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The Grand Illusion: Multiple Dog Household Aggression Issues Can Be Confusing

The Grand Illusion: Multiple Dog Household Aggression Issues Can Be Confusing

I have written several blog posts on the subject of preventing multiple dog household conflict but none on resolving it. There is a reason for that. Most dog parents who are not behavior professionals are not well versed in the finer points of determining the true cause of the issues at hand. I cannot count how many times I have been told that one dog is at fault only to arrive and see a different story entirely.

Of course, rarely is one personality in the household solely at fault for conflict. It usually takes two to tango. But without a plethora of dog body language knowledge, most people just don’t see the true initial cause. Behavior better off nipped in the bud early on is permitted to continue and tempers rise. The dog that is eventually blamed for the starting things is often only responsible in varying degrees from not at all to an equal partner in crime.

A situation that could quickly get out of control.  Photo courtesy of Kate McGill.

A situation that could quickly get out of control. Photo courtesy of Kate McGill.

I often see posts on the internet in various venues with multiple dog household parents asking how to solve a conflict within their household. Responses that are in any way different than “Get professional in-home help” serve to frustrate to me to no end. These issues cannot be solved by “dog trainer Facebook” or “dog trainer Yahoo group”. You need experienced eyes on the situation at hand to determine what dynamics are in play. Anything less and not only are all dogs in the household in danger, but so are the humans who happen to be present when any conflict takes place.

Redirection onto a human is a real danger when you are dealing with inter-household aggression. Relationships are not enough to ensure safety when emotions are at a high point. I happen to have a different opinion on dogs and their use of their teeth than some professional trainers. I do agree that if a dog wanted to bite you in most circumstances and if you just get a muzzle punch or a snap close to skin, then they certainly are just warning you. That is where my agreement usually ends on this subject.

With a dog fight, all bets are off. You CAN get accidentally bitten by the love of your life. Teeth are flashing fast and if you reach in to separate the feuding parties in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to get bitten. Think about a human in the same circumstances. Your emotions are high and a perceived rival attacks you. Someone you love reaches in to prevent you from retaliating and while you are wildly swinging, you give your beloved a black eye. It happens. Very easily. Don’t assume you won’t get bitten because you and your dogs have a great relationship. That would be a very dangerous assumption.

There is no general guideline that exists to repair the divide in inter-household aggression. Relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. The dynamics of any household are complex and complicated. You would not expect to resolve conflict among human household members based on some pre-existing formula that you could refer to. Give the canines in your life the same respect for complexity. You need professional eyes on the situation to determine the root cause of the issue at hand. No two conflicts are identical in any species.

Often, the dynamics that are causing the problem are not immediately evident even to the professional. My initial presence alone will change the dynamics in such a way that just listening and watching while waiting for the dogs in the home to get more comfortable and act more naturally is an important part of the resolution. As is often in these scenarios, the behavior at the root of the issue is something that a dog parent simply considered normal dog behavior. We could be better dog parents overall with an approach to dog rearing that mirrors human parenting. The comparisons are very similar.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that if you have inter-household aggression, then you owe it to your family, both human and canine, to get professional help. If you are not experiencing all out combat in your home but things could be a little less tense, then avail yourself of the previous blog posts that are written to prevent combat and instill a feeling of safety and peace in your multiple dog household.

Fairness in the multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/fairness-among-the-crew-alls-fair-in-love-and-war-or-is-it/

Bully dogs in a multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/an-intervention-is-in-order-canine-bullies-in-a-multiple-dog-household/

Stepping in as needed in a multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Why safety is important to dogs. http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/10/safety-zone-why-safety-is-so-important-to-dogs/

Feel free to share your inter-household aggression story below.

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Safety Zone: Why Safety Is So Important to Dogs

Safety Zone: Why Safety Is So Important to Dogs

You make sure that your dogs have a roof over their heads, food to eat and have appropriate vet care as needed. So you assume that they are safe. In comparison to a stray dog, they are indeed safe. But there is a lot more to safety than the basics that I mentioned.

Is any one dog in your home regularly annoying to another dog without consistent human intervention? Do any of your dogs bark at strangers outside of your home while viewing them from inside? Do any of your dogs bark at strangers while on a walk? Do you have an invisible fence and allow your dogs unsupervised access to your yard, which is on a street with others passing by? Then you have an emotional safety problem.

