As you hurry to ready the house for guests this holiday season, have you said to yourself quietly, “I hope the Pets behave themselves when everyone is here.” Maybe wishing you had brushed up on their Basic Manners skills a bit with a few training exercises?
Don’t panic. You’ve got this. It’s great that you are aware of the potential for chaos and possibility of calm. With this awareness, some minor prep and a few guidelines, you and your Pets will be successful this holiday. Please re-commit to your Pets that you will help them improve certain skills once the guests leave. Otherwise, pat yourself on the back for taking a few moments to sort this out and enjoy your holidays.
Now is not the time to insist you and your Pet master whichever Basic Manners are rusty or not refined. This is the time to come up with a clear management plan to prevent stress, also known as Mr. Buzz Kill, from attending your party.
Take a History
With paper and pen in hand, walk around your home and visually remember which interactions with visitors your Pets have had difficulty with in the past and at which locations in your home. Record all of them even if your Pet has done better with this behavior outside of the home since then. Success in some locations does not guarantee success in another.
Dare to Dream
Now turn those memories on their heads and picture a video playing of your Dog or Cat behaving how you want them to in each scenario. Actually picture the body movements. Instead of, “I just don’t want her to jump on Grandma again” see your furry girl in a calm Sit as Grandma reaches under her chin to scratch her and say, “Hello, Sweetie.” This will greatly inform and empower your strategy. How you ask?
Next to each interaction in your list, rate from 1 to 3 which behaviors your Pet has experienced the most and least difficulty. 1 denotes “Little Difficulty” and 3 represents “Extreme Difficulty.” This is where your plan takes shape. Let’s use the behavioral issue of a Dog who jumps when greeting as our working example.
Put It on Lock Down – For the 3s on your list, it is your mission to not let this behavioral interaction happen at all using prevention. Why stress you, your Pet or your guests. Using our above example, a 3 would indicate that a Polite Greeting is not yet possible for our pooch. One option is to place your Pet in the room furthest away from the front door with no direct view of the door to remove visual and audio stimulus of people entering your home. Unlock your front doors and place a note outside which tells guests “Please come right in!” so they don’t knock or ring the doorbell (assuming your needed safety and comfort levels for doing this are in place). This will help minimize stimulation further. Let your Dog enjoy a quiet room with a frozen, stuffed Kong you give her before anyone arrives. Have a second one loaded and ready for her should the need arise. There will be no need to feed her a regular meal at dinner time, she will be quite happy with this fun treat and have a nice nap afterwards from all the yummy Kong-cicle she just enjoyed.
Manage Heavy – For behaviors numbered 2, perhaps you have worked on Polite Greetings but have hit a roadblock. Your Pet recovers well after the greeting has happened (behaves calm after the initial presentation of this interaction) but gets jumpy when people first arrive in your home. Let’s use the same scenario with your Dog in the designated room with her stuffed toy. One option to consider is to allow all of your guests to arrive then bring her out on a lead tethered to you to greet everyone. To tether, attach the lead handle to a belt loop with a carabiner or loop the leash around your waist and through the handle then attach it to her collar. This frees up your hands but allows you to keep her on a short lead to prevent jumping on guests. She will have had time to enjoy her Kong and work out some of that extra energy she has from hearing visitors’ voices and footsteps. This gives you the opportunity to create a structured experience in which you help her succeed with minimal strife to anyone present. Once she has had a chance to take everyone in with a sniff or petting in a relatively calm manner and displays calm behavior, then remove the lead and return to your fun. If not possible, then simply return her to the back room with that extra stuffed Kong you were smart to prep.
Manage Light – Our 1s on the list allow us to practice the Polite Greeting skill our girl has almost mastered, but has not yet perfected. We are going to use a management tool to allow our Dog to be present when merry makers arrive. As in the above example, tether her lead to you or another adult family member who is the official greeter. Keep a bowl of training treats just inside the front door or in a bait bag attached to you. If you are asking guests to enter on their own you may handle greetings one of two ways; find a comfortable place in the main room inside the front door where you stand with her as guests arrive or you could simply go about your socializing in any part of the house and instead have people greet you as they enter. Either way, ask your Dog for a Sit when each person is saying hello to you. If this is not likely to be successful, don’t ask for the Sit but use your management tool, the lead, to prevent jumping. If we ask for a Sit over and over without the proper response being given by the Dog, we will poison the cue and lessen our chance of success later where we do have a chance at practicing this skill in a more controlled environment.
If able to work on Sit, treat for the initial Sit and treat again if she remains in a Sit for greetings. Remember, people don’t have to actually pet your dog. The goal is simply to prevent jumping and enable a Sit. In this scenario, it may actually be preferred to ask people, “Please don’t greet/pet her today since we’re working on Sit.” Most people are very happy to be a part of the progress. You can ask them to “Step back if she breaks her Sit.”
There are many ways to use Management in training, but hopefully these ideas will get your creativity brimming with other ways to prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced and help minimize stress until you can practice in a low stimulation environment. Knowing from experience which social situations are difficult for your Pet can arm you both with an informed strategy for the holiday’s festivities and further your bond. Your Pet will appreciate your support and you will understand her needs better too.