The holidays are an exciting, fun, and sometimes stressful time for people and dogs alike. The increase of stress on us humans in making sure everything is planned and perfect (finishing any end of year requirements for work, shopping for presents, kids being home from school, extra people in EVERY store, guests coming in from out of town, etc.) can sometimes mean that our dog’s normal routine gets disrupted. This often leads to an increase in boredom/attention seeking behaviors (barking, jumping up, etc.), destructive behaviors (chewing things they’re not supposed to, digging, etc.), and other challenges.

Thankfully, decreasing the amount of stress on both you and your dog this holiday doesn’t need to be a monumental chore with these easy holiday solutions.

Babysitters and boredom busters

When dogs get less interactive time (including exercise, play, and training) from their humans, they will often find other ways to entertain themselves. These can look like demand barking, jumping up, destruction (unwrapping presents – oh no!), digging, stealing things/playing keep away, and more. One way to prevent many of these behaviors is to increase the amount of chews and edible toys your dog gets on a daily basis.

Instead of feeding your dog’s meal in a bowl, mix your dog’s food in a bowl with a wet ingredient (a bit of canned dog food mixed with water, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, water, etc.), pack it into a Toppl toy (or Kong, but I greatly prefer Toppls for ease of stuffing and cleaning) and freeze it. Preparing a few meals’ worth at a time will save on prep time overall. Feed your dog breakfast and dinner this way and you’ll not only help encourage calm behavior throughout the day, but also burn some energy as your dog works to get the food out. You can also mix in dog-safe foods like green beans, carrots, plain meat scraps, a bit of shredded cheese, treats, or anything else that your dog likes as snacks.

If you don’t have time to prep frozen food toys, edible chews are also an excellent way to burn energy and keep dogs busy. Some of my favorite options include bully sticks, beef cheek rolls, no hides, water buffalo horns (which can also be stuffed and frozen like Toppls/Kongs), or beef tracheas (which again can also be stuffed and frozen).

Fast ways to drain energy

One of the most effective ways to burn physical and mental energy quickly is with short training sessions, ESPECIALLY working on something requiring physical exertion and/or something new (which requires extra brainpower). Either grab a small handful of treats or set a timer for 3-5 minutes, and work on one of the following skills:

Touch (then add a treat toss):


Up and off an object:

Handling human guests

Many dogs get extremely excited or stressed when human guests come over. Dogs aren’t involved in guest planning, and don’t get texts to let them know when someone is going to show up. For social butterflies, that can mean that guests bring on an explosion of whining, wagging tails, jumping up, running, licking, and other frantic excitement behaviors. For more reserved dogs, that can mean guests are met with suspicion, barking, and other hesitant behaviors.

Especially around the holidays, guests coming over to visit or for parties often means… food! Appetizers, snacks, plates, platters, and more. All with less direct supervision on the dog while hosts busy themselves with getting everything ready. Many dogs will take this opportunity to join in on holiday feasting themselves via countersurfing. This can not only be annoying, but it can also cause dogs to get sick from food they’re not supposed to have, or develop obstructions or perforations if they eat things like napkins, skewers, or cupcake wrappers. Trust me – spending any holiday in the ER with your dog is not where you want to be!

Before your guests arrive, make a list (either written or in your head) of things your dog may struggle with. Do you have a dog who jumps up on people? Countersurfs? A puppy who needs to be accompanied outside for potty breaks? Then come up with a management plan to help your dog be successful. Management plans can include barriers like crates, gates, and xpens, or reminders on your phone (such as – set an alarm every 45 mins to let puppy out). Tethers (a leash attached to you or a fixed piece of furniture) are also an excellent way to let social dogs stay out with the party guests without being able to get themselves into trouble. Keeping dogs put away during the initial excitement of guests arriving is one of the easiest ways to reduce jumping and encourage more calmness around guests, plus it prevents door dashers from being able to sneak through legs and out the door.

If your dog doesn’t struggle with guests… then party as usual! But if your dog is young or you don’t know how they will behave, it will be easier and less stressful to set them up for success now than it will be to let them fail and then try to fix new bad habits later.

Canine guest chaos

Just like how dogs don’t know when human guests are arriving, they also don’t know when canine guests are coming. Many dogs, even ones that may be dog neutral or dog social elsewhere, do not like dogs inside their home. After Thanksgiving this year, multiple clients reached out to let me know that their dog and a visiting dog had gotten into a fight, a few of which caused injuries to the dogs, humans breaking up the fight, or both. That is not a fun way to spend a holiday!

If you have canine guests coming over that your dog does NOT know, and your dog OR the canine guest are not both extremely friendly or neutral with other dogs, planning to keep dogs separate is often the easiest, safest option. Crates, xpens, and closed doors combined with rotating who is “away” and who is “out” is a great temporary solution to make sure things stay peaceful during doggy visits.

Keep in mind too – even friendly dogs can become overstimulated and cranky with long periods of interaction with new dogs, so make sure everyone is getting breaks regularly if they are all hanging out together.

In my own holiday situation – some of my dogs are friendly or neutral, and some of my dogs are dog selective. I generally plan to keep them separated from resident dogs when I visit, or have them put away when guest dogs come to my house. I may do slow intros if I think both/all dogs involved would genuinely enjoy it, but if I see uncomfortable body language or dogs not listening to each others’ requests for space, I divide them again. The convenience of having all dogs out together is not worth putting my dogs in an uncomfortable situation.

Management is your friend

Management, or adjusting your dog’s environment to set him up for success, is the easiest way to prevent problems. If you know your dog has a behavior challenge with something that will happen at the holidays, change their environment so that they cannot practice the behavior. At the end of the day, it’s not fair to dogs if they have historically done a problem behavior in a situation, their owner gives them the opportunity to do the problem behavior, and then the dog gets yelled at or punished.

Setting dogs up for success is part of being a good companion for dogs just like they are for their humans.