There are different degrees of safety. What a dog with one personality may consider a minor worry, another with a higher strung temperament may consider worthy of a meltdown. Learning what your own dogs require in order to feel safe is crucial to having a smoothly running household.

This is what dogs who feel safe look like while relaxing.

This is what dogs who feel safe look like while relaxing.

Think about your emotional state when you don’t feel safe. Do you feel anxious? Worried? Stressed? All of the above? It’s the same for dogs. Safety means something different for everyone. It’s a very individual but very important component of one’s life. How can you determine what safety is lacking in your household? Learning to be very observant about what worry in your own crew looks like and what creates that worry. Learn body language and signals and what questions to the humans of the household look like.

Let’s address some of my examples individually:

Barking at strangers, from both inside and outside is from a perceived lack of safety. While a blog post cannot fix this problem in your dogs, it can give you an idea that you need professional help to create safety in this area. If your dogs are reactive in these types of scenarios, professional behavioral help can change this behavior for the better. Feel free to contact us for a referral to a qualified behavior professional in your area.

I might get some flack on the mention of invisible type fencing, but it has to be said. Unsupervised dogs in most invisible fencing type situations are a recipe for a lack of safety on the part of the dogs. The dogs know that anything and anyone can enter their space but they are trapped and cannot get away from an intruder. There is no visible barrier so that passersby are seen as a credible threat. This can create and/or increase aggression.

Regarding the subject of one dog annoying another housemate on a regular basis, I have written numerous blogs, one on parenting available here and another on bully dogs, available here. Knowing that the human(s) in the household will provide safety from being pushed around can allow a dog to truly relax.

This brings me additional clues that your dog doesn’t feel safe. An inability to relax easily around the house is a glaring symptom. Pacing frequently and being easily startled are clues as well. Being hyper-vigilant towards certain criteria such as doorways to the outside world and windows that look out onto potentially active areas of the neighborhood is yet another. A caveat about the interest in the outdoor activity; this can also simply be a habit that has been inadvertently reinforced. When that is the case, you will rarely see the other symptoms.

One of the easiest things that can be done to remedy a lack of emotional safety is to truly see your dogs. Their questions, that is. Dogs ask a lot of questions of their humans. The problems arise when the humans don’t see the questions. The dogs then are forced to deal with their fears in the best way that they know. This rarely works out in a manner that is satisfactory to the humans, or the dogs for that matter!

Feeling safe isn’t limited to the examples that I gave. Other areas of safety include not exposing your dogs to scenarios where they could get into trouble that can be avoided. This can include using a leash when walking outdoors, having your dogs greet visitors away from the initial entry into your home as well as not allowing strangers to touch your dogs without your dog’s explicit permission.

And for the initial examples that were presented such as meals, vet care and housing, there is lot to be gained from the expectation that basic routines happen as planned. Another safety stressor is unpredictability on the part of the humans. Behavior wise, that is. If the humans do not behave in a predictable manner most of the time, it can cause instability on the part of the dog’s mental state. Anxious and mentally unstable humans can create or contribute to mentally unstable dogs. This is not always the case, of course.

Dogs with rock solid temperaments can safely be emotional or psychiatric service dogs for humans that have emotional problems or mental illness quite successfully. But these are dogs who are hand picked for such tasks, not your average shelter or rescue dog that has baggage of his or her own. However, such dogs will need to have regular breaks in order to remain successfully and stable.

In conclusion, with a provision of safety, what you will see is dogs who can roll with life’s challenges and changes. Your crew will trust that you are handling all the scary things and handling scenarios that may worry them. They trust that they can look to you with questions and get answers that they understand. They trust that you will intervene when necessary. This allows them to truly relax and be themselves. Creating such an existence among your crew will provide long term peace of mind, not only among your crew but with the humans. Please take the spaces below to describe how you create a safety zone among your crew.

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From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you have a human child who is difficult, with a personality disorder that needs professionally addressed. Yet you haven’t had the heart to take that step. Your child is antisocial towards everyone but your own family, and at times even them. He is disruptive in school, openly hostile and pro-active about avoiding interactions and generally challenges any form of authority. Would you think it a good idea to suddenly decide to adopt another younger child to shower with affection? Would you expect the interactions of the new child and the troubled child to go smoothly?

