Need tension relief at family holiday gatherings? Bring a dog
By Kim Campbell Thornton
The conventional wisdom during the holidays is that pets tend to raise blood pressure rather than lower it, but under the right circumstances, they can be tension relievers. We discovered this some years ago when several of us traveled to Oklahoma in an attempt to persuade my mother-in-law to move nearer to one of us while she was still healthy and able. Wanda was not especially a dog person, but my dog Harper was a puppy then, and I brought her along for some advanced socialization in the form of air travel, thunderstorms, staying in someone else's home and meeting more new people.
What we ended up getting, I think, was some advanced canine family therapy.
Now, all of Harper's new acquaintances on that trip tolerated -- and in some cases, even liked -- dogs, but certainly not to the extent that we do. There was no objection to Harper's presence, and I crossed my fingers that she wouldn't have any housetraining accidents in Wanda's house -- that definitely wouldn't have gone over well.
I didn't need to worry. Not only did she behave perfectly and charm everyone, she acted as a source of tension relief. Any time things got stressful, there was Harper to be walked, Harper to throw a ball for, Harper to feed, Harper to pet. Her presence was a natural barrier to rising voices.
Of course, there are rules to being a good guest, especially during the holidays. Following them is the best way to ensure that your dog's visit will reduce tension, not heighten it.
-- Ask about house rules for pets -- and follow them. If your hosts don't want pets on the furniture, abide by their wishes. It's a good opportunity for your pet to practice the "stay" and "go to your place" commands. If they are OK with pets on furniture, reward their kindness by having a clean dog or covering the sofa or bed with a sheet or other covering you brought from home.
-- Enforce good manners. Stealing food is a time-honored pet holiday tradition, and it's your responsibility to keep it from happening. Take the initiative to place food or trash cans out of canine reach.
-- Let your hosts know what your dog is allowed and not allowed to do or have so they don't allow him to jump up on them, feed him from the table or offer him forbidden treats such as cooked bones, fatty or salty foods or liquor- and raisin-laden fruitcake.
-- If your hosts have pets, ensure that your dog behaves politely toward them. Keep him on his leash until you're sure he gets along with their dog or cat. Never let him chase other pets or otherwise give them grief.
-- Bring your pet's crate so he has a little bit of home where he can go to relax. Confine him to it when you aren't around to supervise so he doesn't get into trouble in a strange place.
Are you a pet owner hosting a visiting pet? Even if they are buddies, having another animal in the house, combined with the chaos of the holidays, may be stressful for pets. Give your own pets, especially cats, a safe room where they can retreat when things get too crowded or noisy. It can be a bedroom or home office -- any place that your pet is comfortable staying for long periods. Stock it with everything he needs: food, water, toys, a comfortable bed and, for cats, a clean litter box.
That applies even if your pet is normally a social butterfly. Even outgoing animals can get overstimulated from too much handling and require a timeout.
How to safely
stop a dogfight
Q: My friend's dog was attacked recently, and she didn't know what to do. What's the best way to break up a dogfight? -- via Facebook
A: That's a scary situation. There's a lot of sound and fury, and the very real potential for injury to the dog being attacked and any person trying to break up the fight. One of my friends is currently sporting a heavily bandaged hand after trying to separate her two squabbling Jack Russell terriers.
The first rule of canine fight club: Don't grab the dogs' collars and try to pull them apart. Putting your hands anywhere near their heads is a surefire way to get bitten.
The fastest way to respond is with a verbal interruption. Using your loudest, deepest voice, yell, "No! Knock it off!" Dog trainer Liz Palika says to avoid screaming. The high-pitched sound can excite the attacking dog further.
If you have quick access to a hose, use it to spray the combatants. The shock of cold water may distract them enough that they separate. Citronella spray or pepper spray can serve as a deterrent as well. Try to stick a broom or mop between them, or bang a couple of pots or other noisy objects together. The sound of an airhorn may also stun them enough that they break off from each other.
If you must intervene physically, grab the attacking dog's hind legs and lift them up as high as you can. This forces him to concentrate on staying upright. Move backward, still holding up the legs, and keeping well out of his way. This is best done if there's one person grabbing each dog at the same time and pulling them away from each other.
Try to prevent fights by paying attention to your surroundings while you're walking your dog. If you see someone approaching with a dog and you're unsure of how they'll react to each other, turn around and walk away. At coffee shops or other public spaces, steer clear of dogs who are tied up. They know their movement is restricted and may try to defend their space. The best thing you can do is teach your dog a reliable recall so you can get him out of harm's way before trouble begins. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Win a scholarship
-- Five new students bound for Hiram College in Ohio can win a $1,000 scholarship with a picture or 15-second video of themselves with any terrier breed. Submissions should depict what makes terriers special, whether as a family member, best friend, athlete or more. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 31, and winners will be chosen by a panel of Hiram media and photography specialists, based on creativity and originality. "The Terrier Scholarship is our way of paying tribute to our long-time mascot, the bull terrier," said vice president of enrollment Lindajean Heller Western. "We know how special our terrier is, and now we want to see what makes other terriers great." For more information, visit hiram.edu/terrier-scholarship.
-- Next month, Tennessee becomes the first state to implement a statewide animal abuse registry. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is creating a website listing the names of people convicted of felony animal abuse, such as animal fighting and aggravated cruelty to companion animals. First-time offenders will be listed for two years. Repeat offenders will be listed for five years. Shelters, rescue groups or citizens can check the public registry before completing a pet adoption or sale. State senator Jeff Yarbro, who sponsored the bill, hopes the registry will provide an additional tool for shelters and rescue groups making adoptions.
-- Inmates at Mission Creek Women's Correction Center in Kitsap, Washington, are making a difference for shelter cats. Working with Kitsap Humane Society, the Mission Creek facility is taking in orphaned kittens, mother cats with nursing kittens and adult cats in need of socialization or recovery from injury and fostering them until they can be placed in homes. Inmates who qualify for the Pawsitive Prison Program receive training on kitten development, cat behavior, handling, socialization and other care. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: A dog helps to break the ice, keep conversations going and inject a little humor into the holidays. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Terrier-loving freshmen attending Ohio's Hiram College can win a scholarship by demonstrating their love of the dogs in a photo or video. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1