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Holidays: The Social Dog vs The Anxious Dog

Holidays: The Social Dog vs The Anxious Dog

Moose explores his new surroundings for the holidays.

Hurray! We all survived Thanksgiving! I’m hoping that yours was filled with laughs, fun and food! I for one got to take Moose, my new forever pup, on his first multiple day adventure to my Aunt’s house and beyond.

This was a perfect opportunity to mix in some training while being faced with many new and fun distractions! I brought things that were familiar to him – his toys, blanket, bed, and favorite treats, and sprawled them around his new space. After letting him wander my Aunt’s house briefly, the first thing we did was refresh some of his basic cues. Remember, dogs do not generalize behaviors well – they actually kind of suck at it – so whenever you are bringing your dog to a new environment, it’s important to remind them that they do know how to do all the behaviors they know at home!


Moose makes a friend in Brooklyn.

Moose, ended up doing very well and was a huge hit with the family! He even came down with me to Brooklyn, made a new doggie friend and helped me pick out some new skates!But all of this got me thinking about how many dogs (and families) miss out on this bonding time because of poor behavior? I have actually never had the chance to experience a good holiday myself. Having a social dog now is pretty amazing, but it wasn’t always so.

My holidays used to be SO stressful because my dog at the time, Charlie <3, could not be in these types of environments. My holidays were always mixed with lots of travel, dog walkers, coordination and seriously timing everything perfectly so Charlie would not know the difference between a day I was leaving the house for work and a day that was a holiday or special occasion. You may think I am crazy, but any slight change in routine and he knew. Yes, he knew! If I didn’t plan things right, I would come home to a stressed out dog- dilated pupils, heavy panting, urine puddles and trails everywhere and sometimes on really bad days, something I loved totally destroyed.

My anxious boy, Charlie, always creeping around the dinner table. Lots of talking and excitement would stress him out.

Lots of talking and excitement would stress Charlie out.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done a lot more to work with him, but he was so complicated it was hard to figure out where to start. Good thing I am here now as a professional, to help you with your pup! So here’s some tips and tricks I picked up along the way, mixed in with a little dash of professional advice just in time to get ready for Christmas.

Things You Can Do Right Now

  • Plan Ahead
    • Play the scenario out in your mind
      • What has this looked like previously?
      • What can I do differently this time around?
    • Discover the trigger that sets off the behavior chain
      • Is it the door bell?
      • Is it loud talking?
  • Understand
    • Think about why your dog is anxious
      • Are they sensitive to noise?
      • Are they sensitive to space?
  • Take Action – guide and comfort your dog during situations where they become anxious instead of getting frustrated
    • Can you create a safe space?
    • Can you give them a toy or puzzle to focus on?


Thinking Ahead to the Future

  • Establish a relationship with good dog trainer
    • Seriously, just like having a life long relationship with your vet, when you are the owner of an anxious dog, it is so helpful to have a professional to bounce ideas off of for upcoming situations. I wish I had done this sooner!
    • Don’t think for two seconds you are bothering your trainer by calling them or reaching out. If you have a GOOD dog trainer, they want to help you and your dog through difficult situations whether they are getting paid or not. Let them know you have a big family event coming up and discuss best scenarios and options.
  • Make a plan
    • Start with a management plan!
      • How will you deal with specific scenarios in the future?
    • Don’t let anyone dismiss your thoughts or ideas!
      • You and only you understand the relationship you have with your dog. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are over reacting, or being a “crazy dog lady” (yeah, I’ve heard that), or “s/he’s fine” or “let them figure it out,” when you are trying to better your relationship with your dog.
    • Get everyone on the same page
      • All family members should understand the plan, the goals and celebrate even the smallest of achievements!
  • Work with your dog when they are not anxious.
    • We all do it. We get used to our dogs “the way they are.”
      • With an anxious dog, it’s easy to get stuck in this rut because, let’s face it, dealing with an anxious dog is exhausting. However, dogs are always capable of learning new things.
      • Fact: Work with your dog when they are not anxious and they are more likely to respond to you when they are.


We all love our dogs and want what’s best for them. Don’t stop at expecting poor behavior or normalizing it! Work with your dog to help them through their difficult times! And if you are lucky enough to have a social dog, make sure you work with them to keep them social too!