How to Prepare Your Dog for the Holiday Season

A dog getting ready for the holiday season by eating cookies.

The holidays are a joyful time filled with celebrations, parties, family visits, gifts, and good cheer. However, our four-legged friends may find all the hustle and bustle extremely stressful. Dogs tend to thrive on structure and routine. When their normal daily schedule gets disrupted by shifted meal times, unpredictable loud noises, unfamiliar guests, and travel away from home, it can lead to anxiety. Excessive, incessant barking is a common sign your dog feels unsettled. As a loving dog owner, you want your pup to share in the holiday fun, not end up a nervous, barking mess. With some preparation and training, you can minimize anxiety triggers and help your faithful companion enjoy the holidays too.

Below, we break down how to prepare your dog for the holiday season.

Keep Daily Routines Consistent 

Do your best to stick to your dog’s regular daily schedule for feeding, exercise, playtime, training, and sleep. Making too many changes at once can be overwhelming. If holiday time commitments force you to adjust the timing, keep the order and elements of your dog’s routine consistent. For example, feed and walk first, then playtime and training. This maintenance of familiar rituals keeps your dog feeling secure amid parties, visitors, and travel.

Gradually Introduce Holiday Sights and Sounds

Decorations like lights, ornaments, sparkly tinsel, candles, and the Christmas tree can seem alien and intimidating to your pet initially. Play recordings of holiday sounds like doorbells and gatherings with laughter and background music. Start at low volume weeks ahead and gradually increase loudness as the holidays approach. This exposure helps desensitize your dog and prevent alarming reactions later. Go slowly with decor additions too, watching your dog’s comfort level. Provide lots of praise and treats for calm responses.

Give Your Dog a Quiet Place to Retreat 

When holiday chaos reaches peak levels, make sure your dog has access to a comfortable, quiet room or crate to relax undisturbed. This safe space reduces overstimulation when your dog feels overwhelmed by too much activity and noise. Stock it with familiar chew toys, treats, and bedding carrying your scent to provide a sense of calm. Use baby gates to block access if needed to prevent unwanted guests or children from intruding on your dog’s downtime.

Use New Toys and Activities to Keep Your Dog Busy 

An occupied, mentally stimulated dog is less likely to get wound up and bark from stress. Buy or make interactive puzzle toys and stuff with your dog’s regular kibble. The challenge of pushing and rolling these toys around to get the treats out provides a positive distraction. Schedule extra playtime with fetch and tug-of-war using new exciting toys. Set up a DIY indoor agility course with obstacles to burn energy. Consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to pop in if your schedule gets too busy. Dogs bark excessively when bored and under exercised.

A dog ready for the holiday season.

Limit Holiday Food Treats to Avoid Stomach Upset 

The weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s often involve an overload of rich human food like desserts, appetizers, and candies. While it’s tempting to share the bounty with your pet, too many extras and unfamiliar foods can lead to stomach upset, diarrhea, and even pancreatitis. This uncomfortable gastric distress adds stress, stimulating anxious barking. 

Be sure to:

  • Keep feeding your dog their regular consistent diet and avoid table scraps.
  • Not let guests give your dog toxic foods like alcohol, chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, and other dangerous foods.
  • Prioritize lean beef, turkey, carrots, green beans, apples and bananas that make healthy, low-calorie holiday treats in small amounts.

Take Favorite Items When Traveling Away From Home 

If holiday plans involve overnight travel with your pet, take comforts from home to ease anxiety. Bring your dog’s regular bedding and a few favorite toys, like a cherished stuffed animal or chew bone. These familiar scents help your dog feel more secure sleeping in an unfamiliar place. Maintain your typical walking and feeding routine as much as possible. If boarding your dog, find a kennel using comforting home-like rooms, not stressful cages. Check prospective boarders thoroughly for humane treatment, cleanliness and attentive care.

Manage Greeting Visitors and Attending Parties 

When hosting celebrations or visiting friends and family, your dog may become over-excited by newcomers at the door and children frenzied from sugar and gifts. 

Keep your dog in a separate room or closed area when guests first arrive and during busiest times. Then, allow your dog to approach new people calmly once settled rather than mobbing your pet. 

Make sure to remind children to behave gently, and don’t leave them unsupervised with your dog. Bring a pet gate so your dog can socialize safely but have a place to take a break. If attending holiday soirees, consider leaving your companion at home with a pet sitter to avoid overwhelming Strange environments.

Know Your Dog’s Tolerance Limits 

Pay close attention to your dog’s reactions as you gradually expose them to holiday hubbub. Note their tolerance limits to determine what situations or specific decorations may require supervision, limited exposure or complete avoidance. Use your best judgment in managing interactions with crowds, small kids, other pets, etc. Don’t force your dog to interact if showing signs of fear like cowering, growling or hiding. With preparation, you can intervene before anxiety escalates to nonstop barking.

Invest in Proper Training Tools

If your pooch is prone to nuisance barking behavior year-round or markings your training efforts, humane bark collars can help curb excessive vocalizing when your dog is alone. 

Good Life Inc. offers easy-to-use humane bark training tools that rely upon vibration or sounds rather than shock. This gentle sensory input curbs barking without adding stress or pain. With humane training tools, your dog can quickly learn which vocalizations are unacceptable.

Good Life Inc., Good Dog

With some creativity and planning, the holiday season can be a magical time for both you and your four-legged faithful friend. While parties, travel and festivities make this time uniquely fun, they also disrupt comforting routines for our pets. Take care to manage anxiety triggers gently using the strategies above to minimize excessive barking. 

As always, be sure to show your furry companion some extra love and patience as you train them to take holiday excitement in stride. Don’t hesitate to contact your vet if your dog shows signs of significant distress like non stop barking, aggression, destruction or elimination accidents. 

With care, understanding and preparation, you and your pup can share in the holiday spirit, forming wonderful new traditions together. Here’s to a “pawesome” holiday season full of tail wags, not barks!

Visit Good Life Inc. to see our range of effective, humane training tools.


PBS – Dogs have special ability to react to human speech, study shows

Animal Health Foundation – Dangerous Foods for Dogs

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