Strangely, many people do exactly the canine equivalent of this. They are then vastly surprised that they have a problem on their hands. The expectation is that if you have two of the same species in the house, they should automatically get along. Why? All humans don’t get along. It would of course be great if that were the case, but humanity has a long way to go before we get to that point.

No one understands more than I do the temptation to add another canine to one’s household. But even I did not reach this point without planning. My last “singleton” dog was adamant about remaining a singleton. I tried but at that stage of my training life, I was not skilled enough to “fix” her. Layla’s behavior near other dogs was fine. I “fixed” that very easily. She simply did not want to share her space with another canine and I respected that. She had no other issues. She was a delightful and charming dog, enchanting every human she met. Everyone loved her and she them.

Adding another canine to a household with a dog who not only dislikes other dogs but also most humans is a huge task to take on. Changing the behavior won’t happen overnight. There are no magic wands. Consistency and dare I say the word, leadership, are important. Because of my specialty, I get requests to help with such situations to varying degrees. I believe being truthful is important to achieving success. All family members must be on board in order for changes to take place. Realistic expectations are crucial and patience is key.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Managing the environment and setting each dog up for success is important. I often get asked, “How do I stop so and so from annoying so and so?” Easy, don’t let him in the first place. Setting up your household for success so that each dog feels safe and secure is important to success. Safety is high on the hierarchy of needs. Anxiety is off the charts without safety. The humans are in charge of safety. The dogs need structure, guidelines and safety. Rewarding for appropriate choices and providing an incentive for such will teach impulse control.

My job would be so much easier if simply integrating the dogs was my only requested task. Yet in so many of these cases, the resident dog in question dislikes all human strangers so that has to be addressed before I can even attend to fixing the dog/dog situation. I do have to get access to the inside of the house, after all!

In the worst scenarios, the owners have waited until the now larger and more confident dog has gotten fed up with the corrections he or she has endured at the paws of the older dog and has started to fight back. Get help before this point, please! Better yet, address your older dog’s issues FIRST, before you add gasoline to your fire. The amount of work that needs done once the deed is done is more than most people want to deal with. So do yourself a favor and think of what the resident dog needs rather than what you want.

If you lived through such a scenario, feel free to tell us all about it in the spaces below.

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Admire From Afar: Appropriate Interactions with Strangers on Walks

Vehicles need repairs periodically. It’s a sad fact of life. Recently, I spent a day off from working getting mine repaired. While this is not an earth shattering event, one of the areas of my life that is affected if my vehicle is gone all day, is that my dogs and I have no method of transportation to our usual walking locales. So it is a bit earth shattering to me.

Image of the dogs on a calm nature walk.

What the dogs look like on a calm nature walk.

Oh, you are no doubt shaking your head at this point. Walk the neighborhood, right? I have and it’s challenging with multiple dogs, so I stick to short walks or longer walks during snowstorms that shut the city down. My dogs and I like peace when we walk so we drive to peaceful places. I am a nature lover living in the city. Fortunately, this city has a lot of available close by nature. Literally across the street, for one.

As I mentioned, I live in the city, in a neighborhood best described as transitional. Mixed incomes and education makes for a colorful place that sometimes offers more activity than I would prefer. So having no options aside from waiting until I got my vehicle back much later that day, I opted to give the neighborhood walk a shot. The crew was throwing expectant glances at the door after breakfast and Kenzo had begun his occasional whining of anticipation. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Armed with treats and poop bags, we made our way down the hill to a busier street, intending to head towards the quieter streets once we had crossed. We had no sooner rounded the corner in front of my house when a passing car stopped in the middle of the street and waited. I stopped my crew, intending to wait until they moved. There was only about three to four feet for us to pass them and with three dogs as large as mine together, it wasn’t a practical thing to attempt. The passenger window rolled down and a woman said that they wanted to “see the dog when he walked by.” I am sure that they meant Kenzo, though the entire crew was with me. Kenzo is larger than the average dog so that attracts attention. Most people are more polite than this when they address me about Kenzo.

I was only about ten to fifteen feet away so they could see him already just fine. I told them that the dogs would possibly bark if we were that close by. They said that was okay. But it’s not okay with me to set them up to fail. And it shouldn’t be okay with you either. I silently stood where I was until they went on their way, after telling them this.

