Wondering what to get your dog this holiday season? Including him in the celebrations, while ensuring he doesn’t get stressed out, is one of the best gifts you can give him.

It may be “the most wonderful time of the year”, but it’s also the busiest. The endless round of shopping, decorating, cooking and entertaining can take its toll on even the most diehard holiday lovers, leaving them stressed and exhausted. All this extra busyness mean our dogs might not get as much attention as they’re used to, and that leaves them feeling stressed too, not to mention distinctly un-festive.

While you probably don’t want to add anything more to your holiday to-do list, it’s important to make sure your canine companion doesn’t feel neglected or excluded this time of year. Changing his routine, skipping daily walks, shortening his playtime, leaving him alone too much, or shutting him in another part of the house when you’re entertaining can lead to behavioral issues that will only add to your stress levels. Here are some ways you can make your dog part of the holiday celebrations while reducing stress for both of you — and having fun into the bargain!

1. Don’t change your dog’s daily routine any more than you have to. Keep to regular mealtimes, and let him out and take him for walks at the same times as always. Before saying you “don’t have time” to walk the dog, consider how much good the outing will do you both. It’s a chance to get some fresh air and exercise, work off stress, and enjoy the outdoors. You’ll feel better for it, be able to return to your holiday preparations refreshed, and your dog will be content and ready for a nap.

2. Set aside a block of time every day, perhaps in the evening after everyone else has gone to bed, just to be with your dog and love him. Forget everything you have to do tomorrow, and snuggle together on the sofa in front of the TV or a crackling fire, or put on some soothing music. Dogs are wonderful for helping us de-stress, and simply sitting quietly and petting or brushing your pooch will help you relax and even lower your blood pressure. And he’ll love the attention!

3. When you’re going to be busy with guests or out for dinner, give your dog a couple of new toys to help keep him happy and occupied. Since you won’t be able to supervise him, make absolutely sure the toys are high quality, well made and durable, with no pieces that can be chewed off and swallowed.

4. Occasional treats are also a good way to help keep your dog happy over the holidays. Just be sure to give him things that won’t upset his digestion – vomiting, diarrhea or an emergency vet visit won’t do anything to help either of you feel less stressed. Pieces of lean meat or veggies and fruit (except grapes) are good choices. Avoid cooked bones, fat trimmings, rich gravy, dessert leftovers and chocolate, as well as anything that contains onions or raisins. Remind guests not to give your dog snack foods such as potato chips and candy.

5. Before guests arrive, carefully consider your dog’s personality and behavior around other people. Some want to be in the thick of things when the house is full of visitors, while others prefer to be left alone. If your dog is a shrinking violet, and would rather retreat to a quiet room when you have guests, let him do so. Leave the door ajar, so he can come out and be a part of things if he chooses, but inform your guests, especially children, to stay out of that particular room. Forcing a dog to interact when he doesn’t want to will stress him out and may even lead to snapping and biting. Sociable dogs, on the other hand, can become a nuisance to some people if they jump up or try to take food from plates. As much as you love dogs, not everyone else does. Be sure your dog is well behaved and trained before you allow him to mix with guests. Otherwise, enclose him in an adjoining room with a baby gate, where he can still receive attention and see and hear the action.

6. Design some activities or games that your dog can be a part of. If you have space, games of fetch up and down a hallway, or a makeshift agility course in a basement room can be fun for young and active dogs and visiting children. Again, just make sure your dog is the type to enjoy this type of activity and attention, and is okay with kids. An adult should supervise the proceedings.

7. If you’re going to be traveling over the holidays, be sure to make appropriate plans for your dog. Again, these plans will depend a lot on his personality. Some dogs find travel difficult and would rather stay in their own homes with a trusted friend, relative or neighbor to look after them. Be sure this person will be available to spend quality time with the dog every day, playing with and walking him — flying visits just to feed him and let him out in the yard aren’t enough. If you can’t find anyone with time to spare, hire a professional pet sitter for the days you’ll be away. Loneliness can cause stress and destructive behavior, especially in dogs prone to separation anxiety. If you’re taking your dog with you, make sure ahead of time that the people at your destination (whether it’s a private home or a hotel) are going to be okay with it, and take the usual travel precautions to ensure his comfort and safety – a doggy seat belt or crate, motion sickness remedies, his usual food from home, familiar toys and bedding, adequate ID, etc.

8. It’s been said before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Be sure that any holiday decorations you put up around your home won’t cause harm to your dog. Toxic plants and greenery should be kept out of reach (check the floor regularly for dropped needles, berries, cones, etc.), as should breakable ornaments, tinsel, lights and electric cords.

It may take a little extra time and effort to accommodate your dog during the holidays, but considering the love and companionship he gives you all year round, it’s the best way you can give back to him. He’ll appreciate it more than any number of wrapped presents under the tree!

When you’re going to be busy with guests or out for dinner, give your dog a couple of new toys to help keep him happy and occupied. Forget everything you have to do tomorrow, and snuggle together on the sofa in front of the TV or a crackling fire, or put on some soothing music.

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