The holiday season is a special occasion for most of us. But we can also think of it as a special occasion for our canine companions too. It's a great opportunity to spend quality time with them, building our partnership and bonds. Engaging with dogs during fun and relaxing activities also enriches their lives.
While the holiday season can be a busy period, it is well worth thinking ahead and scheduling time to spend with your dog, when they have the opportunity to become the focus of your attention.
We've gathered some of our favorite ideas of activities to celebrate the holidays with your dog.
Remember, every dog is different, and you know your dog better than anybody, so pick and choose from our list of ideas to find the things that will suit your dog best.
Dog-friendly winter walksIt sometimes feels like there is no spare time in the day for a long dog walk, especially when there are lots of other activities going on. However, getting some fresh air while being active is not only good for your own wellbeing, it's also great for your dog. Daily walks will allow your dog to release extra energy and will also provide some familiarity during a time when their routine may be disrupted.
As with all your walks, check that you and your dog are prepared for your local weather conditions. If it's cold or icy, you may need booties to protect their feet and coats to keep them warm. If it's warm, remember a portable bowl and plenty of water.
So how about changing the routine by planning some time during the holidays to meet up for walks with friends who have dogs? It'll be fun for you and for your dogs. Or take the opportunity to schedule an extra-long walk where you slow down a little and just enjoy being with your dog. Sometimes the simple things are the best!
Explore somewhere newHow about trying out a walk in a new location? In our day-to-day routines we often get "stuck", either due to lack of time or simply from habit, and repeat the same walks every day. Plan somewhere new to visit - a new neighborhood, a walk on a different trail? Look up recommendations for local dog-friendly walks in an area that interests you, or contact nearby visitor centers for advice. It may take a little time to research a new location but it can make for an exciting mini-adventure for you and your dog.
Play a game with your dogFour of our favorite games to try out with your dog...
Hide the kibble: take some of your dog's daily kibble allowance (or a few low-calorie treats) and hide them around the room. Watch your dog hunt around while they find their food. You can encourage them with "go find it" and celebrate each time they find one of the pieces of kibble. Using their noses is mentally stimulating for dogs and potentially tiring, so it may also help them to get rid of excess energy if you're struggling to fit in their usual long walk.
Hide and Seek: a variation of "Hide the Kibble", except the reward is a human being! You'll need at least two people, one person stays with the dog while the other hides. Once they're hidden, let the dog go and ask the person hiding to call out to your dog. When the "hider" is found, praise them and perhaps offer a piece of kibble as an extra treat.
Fetch: playing fetch with your dog might sound obvious, however, it can also teach them to respond to different commands which will prove useful in everyday situations. Once your dog has retrieved the ball or stick, practice 'come' 'sit' and 'drop it' to improve their obedience skills and continue playing the game.
MassageTreat your dog to the gift of a massage over the holidays. Taking the time to massage your dog can help them to relax and is a good method to reduce stress and anxiety.
Find a quiet spot in the house to get comfortable with your dog before gently stroking the area where you will begin their massage. Using your palm softly press down on the focus area and use a sweeping motion to massage your dog. Avoid areas where your dog displays discomfort or doesn't like to be touched and don't press down too hard on their bones and joints.
Gradually work your way down their body for a complete massage. As well as being a great relaxation tool, a massage can also improve their circulation and flexibility while reducing joint and muscle pain.
Create an agility courseThis is something simple that can be done indoors or outdoors. Make a few simple obstacles for your dog and teach them how to use them. Think of jumps, tunnels, weave poles and "pause tables" (a place where the dog has to sit or stand still during the course - good luck!). Some items can be inexpensive to buy but you can also get imaginative and create your own. Make sure that anything you use is appropriate to the size and agility of your dog - small dogs, older dogs or less agile breeds can still do activities, they will simply need adjusting to their capabilities. Keep this a fun, no-pressure activity for both you and your dog - we're going for fun and relaxing pastime here, not the dog Olympics!
Attend an eventCheck out your local community websites for any dog-friendly events that are taking place in your area. Think of Farmer's Markets or parks. Remember to get prepared and take a few dog essentials with you, such as water and poop bags.
Practice trainingIf you will be taking any time off or have available time, try setting aside 15 minutes each day to work with your dog on a new training activity. If they can sit, teach them to lie down or to hold out a paw. Set out with no expectations and make it fun! Even if you don't manage to complete the training, it will still be a great success to have had fun together.
Watch a dog-themed movie togetherWhy not spend a quiet evening watching a movie with your dog? Even better, there are so many dog-themed movies available to choose from. This is a great reason (or excuse?!) to spend some relaxation time together and the extra cuddles are good for you and your dog.
Cuddles by the fireIs there anything more festive than sitting by the fire with a hot drink and a few snacks while watching a movie?
Involve your dog in this activity by cuddling up with them as they're sure to enjoy the warmth and the extra attention this will bring!
Treats in moderationYes, it can be tempting to feed your dog some festive treats, however, it's important to know what is healthy and non-toxic for dogs.
While we would always advise sticking to their regular diet to avoid any gastrointestinal issues, if you do want to share a bit of festive food a very small amount of cooked turkey is fine. Just make sure any bones have been removed first as they are a choking hazard and can cause internal damage.
If you'd like more information on foods to avoid, check out our article: 10 toxic foods you shouldn't give to your dog.
Make time to relax with your dogWith all the coming and going, it can be easy to forget the simplest of activities; relaxing. Taking time out from everything that often comes with the holidays can be valuable for yourself and your dog. Quality time spent together will be a comfort to your dog, particularly if they are spending less time with you than usual. Try to schedule some one-on-one time together in advance to make sure it doesn't get overlooked.
Safely prepare for the holidaysThe holidays can be a fun period for everyone in the family, including your dog. However, it's also important to be aware of any dangers your dog could encounter. Read our article: Safely Preparing for the Holidays with your Dog, for tips on how to keep your dog healthy and safe throughout the festivities.
With some careful planning ahead of time you can involve your dog in the exciting holiday celebrations with your friends and family. Making sure you have factored in the necessary steps to make your dog feel comfortable and safe during this time will help you relax and feel ready for each event. If you have any doubts or concerns regarding anything, always consult your veterinarian who will be able to give you specific advice for your dog.