Joan Merriam: Eight tips for getting holiday-ready |

Joan Merriam: Eight tips for getting holiday-ready

When planning for the holidays with your pet Joan Merriam suggests planning ahead and making sure where ever you go is pet friendly.
Submitted photo to The Union |

If you’re anything like me, you’re having a hard time believing the holidays are already upon us. I know, I know: I always say that this time of the year — but that’s because every year it seems to sneak up on me!

Wait: November, already? Weren’t we just sweltering through one of the hottest summers on record?

But ready or not, here come the holidays — so let me offer you some tips for ways you and your dog can enjoy the festivities rather than dreading them.

Holiday tips

Think about whether you really want to take your dog to that huge family gathering.

Some dogs are fine around unfamiliar people, unfamiliar surroundings, and boisterous celebrations where Uncle Bill careens through the house with a lampshade on his head — but some dogs morph into unrecognizable creatures who become either terrorized or terrorizer when confronted with too much stimulation.

How much fun will it be when your suddenly-demented dog crashes into your elderly great-aunt and sends her headlong into the swimming pool … or your sister’s toddler has to be rushed to the ER from an allergic reaction to dogs … or your cousin’s new girlfriend shows up with her dog-hating Siamese cat who persists in cornering your pup and slashing at his nose like Freddy Krueger?

Unless your dog has already proven himself to be a happy warrior in situations like this, seriously consider leaving him at home with a trusted dog sitter.

If you’re having holiday visitors your dog doesn’t know, err on the side of caution and either put her in her crate, or confine her to a separate room until she can acclimate to the strangers in her home.

Many dogs — even ones that are otherwise highly sociable — can become very territorial and protective when strangers invade their domain.

This also holds if you know your dog is fearful of certain types of people — tall men with long beards, for instance, or small children. Nothing is worth risking someone getting bitten, or your dog being traumatized.

On the subject of guests in your home, remember that the chaos of people coming and going can cause anxiety for both you and your dog.

You’ll have to figure out your own way of de-stressing yourself … but for your dog, find him a “safe haven” like a quiet room away from the noise and commotion, and outfit it with a water dish, a bed or soft spot to curl up, and his favorite toys.

Make sure you don’t present this as a punishment, but as a special place where he can go to relax and enjoy himself.

If you’re decorating for the holidays, remember that many of those fancy, glittery trimmings can represent a potential hazard for your dog.

Electrical cords, ornaments, ribbons, wreaths and garlands, and small toys — hard or soft — are objects of intense interest for most dogs, who could decide to chew on them or treat them like playthings, in the process causing harm not just to your décor but to themselves.

(Think: shattered glass ornaments that leave razor-sharp shards all over the floor—or worse, in your dog’s digestive system.)

Keep to your normal schedule as much as possible, including mealtimes, playtimes, and exercise.

This kind of continuity can help balance whatever turmoil the holidays may bring to your and your dog’s home and lives.

Sure, the weather may be frightful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take your dog with you when you’re out and about.

There are many stores that welcome well-behaved dogs — another opportunity to socialize your furry friend — and if it’s not too cold, you can even grab an outdoor table at one of our local eateries and enjoy a bowl of hot soup or chili with your dog by your side.

Be careful of handing out too many treats to your pup in celebration of the holidays.

If your kitchen and holiday table are like many others this time of year, they’re probably overflowing with rich, heavy, calorific goodies that are special delights of the season — but these treats can represent serious dangers for your dog.

Canine pancreatitis, a painful and potentially deadly condition, is one of the most common causes of veterinary visits during the holidays, because we “gift” our pups with rich and fatty morsels from our human meals that their systems simply can’t handle.

In the midst of all the holiday bustle, leave space for special “together” time with your dog.

Give him a quiet massage, spend time gently brushing her coat, snuggle with him and watch a favorite movie, or go on a leisurely drive if she loves car rides — while you’re admiring the neighborhood’s beautiful holiday lights and decorations, your furry companion will be savoring your company!

The holidays can be stressful for us all — dogs included — but with a little effort and forethought, you can decrease the pressure and increase the pleasure for everyone.

So gather your gifts, deck the halls, twirl your dreidel, and accept these wishes from Joey, Indy, and me for a warm and joyous holiday season!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. She can be reached at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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