Hello again, Tevra fans!
My guide dog Diamond and I come to you this December bringing the gift of free advice. The holiday season is a busy and wonderful time for everyone, but service dogs definitely have their work cut out for them. Between the shopping, the travelling, and the celebrating, December can be a challenge for even the most experienced of our canine companions. As a long-time service dog handler and trainer, here are a few practical suggestions to help our dogs work well for us while minimizing their stress levels.
It seems that for myself as well as my clients, the holiday crowds present the biggest challenge for our dogs. People are out in droves taking advantage of the sales or participating in various wintry festivities, and our dogs attract a lot of attention. I freely admit to shopping online whenever I can, but I do some traditional shopping as well. My dog and I also attend several Christmas concerts, craft fairs, and various other events. If we’re out in especially busy conditions, I make sure to encourage and praise my dog for a job well done to help her boost her confidence and enthusiasm. Using a favorite training treat or other high-value reward is helpful, especially with a young or more sensitive dog. It’s also important to keep a close eye on our dogs to be sure they don’t accidentally get tripped over or stepped on by people who don’t see them. Some handlers use a vest or harness sign to help prevent strangers from petting their dogs. This option works better for some handlers than others, in my experience.
If you plan to do some traveling over the next few weeks, try and build some time into your itinerary in order to meet your dog’s needs. Airports can be especially chaotic this time of year, and winter weather can make things complicated as well. I always recommend bringing a collapsible dog bowl along with a couple days worth of dog food in carry-on luggage in case of lost baggage or flight delays. It’s also helpful to arrange for things like bulkhead seating or pre-boarding at least 24 hours prior to departure to make life less stressful at the airport. I could do an entire post about travel with a service dog, so these are just a few thoughts specific to travel during the holidays.
If I attend any holiday parties held at someone’s private home, I always check with the people hosting before bringing my dog. The ADA doesn’t apply to private residences, so I try to be courteous. If I do bring my dog to the party, she stays in harness as if in any other working situation. If I don’t think that my dog will be able to work in someone’s home for some reason, I leave her home. This is completely a matter of what works best for my situation, so please do whatever feels best for your needs.
I hope this post has been helpful. Please feel free to share your own helpful holiday hints in the comments. Diamond and I want to wish you all a safe and enjoyable holiday season!