Behavior Bytes | December 2011
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
01:29 PM, Sunday, January 01
Dear Dr. Schwartz,

We have a number of important events coming up this holiday season. We are giving our daughter’s engagement party, Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas Eve celebrations at our home. The problem is that we have 4 shy cats, 1 Chihuahua and 2 big Retriever mixed breed dogs. Do you have any advice?

Thanks, Party Palace

Dear Party Palace,

Well, first of all congratulations! There sure are a lot of good things going on in your lives right now. Typically, the busier we get the less attention our pets get. This happens despite our best intentions; sometimes life just gets in the way of caring for the ones we love. Honestly, the soundest advice I can give you is to keep your life as simple as possible and keep your pets out of the party madness if you can.

The best thing to do would be to board them all at your veterinarian’s or at a boarding kennel you trust the day before each event, picking them up the day after. This will free you up to focus on planning your events and enjoying them, too. We don’t want you or a guest to trip over any of the pets during the festivities; someone might unintentionally let any of the cats or dogs out the door and into the night. Some people aren’t pet people and you probably want to be accommodating to your guests. You wouldn’t want any of your visitors to get bitten or scratched by a startled pet, and you wouldn’t want the cats or Chihuahua to get injured by those who are not used to living with small pets. Also, you don’t want your kitties getting into the dip, or your dogs stealing food from holiday plates. Ultimately, I think it will be worth boarding them for 1 or 2 nights. Keep your stress level down and focus on the fun. Your pets might not like being away from home, but sometimes that’s the best place for them.

Another option would be to secure the cats in a locked room, or crated in a quiet part of the house. This will keep them safe and minimize their stress with so many strangers in their home. The same can be done for the dogs (although this is not the time to start crating them if they are not used to it, of course). Prepare your dogs with a long walk before each event begins and then get them settled in with a special treat to enjoy during their confinement. Check on your pets when you have a moment to make sure all is well, but be careful not to let them escape!

Holidays are a stressful time. Event planning is busy and fun, but stressful nonetheless. Brief separation from your pets may not be fun for any of you, but it will prevent them from getting into trouble. Sometimes short term discomfort is worth long term contentment! So relax and enjoy!

Dear Dr. Schwartz,

We are planning to get a puppy around the holidays. It’s not our ideal time frame with so much going on, but our kids (ages 13, 8, and 6) have been begging us for a pet for a while and we couldn’t take their nagging anymore. Do you have any tips to keep our newest family member safe?

Puppy on the Way

Dear Puppy on the Way,

I’m glad that your children are old enough to appreciate the care and devotion your new puppy will need. Children should be on their way to being responsible before a pet is introduced; so many parents think they will be teaching their children responsibility by getting a pet. The family pet is always the responsibility of the adults, not the children. It’s always important to give your children basic instruction on gentle handling of any pet, and to monitor them when a young pet is first introduced. Supervise your children as your pet matures to ensure that their relationships remain healthy and that everyone is safe.

During the holidays, be careful of small toys, ribbons and bows, tinsel, food and anything that might be irresistible to young pets who are prone to ingesting things they really shouldn’t! Pet proof your home before your puppy arrives and instruct your children to keep their rooms tidy and their doors closed to minimize accidents. Keep your puppy in a safe place when you cannot be there to monitor him, such as a puppy pen or large crate in the kitchen area, or even a playpen in the den. Your puppy should sleep near you at night in a dog bed or crate so that she will feel safe. For additional details, please visit; on the Quickfix page there are helpful handouts you can download for a small fee (it goes to supporting the website) on basic obedience and house training and more. Congratulations on your new addition and Happy Holidays everyone!

Dr. Stefanie Schwartz­­­­Dr. Stefanie Schwartz is a board certified veterinary behaviorist based in Southern California. She sees patients at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad and at The Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, CA. For more information, please call (949) 342-6644 or visit

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