Most dogs aren’t party animals, as much as we humans love to have them involved in our own festivities. The food, the crowds and most of all, the noise, can get to a dog. Be it excitement or agitation, all this over-stimulation can lead to trouble.
For some dogs, it may surface as party gaffes such as jumping on guests and stealing food or trash (the latter of which could end up in a late night visit to the pet emergency hospital). For other dogs, it may manifest in anxiety, leading in the worst case scenario to a bite when an unsuspecting guest (possibly with lowered inhibition and slower response time, themselves, after a couple of drinks) reaches toward the dog, even though the dog is showing clear signs in its own (body) language that it would rather have some space.
With Fourth of July celebrations just around the bend, I’ve been talking a lot with my students about creating a doggie zen zone. Today it occurred to me, though—why do I talk so much about this as a problem solving response to situations such as parties, holiday traditions and even the introduction of human baby into the home—and not as a proactive thing ALL families with dogs can do now and practice year-round so that their dog will be used to the zen zone routine anytime the need arises?
It takes planning to prepare your dog’s safe haven in your home, and more time to get your dog used to staying there without feeling stressed out about being separated from “the pack.” Our upcoming Fourth of July celebrations may give us the perfect push we need to think about this right now, but I encourage you to practice giving your dog random visits to its new zen zone frequently enough in between events that it seems like nothing out of the ordinary. I also urge you to work to improve the calming qualities of the space over time so that your dog feels safe, secure and actually happy to get to spend some alone time there.
Choosing a Location
The ideal doggie zen zone would be a room toward the center of your home, away from windows and out of earshot from places where you entertain guests. However, if there is a room in which your dog is already comfortable spending time alone, you might turn that into your doggy zen zone even if it doesn’t meet all of the criteria above since you’d be a step ahead in getting your dog to love the space. Some dogs—like my rescued borzoi, Skylar—actually feel more secure in a smaller space. If your dog is in that camp, you might even consider placing a crate in your dog’s zen zone.
Making the Space Comfortable
Perhaps our mind leaps first to the perfect dog bed when we consider how to make our dogs comfortable. Of course, that’s part of the solution, but a dog’s hearing is so sensitive that the aural environment is also important to consider. Set up your doggie zen zone in a room that has no echo. Try to muffle sounds from outside of the room by playing soft, classical music. Even better yet, put on music from the Through a Dog’s Ear series of music composed specifically to be calming to dogs.
I know—at first that sounds like just one more gimmick aimed at emptying a dog lover’s wallet, but over time, I’ve come to trust that there’s really something to this music based on the results I’ve seen with my own dogs, and a number of my students’ dogs. I highly recommend investing in a CD (or downloading music online through their website for a fee). You’ll be able to play it as background noise to block out sounds from outside your doggie zen zone and I think you’ll find the music pleasing to the human ear as well. Playing this music certainly couldn’t hurt, and if it has an additional soothing effect on your own dog, to me, that’s just a bonus.
Teaching Your Dog to Love Alone Time
Dogs are most comfortable when the pack is united. Without training, any separation from the rest of the pack can be distressing. An easy way to get your dog to look forward to alone time in the doggy zen zone is to make that’s THE time when your dog gets certain irresistible goodies that they don’t get anywhere else. There are so many options to choose from. There are bound to be a few that are just right for your dog!
It’s important to consider your dog’s chewing strength and habits in the name of safety. For many dogs, beef tendons or bully sticks make perfect busy-work chewing projects. If your dog is an aggressive chewer who might quickly chew these down to a dangerous nub that could be swallowed and become a choking hazard or bowel obstruction, perhaps baited Kong toys are a better choice.
One of my Favorite Kong tricks to recommend is shoving a little bit of something gooey and delicious (like wet dog food or peanut butter) into the small end of the Kong, so that the dog smells it through the small hole. Take a bit of the same stuff, and smear it around the large end of the Kong. Your dog will get a taste for the stuffing from licking the large end of the Kong, then keep working to reach the stuffing at the small end of the Kong. Prepare several of these ahead of time and freeze them to make the puzzle more of a challenge. You might even consider adding in some chopped carrots or dry dog kibble to make your dog’s Kong project longer lasting. Kong toys come in a range of sizes and hardness levels, so choosing the variation that’s just right for your dog will be important to your success.
The Kong isn’t the only doggy puzzle toy available to help your dog pass the time in the doggie zen zone. I talked more about finding a wide variety of puzzle toys for dogs in my Weekly Yip, Again, when choosing puzzle toys to leave your dog alone with, please consider their sensibilities and avoid choosing any toy that could pose a choking or bowel obstruction hazard.
Of course, there’s the impending holiday to get through, but it’s also worthwhile giving your dog a zen zone break randomly from time to time throughout the year in between situations that actually call for it. Doing so will help your dog to feel comfortable when closed into the zen zone during the chaos of a real event, even when that event sneaks up on short notice.
In the meantime, I hope you and your dog enjoy a very happy and safe Fourth of July!