Pet Articles: Training

Dog & Cat Training Tips for the Holidays

Holidays are joyous but they can also be chaotic. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle around your home, especially if you’ve invited relatives and friends to join in the festivities. And although you probably can’t wait to share quality time with loved ones, the added excitement and extra people can be confusing for pets.

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dog sniffing owner wearing a santa hat at a small party

Whether you have a new furry family member or a long-time pal that needs an obedience refresher, it’s a good idea to review their repertoire of commands before the holidays hit.

Having a well-behaved pet will help holiday gatherings go off without a hitch, while ensuring your furry companion stays safe as friends and family come and go.

Best Behavior:

Getting a slobbering kiss from a jumping dog every time you come home may be the ideal greeting for you, but to someone who’s unfamiliar with pets – like small children – it might not be so inviting.

For smooth sailing at any gathering, make sure your pets are on their best behavior by rehearsing basic “sit and stay” commands before your company arrives. Be sure to have treats on hand to reward your furry pal for their efforts.

After guests arrive, avoid having pets underfoot in congested areas, even if they’re behaving calmly. To keep someone from tripping over your dog or cat, you may want to put them in their crate or in a gated room away from the crowd.

Festive holiday trappings like decorations, wrapped gifts and a cornucopia of delicious food all need to be kept out of paws reach as well. Dangling tinsel could tempt your curious kitten to pounce on the tree, and all those wrapped boxes might look really chew-worthy to your pup.  

However, the most dangerous holiday items are often at your dinner table, so be sure to practice the “no begging” command. Sure, Aunt Sally shouldn’t feed your dog table scraps, but who can blame her when he flashes those big puppy eyes?

No bones about it, keep these items out of paws reach:

  • Chocolate (theobromine is toxic to dogs and cats)
  • Bread dough
  • Ethanol/alcohol (yup, no egg nog)
  • Moldy food
  • Onions and garlic
  • Grapes/Raisins
  • Fatty leftovers (meat drippings)
  • Bones
  • Packaging (plastic and foil wrappers can cause choking or intestinal blockage)

To ensure everyone enjoys safe and happy celebrations from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, here are some important commands to rehearse:

"Good Dog" Commands

  • Drop – When your canine gets into something he shouldn't, train him to “drop it” before chewing or swallowing.
  • Sit – Whether it’s at the table or near the couch, have your dog sit away from your guests’ feet.
  • Stay – Your pup may want to follow the party throughout your home, but steer him clear of any commotion.
  • Down/Off – Work on NO jumps. One way to help break this habit is to practice greeting and petting your dog down at his eye level. Then train Aunt Sally to do the same.
  • Shake – Imagine the smiles you’ll receive when your dog learns to give paw. It’s a cute party trick and the kids will get a kick out of it. Aunt Sally, too.
  • Come! – Coming when you call is one of the first obedience skills your pup should learn for both inside and outside the home.
  • No barks – Training your pup not to bark when the doorbell rings may take some time, but reinforce the “No Barking Rule” around family and friends.

Well-mannered cats

Cats are a bit more difficult to train than dogs, but you may be surprised at how many tricks your feline is willing to learn for a few tasty treats. Pick a treat that your cat craves. Most felines love soft treats with a strong aroma.

Like everyone, cats respond well to positive reinforcement. Ignore bad behavior and focus on praise while rewarding good behavior when you teach these commands:

  • Come when called
  • Stay
  • Lay down
  • Sit
  • Drop it

Patience, patience.

Teaching new commands takes patience and persistence. There are many different training methods and not all methods work for every pet, so find the one that fits both of you.

If you’re having extra difficulty working on basic commands, it may be time to take your favorite companion to a professional trainer for group or private lessons. Try to start the training sessions well before the holiday season; after all, you want your dog or cat to end up on Santa’s Nice List all year long.