Hustling, Bustling Holidays Free From Stress

The days from Halloween through New Year’s are a busy time for everyone. The rush and festivities of planning, shopping, cooking, baking, traveling, entertaining soon overtake typical daily routines. In tandem, as the mercury begins to fall outside (especially here in Minnesota), it is not unusual to retreat into our homes in a form of hibernation for outdoor activity and exercise.

Oftentimes it is easy to forget that our feathered and furry family members are as excited, curious and anxious as we are during this time of year. A few training and preparatory exercises today, will help both you and your pet to enjoy the reunions with family and friends over the next couple of months. Listed below are three guidance games that I have begun playing with my pets. (It is not too late to start, although you may not achieve total harmony by Christmas dinner.)

OpieDoorbell Exercises:  Both my dog and cat exhibit hyper excited and vocal behaviors whenever the door buzzer rings or someone knocks at the door. By periodically playing this game, I help to minimize their excitability when I know that people will be coming to the door. (For background, I live in an apartment building with a door buzzer system to enter the building and then the visitor walks down a long hallway to knock at the door.)

I invite a couple of friends to the apartment and instruct them upon arrival to ring the buzzer and re-ring the buzzer again after waiting 30-40 seconds. This gives me the opportunity at the sound of the first buzz/ring to desensitize the animals to the sound because the first buzz elicits no response from me. The sound of the second buzz/ring allows me a training opportunity…

At the sound of the first buzz, I will do one of two things: one, completely ignore the bell (because I know the person will ring again) or two, while Opie is going nuts at the door, I get his attention either by tapping him, drawing him over to his waiting spot, and/or using my body language to move him behind his “invisible” line (do not cross) in the carpet where he must wait for the door to be opened. I then give him a treat and release him.

After buzzing the visitor into the building, I have another opportunity with the knock at the door to repeat the exercise. For dinner parties or family gatherings, I try to time my visitors’ arrivals several minutes apart. This way, Opie has multiple opportunities to practice appropriate responses to the buzzer and knocks at the door.

Jumping Up:  My dog loves to greet people with a bear hug and face licks. Practice helps to remind him that some people do not appreciate his exuberance, so we practice waiting to be invited before he may greet visitors this way. Typically, we practice restraint with the visitors helping with the doorbell exercises. My decoy visitors are assigned in advance as jump-lovers or jump-adverse.

By the time the visitors enter the door, Opie is waiting behind his imaginary gate on the carpet. During the training session, if he crosses the line, the visitor says, “Goodbye!” and walks back out the door. This means I have to train my visitors prior to training Opie, so we discuss this at the time I am extending the invitation. Sometimes, I even post a reminder note for my human guests outside my apartment door along with a bag of treats.

When Opie stays behind the “invisible” line until they are fully inside, the visitor either tosses a treat across the room or motions for him to come up. The treat tossed across the room rewards him for walking away from the visitor (his signal that he cannot greet them with hugs and kisses). The invitation to come closer signals and rewards him for hugs and kisses.

So, now visitors can ring the buzzer, knock on the door and enter the apartment. Opie’s reaction is appropriate for each (for the most part). But, what do we do after they are inside so that we can visit without a long-term slobberfest?

Environmental Stimulation: Opie has several interactive toys to play with when there are visitors in the apartment. He seems to like to show off, and his interest is piqued because he seldom gets to play with these when we are home alone. His favorites are the “Twister” by Nina Ottosson and a Kong filled with frozen yummy goodness. When asked, he usually chooses to engage himself with one of these options over participating in the humans’ boring conversations.

The key to success for hustling, bustling holidays free from stress in my household are preparation, planning and practice. I use similar exercises with my cat, Floyd – although his games are designed more to ease his tension of having more people around than to mold appropriate behaviors. By the time the “real” holiday visitors arrive, Floyd is less stressed by their presence; Opie has had many opportunities to demonstrate acceptable behaviors. These advance practice sessions mean that he doesn’t have to be relegated to a room away from guests.

If you would like help molding your pet’s reactions to holiday guests, please call 952-226-2622 to discuss your goals and set up a training session.

–Trish Phillips, Pure Spirit Office Manager