Trainers explain how you can keep your dog busy while you’re eating this holiday season

Dog chewing on toy with Christmas tree in behind
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s no secret that two things a lot of dogs love are food and people. And during the holiday season, both often come together as we host friends and relatives for dinners and parties. 

This can be exciting for our canine companions (especially if they get gifted a few of the best dog toys by your guests!), but overwhelming too. If you’re worried about how your dog will cope when it comes to festive meals and everybody tucking into their favorite foods, you’re not alone. 

However, the certified dog behavior coaches at the Calm Canine Academy have offered some advice. Here’s what you can do to help keep your dog busy, and stop them from getting too overwhelmed, when you’re hosting social gatherings with lots of food this holiday season.

“Now is a good time to start getting them used to working on their own projects while you eat,” they explain. These projects give your dog a positive distraction, so they won’t mind not being able to join in with the ‘human food’, or being in a different room while everyone’s eating. 

Giving your dog projects won’t teach dogs to relax in itself, but it will help you to manage both the needs of your dog and the humans in your house at the same time. 

“Many people want their dogs to just lay down and do nothing,” the Academy says in the video. “That’s super unrealistic.” 

They show an adolescent dog, Sadie, who was at a celebratory dinner in public. As she’s a young dog, she’d not been in a situation like this before, and she didn’t know how to relax or settle. 

The Academy explain that, for an hour, Sadie was kept busy with snuffling games. They gave Sadie her meal in little chunks wrapped in an old towel, which gave her a fun, species-specific activity to do. And, it was able to calm her down, too, during what could easily have been an overwhelming trip out. 

As the project let Sadie both sniff and use her brain, it was mentally stimulating for her, and this sort of mental stimulation can lower the blood pressure and heart rate in dogs. And, it’s a good starting block for future training sessions, where she might work on things like relaxation. Are snuffle mats good for dogs? We think so, so why not incorporate them into your pup’s routine for the same reason? 

The Academy finish in the video’s caption by saying, “Giving her help here ensures that, in the future, she won’t have a conditioned negative response to these sorts of scenarios.”

The festive season can be a stressful time for dog parents, but while you can’t guarantee your dog will behave perfectly throughout and will always be happy, keeping them busy with projects and activities that stimulate their mind is a great way to make your life easier – and their’s, too. 

But what about the things your pup should avoid this time of year? Here are 11 Christmas hazards for pets that it’s worth being aware of!

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.