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Holiday Manners for Pets Who’ve Gone “Wild”

November 11th, 2020 by Laurie Brush

After months of working in your pajamas, it’s easy to forget “fashion BC” (Before COVID). It might be just as hard for your pet to remember his or her “manners BC” for the holidays.

Joyous Jumpers

Let’s face it – your heart is jumping for joy to see a long-lost loved one. Will Fido remember them too? Behavior research suggests yes. While dogs don’t excel at traditional long-term memory, they do possess “associative” memory. A pro-social dog with a fond association of your guests might forget the “no jumping” rule.

“A behavior has to be a very well rehearsed with broad contextual understanding in order for your dog to recall it in moments of excitement,” said Kristi Swan, Certified Professional Trainer and owner of A Dog’s Life. “Dogs don’t generalize well.”

Whether your pup is just rusty or too young to have well-entrenched manners, Swan suggest leashing up, working on “go to place,” and/or “get a toy” protocols to prevent your visitors from being swept off their feet. Practice frequently in short sessions to make it stick.

Anti-Social with Aunty

On the other hand, some pets come to love the quietude of quarantine or were not well-socialized prior. Swan sees both very young and aging dogs in this scenario. Young pups haven’t gotten used to company and older ones may be changing.

“They might be surprised to have it busy and noisy again. Aging dogs can be more sensitive to sound. They can lose visual acuity so fast movement and the jumping energy of kids might stress them out,” Swan said.

Dogs might not withdraw like cats do, but Swan says to watch for signs of stress such as the side glance, posture, deep yawns, lip-licking, and reach avoidance. Give dogs and cats places they can escape to for a break. Protect your pets from “space invaders.”

Behavior Changes as A Sign of Pain or Cognitive Decline

Sometimes a dog who previously liked gatherings now chooses to withdraw or seems more stressed. This can be a sign of hearing problems, achiness, or cognitive decline, depending on the context.

“Pain is the leading cause of behavior changes in dogs and cats,” Swan said.

The key to telling the difference is whether the behavior change continues beyond the holidays. If it does, contact your veterinarian for a work-up.

For more information on senior pet pain, visit: PetHospiceVet.com. For more information on private or group virtual and outdoor training, visit: www.ADogsLifeGR.com.