If I had been walking with human children and this happened just that way, it would be considered creepy. I think it equally creepy to have interactions like this with my dogs. There is a wonderful blog that was written a few years ago about dogs not being community property (read Dogs Are Not Public Property from dogster.com). It is so important for the public at large to understand that point. Parents would be very upset to have their human children be the focus of attention in that manner. I am equally upset to have my beloved dogs treated like side show acts. It’s impolite at best.

Some people are interested in being social when they walk their dogs. If one attends dog parks or interactive outings with one’s dog, then social interaction is the expectation. But walking around in public doesn’t mean someone is interested in being intruded upon, particularly just because of appearance. In the world of human interaction, that would be highly inappropriate.

Before you judge me as cranky, I have been politely asked from afar many times what breed Kenzo is or been given compliments about all of my dogs. I always light up with a smile and thank them and answer brief questions. The key word here is politely and the even more important word is from afar. Few people have expected to zoom right in the middle of my world when walking. Those who have, were politely but firmly redirected immediately.

Why is this a multiple dogs issue? Dogs feed off of each other’s energies. Multiply the quantity of dogs, multiply the energy of interaction. I choose to never interact up close with strangers when walking my dogs. My dogs have always been mostly of guarding breed lineage and as we live in this “transitional” neighborhood, I want to keep my dogs safe from harm, which includes not having to make split-second decisions about people they don’t know. We interact with people known to us on walks and that works for us.

I am also a huge fan of polite interactions with strangers. Like with dogs, I try very hard to not reinforce inappropriate behavior of any kind. That applies to humans as well. My dogs and I value our time in nature. It centers my soul. I see the same reactions in my dogs. I will keep that time sacred. When we want to interact, Kenzo goes to dog socials. He loves it as do I. But if you see us on walks and you are not personally known to us, please admire from afar. We will respect and thank you for that. And I will be eternally grateful for that gift.

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Sweet Dreams are Made of These: Should Your Crew Sleep With You?

Sweet Dreams are Made of These: Should Your Crew Sleep With You?

If I had a dollar for every time a client apologized before telling me that their dog(s) sleep with them, I could have retired by now. Old school style training dictated that dogs not be allowed on raised surfaces or they would consider themselves of equal or higher status than their “masters”. Hogwash.

The only time sleeping in the human bed is advised against is if there are guarding issues of some sort. Guarding, in this case, can pertain to the space on the bed. Guarding from the humans is a biggie that needs addressed in person with a qualified behavior consultant. Guarding from other canines or even felines is also an issue that needs addressed with a professional. But overall, that provides less of a threat to the humans, aside from breaking up a fight that is. I am obviously not going to give advice on these issues here. On the spot assistance is what you need if these issues ring a bell.

Aside from the previously mentioned red flags, sharing the bed is fine if that is what you wish to do. Of course, if you don’t wish to share your bed with your dogs, I am not here to say you must or your dogs will suffer. What I will share with you is this: dogs feel so much safer being permitted to sleep in the vicinity of their human family members. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on your bed or in their own bed in your room or that of another family member. Even being permitted to be on the same floor as the sleeping area is better than not.

Safety: we have discussed that here before. Safety is a crucial feeling to all sentient creatures. Safety is vital to survival. Safety provides emotional and physical security. The amount of stress a lack of safety adds to an emotional state cannot be overstated.

The Author's 3 dogs are very comfortable on the bed.Familial bonding is another often overlooked facet of this scenario. For example, most households have some sort of regular weekday work or school schedule that prevents a lot of bonding and togetherness during the workweek, whether that be weekdays or just several days strung together where the canines in the family get less interaction than they need for emotional stability. Consider then that the dogs in the home may sleep separately from the humans and you have very little togetherness going on.

The easiest way that involves very little effort once established is to permit your crew to sleep in the vicinity of the humans they care for. It involves little effort once you get past the novelty, if you are new to this. And it rewarding for all involved.

I often get quizzed on why dogs who don’t sleep near their humans are so needy on workday evenings. The answer is that they spend so little time together on these days. Sleeping in the same area is an easy way to remedy that situation. Less neediness on the dogs side, more peace on both sides.

What if you have allergies? Well, some of you are not going to like my answer on that but here goes. Allergies are over-exaggerated in my opinion. I am allergic to just about everything including dogs. So my take on that is if you are able to have and love on your dog, you are able to sleep in the same room as your dog. Just limit them to their own beds rather than yours.

