Can Fearful Fido Be Festive?

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worried looking dog at the dinner table on the lap of human

The upcoming holidays bring new feelings for many families as we try to navigate COVID-19 and begin to reconnect with our loved ones. While it can be exciting for us to get together in large groups with our family and friends, this often tends to be very scary for our furry four-legged friends. For the past year and a half, we have isolated more than usual, and Fido has grown accustomed to relaxing with just his family and very few variations to this. If Fido is nervous with any variation in his environment, adding visitors or other dogs can pose a challenge to future gatherings. Here are a few tips on to help Fido be festive, too:

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  •  Find enrichment toys that Fido likes to engage in when it is just your family.
  •  Start now, well before the holidays.  Start with one guest, working your way up to multiple guests in the house.
  •  Put Fido up in a room/crate before the guest comes in the house.
  •  Set up Fido’s enrichment toy such as a snuffle mat near his dog bed or mat about 15-20 feet from the guest.
  •  Have guest sit down before bringing Fido out on leash.
  •  Make sure Fido is calm when you enter the room and treat him, keeping distance from guest.
  •  If Fido is barking, growling, lunging, or showing signs of stress do not proceed.
  •  Have guest toss treats towards Fido.
  •  Check in with Fido often, if he is showing signs of stress such as growling, snapping, barking, shaking, or pulling away, end the session and put Fido back in his crate or other room and contact a Professional Behavior Dog Consultant or Veterinarian for help.
  •  If Fido is eating treats tossed to him, walk him on leash to his bed and have him engage in his snuffle mat.
  •  When Fido looks at you or your guest and is calm, toss treats to him.  It is important that we are tossing treats and never hand feeding him as we want him to be comfortable staying at a distance from our guest.
  •  Repeat the above until Fido no longer cares about the person and goes right to dog bed.
  •  For big gatherings install gates for safe areas for Fido to relax.  Our guests then can move around comfortably and not worry where Fido is.
  •  Advise all guests that Fido likes to be a part of the party from a distance.  Being pet by guests is not enjoyable for Fido.  If guests cannot listen, then put Fido back in his crate/room where he can be safe and not escalate in fear.  Give Fido an enrichment toy to enjoy while he is in his crate.
  •  Have buckets full of treats that can be tossed to Fido over the gate to him.
  •  Remember at any time we see signs of stress Fido needs to be put up away from our guests and a professional called in for more help.

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