We’re a whole bunch of crazy pet people here at Literally, Darling. Evident by our recent pet photo competition, we fully support (read: encourage) spending time with all things furry, cuddly and four-legged, especially during the holidays. Though as pet owners, we know that the holidays can be pure fur-, pee- and poop-covered Hell if not handled correctly. Between new things around the house (“Shiny things! I can haz Christmas tree?!”), lots of new and unusual faces coming and going (“Who are are these people? … No really, who are all of these people? … If these people do not feed me, I will pee.”) and the pure abundance of new food smells wafting about (“IS THAT HAM?!?”) it’s understandable that our fur babies can get a bit uncomfortable around the holidays. So what can we humans do to ease the transition for them and in turn make the experience easier for ourselves as well?
Prepare them with a “safe place.”
Being as preemptive as possible in your pet care is key. If you know you have a party planned, a vacation scheduled or if you have family coming over for an extended stay, it is best to start creating a “safe place” for your animal ahead of time. Especially if your pet is not already crate, kennel or play pen trained, now is the time to start working on implementing these tactics. Get a crate, bed, pen or even a room in your home that will be their official holiday den. Start doing treat time, cuddle time or play time, whatever your pet enjoys, in or near this space so they start to associate it with safety and happiness. Each time they enter the bed, crate or room they should be treated and praised. No matter how old your animal, positive reinforcement works in training them for a new experience. Fill the space with toys, blankets and personal items. Something as simple as a shirt that you’ve worn can help establish the space as their home.
For parties, once the new holiday visitors start arriving, you can keep your animal comforted during the craziness and away from the guests by containing them in a warm, cozy spot of their own. For long term visitors staying at your home, you can keep your pet in this place and bring the visitor to them for the initial introduction. This will help keep pets from jumping and getting hair all over the newcomers. Any time your pet gets a little too much for the guests, you know you have a spot for them to go and still be happy. Once they are calm and more comfortable, you can let the animal out to be a part of the fun. For vacations, bring the crate or bed your pet is acclimated to with you. That way there is a bit of home away from home.
Utilize a pet sitter.
Boarding your pet in a kennel can be so expensive you almost wish you weren’t leaving town at all. Not to mention the unnerved feeling of leaving your pet with strangers in a place he or she is not comfortable in. The best and often less expensive alternative to kennel boarding is a pet sitter. It may seem as though this personal type of attention can be more expensive, but there are many online services out there where you can find burgeoning pet sitters who are just getting started with their business, thus have lower rates. Rover, DogVacay and Care.com are all good, reliable sites to find pet lovers in your area. You can set your preferences for pet care and even the rate you’re able to pay. Want someone to stay in your home while you’re gone? How about having your animal stay in another pet owner’s home? What if your dog is fine at home but just needs someone to come by a few times a day and let them out? All of these are options to choose from, and these companies are insured and bonded to ease your worries. Check out reviews, meet with the pet sitter in person and choose someone you feel is perfect for a calm, safe and comfortable trip for both you and your pet.
Go outside and play.
It can be so easy to get caught up with all of the responsibilities of the holidays—cooking, cleaning, preparation, shopping, wrapping, decorating—that we can forget to give our pets the exercise and fun they deserve. Try to remember that most bad pet behavior is spawned from too much energy and excitement that has not had the proper outlet. Before big holiday events or activities, take your dog for a run, play with the cat, just get outdoors with your pet and give them some one-on-one attention. They are less apt to feel ignored if you’ve spent some quality time with them beforehand.
Make your pet a part of the celebration.
Sometimes all our pet wants is to be a part of the fun. They want special treats, food and presents, too! Fancy holiday dinner? Make something special for your pet that they would not normally get. At my house, we do rice, boiled chicken and a bit of chicken stock for the dogs. We call it “meat treats” and trust me, they go nuts. Serve them when you serve the guests and they will feel a part of the event instead of an annoyance. While family is unwrapping gifts, give your pet an amazing treat that will keep them occupied and away from the wrapping paper all over the floor. Most importantly, give your pet lots of hugs and kisses so they know that even though their normal routine has been disturbed, they are still your number one pal.
Yes, our pets can be a handful, but we sure do love them. Remember that your little ones have no idea what’s happening. All they understand is that their world has been turned upside down, there are fun things to tear apart and for some reason that water bowl under the tree is off limits. That said, the most important thing you can do as a pet owner during the holidays is be patient. Give them your time, care and attention even when it seems like you have none, because a little patience and preparation can go a very long way in making the holidays comfortable for you and your baby.