November 25, 2021
The holiday season can be overwhelming enough without considering your dog, and every year many dog owners wind up crating or boarding their dog because of their behavior around new people and new situations. While this works out OK for some dogs, for many others, these "solutions" are only temporary, and can even make certain issues, like separation anxiety, worse.
Fortunately, dogs are smart animals and respond very well to gradual changes over time. If you plan ahead and commit to making time to work with your dog for 15-20 minutes daily, most common behavior problems can be solved within just a few weeks. The important thing is to create small goals that help prepare your dog several weeks before your big event and set aside time to practice these new behaviors as often as possible. By giving your dog plenty of time to practice before people arrive, you have a much better chance of seeing their improved obedience than if you try to prepare the week (or worse) - day of! - the party.
If your dog always jumps on people when they walk through the door and you're bringing your elderly family over for the holidays, then maybe your goal is to teach your dog to sit politely when the door opens. Maybe you'd like your dog to bark less at new company, stop stealing food, or even get them comfortable with being alone in a crate for several hours so you can have a stress-free evening.
No matter what you are trying to accomplish, regular practice toward small goals is the most reliable way to get there. Still, it's important to be realistic. If your dog is severely aggressive towards people, it's unlikely they will be "cured" in only a few weeks. Similiarly, if your dog has been doing a particular bad behavior for a very long time (such as stealing food) they can be much more resistant to changing that behavior than if you are working on a twelve-week old puppy's obedience training for the first time.
As you can probably tell, picking good training goals is very a individualized process, and depends largely on how much time you have and the problems you are trying to solve. However, if there is one major problem that stands out in your dogs behavior, breaking that problem down into smaller pieces is usually a good way to start outlining your goals. Using the example of "I want my dog to stop jumping on guests that walk through the front door" your training goals might look something like:
Over time, accomplishing these training goals will enable you to easily tell your dog to "sit" when guests are at the door and have them listen to you reliably. This is because you've given your dog weeks or months of time to practice the new behavior, and by doing so, have changed how your dog sees and responds to the situation completely.
If you're not working with a professional trainer, keeping written notes about how your dog is doing (or self-recording videos of your training sessions) can help you understand if you're getting closer to your goals or if you need to change course.
Different dogs tend to progress at different rates, depending on the task. Your dog might easily sit with the door closed and no distractions around, but it might take several days to get them to sit calmly while you open the door just a tiny bit. Working with a professional trainer can help you troubleshoot if you get stuck on a particular area, but its also important to be patient and consistent. There's a good dieting adage out there that goes like, "You didn't gain the weight overnight, so why would you expect to lose it overnight?" and the same is true for dog training; if the behavior didn't start in a single day, don't expect to fix it in one!
Working with a professional trainer in person or online can help you choose the right training goals for your situation and stay committed to your dogs training. As a resource, professional dog trainers are invaluable because they can provide a wide range of insights and techniques that can make your training progress much faster. In particular, the use of online training since the 2020 pandemic for short consulting sessions or checkins has seen a huge surge in popularity and can be very helpful in troubleshooting and helping to stay motivated through the ups and downs of your training journey.