As the holidays approach, commitments seem to fill our calendars, and we look for aspects of our lives that we can set aside until after the New Year. In some cases, this isn’t a problem. If you quit a hobby for a couple of months, it probably won’t matter much. Unfortunately, some people put their dogs on the back burner, and that is a problem. As a thinking, sentient being with needs and desires, your dog will not be content to be ignored for the next few months. His unhappiness may impact all of your lives in ways none of you will enjoy.
Your dog relies on you for companionship and affection. Saying, “I love you” doesn’t do it for him. He needs your time: time to pet him, time to play with him, time to teach him something new. If he doesn’t receive the attention he needs, he will likely become bored and stressed. This, in turn, will resort in him finding ways to entertain himself. He may choose to empty the contents of your 13-gallon trash can onto the floor and strew them throughout the house, with the messiest and/or smelliest contents distributed on your carpet. Alternatively, he may choose to remove the wainscoting, eat one shoe of every pair you own, destroy your pillows, or unstuff your sofa. A bored dog, even a typically well trained, obedient dog, can be unendingly creative in the way he chooses to relieve himself of stress.
In order to keep your dog from destroying your environment while entertaining himself, you need to be proactive in keeping him occupied despite your busy schedule. A great way to do this is to enroll in a dog training class. While it may seem counter-intuitive to add an activity to your already busy schedule, a training class is a wonderful way to spend some time focusing on your dog. When you pay for a class, you’re more likely to devote a few minutes every day to working on the skills you are learning, if for no other reason than so you won’t be embarrassed at your next class. Your dog won’t care that the reason you’re focusing on him is to teach him something, he’s just excited to have your attention. As an added benefit, Fido is learning behavior skills that will make him a better companion year round. Most reputable training schools close down the week of major holidays, so you won’t be faced with the choice of stuffing the turkey or going to class.
If your dog’s obedience skills are already up to par, consider getting involved in a dog-sport or activity. Again, it’s a way to spend time with your dog while doing something fun together. There are many great things to explore with your dog. You and your canine companion can try out treibball, rally, agility or flyball, learn dock-diving, or take a herding lesson. WHAT you do is far less important than the fact that you’re DOING something together.
If you can’t involve yourself in a new activity, don’t let your busy schedule dictate the time you spend with your dog. Plan to do something with him every day, whether it’s a long walk, a retrieving session in the backyard, or a nose to tail massage. Take frequent trips to the local dog park, go hiking, or teach him some new tricks. Do something every day to enjoy your special bond, and to keep him from feeling ignored during the holiday season.
If you’re totally overwhelmed with holiday business and can’t find time for your dog, don’t leave him alone and neglected. Find someone else who can give him attention. Hire a neighborhood teen to come over and walk him and play in the backyard. Your dog will be thrilled to be getting some attention, and the teen will be happy to earn some Christmas money. If you can’t find a teen you trust, hire a dogsitter to come walk your buddy. Another option is to explore doggy day care. This will provide a social outlet for your dog, as well as a way for him to get some exercise and attention. None of these things will replace you, but all of them will work to give your dog some much needed physical and mental stimulation.
Reindeer antlers, leftover turkey and wrapped toys don’t mean nearly as much to your dog as your time and attention does. As the holidays approach, plan now to spend some special time with your special friend.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com . Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.