Everyone knows the classic "Christmas Special" trope: a bright-eyed family sporting freshly-pressed flannel pyjamas...a perfectly adorned fir tree encased by dozens of hand-wrapped presents...and the family dog curled up by the wood-burning fire accessorized with a festive bandanna and not a care in the world. Western society subconsciously sets this cliche as the standard year after year. If you're anything like me, however, you're more accustomed to a sleep-deprived congregation around a Costco-bought synthetic tree that is grossly disfigured by a pack of estranged dogs who are forced to coexist in one household for an extended period. It's the only holiday narrative I know, and I wouldn't change it for the world. Be that as it may, I have developed some coping mechanisms to help eliminate some of the Christmas crazies from my household, and it's many furry tenants.
Like it or not – the holidays are built on an unspoken constitution of assembly - a topsy-turvy week of obligatory gathering. Meaning a motley crew ranging from your dearest friends to your less high maintenence in-laws , will be under your roof. In the hustle and bustle of trying to accommodate your many irregular guests, the four-legged patrons of the household often go forgotten. Depending on how socialized your pet is – the open-doored policy that comes to exist in the latter half of December can be anxiety-inducing for them (even more-so than it is for their owners). Not to mention the possibility of integrating other dogs into the home.
In my specific experience: I have two brothers, both of which are based in different cities than my parents and myself - and both of which (being our mother's son) have dogs. Every year they meet me at our childhood residence and bring their furry children along. Homebase is already inhabited by three dogs and two cats who belong to my parents to accommodate their "empty-nest syndrome." Throw me and my neurotic dog, Stedman, into the mix, and the result is pure anarchy.
Even the most socialized pets are innately territorial, and the integration of others can throw off the whole dynamic of the household. What has been proven helpful is the sense of familiarity. Make sure that each pet has access to some form of safe-haven that represents their neutral home. Their year-round bed, a kennel, a blanket or a toy would suffice. Keep it somewhere removed from the chaos where it can be quickly accessed to provide a sense of ease.
The shining beacon that lies within the turmoil of the holidays is, of course, the food (and the alcohol). It's the one time of year that it's encouraged to have gluttony strewed throughout the interior of your home as though it's decoration. There's often not enough table space in a home to accommodate a Christmas assembly, and many guests have to improvise, eating in various nooks and crannies of the house. It's never considered how opportunistic this scenario is for a pet until you look down and your entire meal has vanished from your plate. All the while Rufus is hiding in the corner forcefully exuding a demeanor of innocence.
Not only does this violate the pinnacle "Christmas Special" etiquette that we innately strive for, but it could pose potential harm to your pet. Many holiday delicacies are threatening to dogs. Chocolate, macadamia nuts, and fruitcakes all contain ingredients that are toxic to canines. Also be mindful of turkey bones as they are very commonly choked on. Moreover, many popular household decorations can fall under the category of "puppy poison." Poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe need to be kept out of reach. Nobody wants to find the result of Rufus's upset tummy under the tree on Christmas morning.
Foremost, I'd stress the maintenance of household boundaries. It's crucial that you don't let your daily obedience regiment slip. You also must enforce that your guests adhere to these rules and standards. The whole "It's Christmas!" one-off mentality doesn't apply here. It only takes Uncle Jim feeding Rufus one plate of scraps to confuse months of behavioural conditioning.
My final tidbit of holiday wisdom is quite simple but needs to be given priority. It can be summed up by the following profound ancient proverb: "Chill out, man!". With the impending weight of gifts and cooking and whatnot, people lose sight of the fact that this is meant to be an enjoyable occasion. Dogs are incredibly intuitive creatures and more often than not pick up on that energy. It's contagious - creating a toxic cycle of you provoking anxiety in your pet and vice-versa. So make sure you take a moment to breathe and enjoy the company of your friends and family; furry or otherwise.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Staff of Zoom Zoom Groom, PreZoomably Cats, and The Apex Academy.
By: Zane Buchanan