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As the holidays get closer and closer, it’s time to start preparing our pets (and ourselves!) for the season! The hectic days full of parties and visitors can often make life with pets difficult over the holidays, but some training, tips, and treats should help to make the holiday season more enjoyable for you and your pet. In the first part of this three part series [Read Part 2, Read Part 3], we’ll cover some training that can help both you and your pet now and throughout the holiday season.
Training is, and always will be, a lifelong process for our pets, so it’s best to start practicing holiday commands and manners as soon as possible. Waiting until the day before your big holiday party to begin training will just leave you and your pet frustrated. Begin practicing these training concepts today to get ready in time for the holidays:
Place: Place is one of my go-to commands over the holidays! Want your dog to remain calm and quiet when the doorbell rings? Teach place! Want your cat to stay off the kitchen counters while you’re cooking up that tasty Thanksgiving dinner? Teach place! Worried that your pets will get into something they shouldn’t when your family is opening presents? You guessed it! Teach place! Place shows provides your pet with a safe spot to retreat to when the holiday commotion gets a little overwhelming or when they just want a nap! A “place” can be anything with a boundary: a crate, a bed, a rug, a platform, etc. I recommend establishing at least one “place” on each level of your home, especially in the room or rooms you spend the most time in. When you tell your pet place, they should go to the spot you are pointing at, lay down, and stay there until they are calm and relaxed. If they “break” or get up from their place, replace them calmly and quietly. If they are calmly laying down in their place, reward them! Treats, praise, and petting can all be great rewards for place. When you are first practicing place, find a reward that your pet loves, but doesn’t get too excited about so you aren’t tempting them to break from their command. Once you’ve practiced place even more, you can use rewards that get them extra excited to add an extra challenge. After your pet has learned what place means, you’ll be ready to “proof” the command by making sure that your pet holds place no matter what is going on around them. Start out with low level distractions (walking away from your pet, sitting on furniture a few feet away from them, setting a toy on the floor) and slowly increase the difficulty each day. Don’t forget to keep your end goal in mind throughout your practice. Breaking down big goals into small, easy-to-practice steps will help you and your pet progress quickly! Working towards calm when the doorbell rings? Practice stepping in and out of the front door yourself (or getting a friend or family member to do so). Find doorbell sound effects online and play them while your pet is in place. Have your family and friends call or text before they arrive so you can be prepared to practice with your pet. Working towards place during your holiday cooking and baking? Scatter food from your pet’s daily diet on the floor as distractions during your practice. Slowly increase the time your pet holds place when you aren’t watching by setting up a camera or mirror so you can see you pet, but they can’t see you. Step out of sight for one minute, then five minutes, then ten minutes, and so on until your pet can hold place for any length of time! Working towards place during the present opening? Try sitting on the ground while your pet practices place nearby. Toss around balled up tissue paper and wrapping paper as a distraction while your pet continues to hold place. Need more help with place? Check out this KCAT Facebook video on place.
Recall: Whether your family lets your pet out in the yard with the gate open or your pet thinks it would be a good idea to chase one of the children running past them, recall can come in very handy over the holidays! Recall is also one of the skills your pet will likely need to practice the most. You can easily practice a little bit of recall each day by having your pet hold a stay on one side of the room and calling them to you before they eat their meal each day. Save “Come”, (or whatever verbal cue you choose for recall), for the times when you are 95% your pet will actually come back to you. Just like with place, you’ll want to proof this command by slowly increasing distraction while keeping your end goal in mind. Hoping to call your pet back even if they manage to slip outside past your family? Practice recall on leash near doors and gates. Take your pet out to pet-friendly areas and practice recall on leash in a variety of places and around a variety of people and animals. Want to keep your pet from chasing your younger relatives? Think about the actions and sounds children make that adults don’t usually do. Enlist an adult friend or family member to act like a child by running, moving suddenly, or yelling and call your pet away from all the activity. (Don’t forget to always advocate for your pet around children! It’s up to you to ensure that anyone and everyone properly interacts with -- or even ignores -- your pet.)
