have you had any pet disasters during the holidays?

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.