Crate = Happy Place: The crate is often the safest place for your pet to be over the holidays, so why not make it the place they choose to be anyway? You’re already practicing place in the crate, but there’s more you can do to make the crate a happy place. Feed your pet their meals in the crate. Throw your pet a tiny party complete with cheering, petting, and treats when they choose to go into their crate on their own. Save special treats like Kongs, frozen fruit, etc for the crate only (BONUS: This helps to keep messy treats contained!). Does your pet struggle with staying calm in their crate? Break crating down into a series of tiny steps, or approximations, to help with training. Practice having your pet hold a down in the crate while you shut the door and reopen it. Make sure your pet can hold a down in the crate even while you step out of sight, out of the room, or even outside. While crate training is a must, especially in case of emergencies, you can also turn an entire room into your pet's happy place. This is a great option for pets like cats or parrots that may not be potty trained the same way a dog is. Does your pet need to be closed off from the food and activity during a party? Consider placing water, food/treats, a litter box, cozy beds, a variety of novel toys, etc in a small room to create a happy place for your pet! Make sure to acclimate your pet to this room just as you would to a crate so it's not too stressful if they are shut in there for any length of time. Saving the toys in that room for use only when they are contained in there can help to keep the room a little more fun! Most importantly, remember to give your pet time to simply be an animal every day! Since our pets are living in a human world, the crate should be a happy place where your pet is safe and out of trouble, but you should also give your pet time each time to run around, chew on things, and play like any animal would! Check out this video on conditioning your pet to the crate on Facebook!
Out: While Place is my favorite command, out is a close second! This command can not only help keep your pet from getting stepped on, it can also help you to eat your meals in peace! One of the best times to use the out command is during meal times. Pick a threshold (at our house it’s the line where the living room carpet begins) and enforce it! Your pet is not allowed to cross that line once you tell them out. Remember to reward them when they are staying on the correct side of the threshold. Warning: Much like the parents of a toddler, you may find yourself eating a cold meal the first few times as you enforce the out command for your pet, but if you keep at it you’ll soon be enjoying your meals in peace! This can come in especially handy during holiday meals so you don’t have to worry about your pet snatching up food that will inevitably get dropped on the floor. Out isn’t only useful at mealtimes though! You can also use this command to direct your pet to wait in the hall while you get the guest room ready for visitors or even to stay off of a floor that you are mopping. This one simple command can make it easier for you to prep for the holidays AND enjoy them once they arrive! This video demonstrates how you can use Out to eat your meals in peace.
Drop: With all the food, toys, wrapping paper scraps, and more that may wind up on the floor over the holidays, drop is a command that will prove very useful for your pet to know! This command is especially fun to teach because you start out by essentially just giving your pet treats for free. It’s an enjoyable, easy way to do a little relationship building with your pet while they also learn a new command. You’ll just need to be careful that you don’t overfeed your pet during the learning process! To easily avoid that pitfall, simply set aside half of your pet’s breakfast to use during your training session. For your first session, you’ll simply scatter a handful of food on the ground, point at it, and wait for your pet to eat it. Repeat until the food you set aside is gone. At your next session you’ll do the same thing but also say the word, "Drop" when you point at the food. Repeat this step until your pet immediately and consistently looks for food where you are pointing every. single. time. If you’re anything like me, this is an especially easy part of the process to practice when you are cooking over the holidays! Any time you drop something that is safe for your pets to eat, point at it, say drop, and your pet will automatically clean up your mess for you! While that is a pretty helpful skill, at this point you may be wondering why we would teach this command. Don’t worry! This next approximation is where it all starts to come together! Get out your pet’s favorite toy and encourage them to play with it until they are holding the toy in their mouth. As soon as they are holding their toy, drop a yummy treat on the ground while simultaneously pointing at it and saying, “Drop!” Your pet should spit out the toy so they can gobble up the treat. (If this doesn’t work, try again with a higher value treat and/or a lesser value toy.) Continue this -- either in one session or over a series of sessions -- until your pet is consistently dropping the toy to eat the treat on command. At this point, you’re ready to start randomizing the times that your pet gets a treat and the times that they don’t. Try only giving a treat two out of the three times that you practice drop or every other time or every third time until your pet is consistently dropping the toy whether you actually dropped treat or not! Now you should be ready to use the command in everyday life! If your pet ever grabs something they shouldn’t, simply tell them, “Drop!” and wait for them to drop it. If you have treats nearby, feel free to use them, but if not you can always reward with your pet with petting, praise, or other rewards. Don’t forget to keep practicing drop occasionally with your pet’s diet, treats, or healthy scraps that you have dropped to keep this command fun and continue building your relationship with your pet.
Don’t delay! Get started on training your pet today so you can both be ready to truly enjoy the holidays this year. If you need more help with training, head over to the Book Now page to request an online or in-person training consultation. Want more ways to make the holiday season with your pet more enjoyable? Check back often to make sure you don’t miss out on the Treats and Tips posts in this holiday series!