So what if you don’t have room for all your dogs in your bed or even your room? After all, if you are reading this, you are very likely a multiple dog household of some quantity and not all households have human beds big enough for the humans and all the canines! So the solution to that is providing plenty of comfy sleeping surfaces and options for all dogs who reside there. If there is sufficient room in the bedroom, then place beds all over that room. If there are multiple family members, consider both canine and human preferences for favorites and plan from there. A word on that however: some children or even adult family members may permit too many privileges for a dog that may not be ready for such privileges so keep that in mind when choosing sleeping places.

Some readers are likely wondering about dogs that don’t want to sleep near their humans. Some dogs may prefer a bed in a close by empty bedroom or a dog bed in a hallway nearby. But in that case, what is important is that the choice of where to sleep is there. Meaning, the dog(s) has the run of the house at night and chooses this alternate spot. What I strongly advise against is crating day and night away from the humans. Not only is it cruel physically, it’s emotionally isolating. Obviously puppies need crated or otherwise movement restricted at night for safety concerns. But said crate should be in the vicinity of a human family member.

The difference in the emotional neediness is obvious when sleeping safety is considered. Easy bonding while sleeping can only be beneficial. Please share how you arrange your crew’s sleeping routines in the spaces below. And sweet dreams!

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Happily Ever After? Sometimes, It’s Not an Easy Feat.

Happily Ever After? Sometimes, It’s Not an Easy Feat.

I get a lot of inquiries through my training business for help with multiple dog issues. Most are fixable; some with an easy tweak, some with more effort, some would be easy if people would use simple common sense. Some are sadly not fixable, but not fixable is thankfully rare, at least in my experiences.

My most frustrating cases involve people who have good intentions but don’t think things through and expect a magic solution. Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions.

The basic facts are this….if your current dog has not been exposed to or doesn’t like other dogs, getting a puppy (with or without training said puppy) will not go over well with your current dog. There is no magic wand that will fix this situation. Only solid behavior modification for the adult dog and training for the puppy, will “fix” the situation. Benevolent leadership and taking a parental role in the situation will go a long way towards a remedy.

Three dogs, one is being snarky.

I wish that I had an easier solution, I really do. Part of the problem that I run into is that I cannot change a person’s basic personality. You either are comfortable being a leader or you aren’t. Some aspects of this position can be taught and some can’t. I find myself in the position of seeing very workable scenarios with people who are not comfortable taking the lead.

A dog who has had his or her life spent in a certain comfortable routine won’t easily be happy changing said routine without feeling safe with the household leadership. This plays a key role in whether your dog rolls with the changes easily or not. Dogs need to know that you “got this covered”. In particular, an adult dog who either has already shown a dislike for other dogs or has never been exposed to other dogs, will rest far easier knowing that you will keep them safe from puppy stupidity.

I have had both successes and failures with this particular scenario. It so very much depends on the determination of the owner to make things work and above all, the ability of the owners to “step up” and take the reins of benevolent leadership. This does not in any way, shape or form, involve using force or being “dominant”. What is does involve is being the human that keeps the peace. It involves being the human who will keep everyone in the home safe. That includes teaching the new puppy manners so that the resident dog feels safer exploring the new dog. It involves spending time acclimating said resident dog to the new puppy in a positive manner. This usually doesn’t happen overnight.

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Many people continue to believe that the best way to fix a conflict is to allow the dogs to “work it out”. That could not be further from the truth. Someone needs to make the decisions about what is and isn’t allowable with all canines involved. That same someone is expected to set guidelines and limits and kindly enforce both as well as teaching everyone to make better decisions. Dogs thrive with routine and structure. Show them what is expected of them and that YOU, the HUMAN, will keep them safe from harm and take care of all basic needs and it all flows more smoothly from there.

When the human “in charge” is uncertain or anxious about the situation at hand, it’s evident to all the canines in the household. Safety is a primary need of all living creatures. Uncertainty and anxiety create stress and stress creates conflict when the dynamics are unstable.

My own situation with Trent and Kenzo would be disastrous in a less skilled household. There would have already been bloodshed. But things go well because *I* set the rules. Trent knows I am keeping him safe. Kenzo has been taught what is and isn’t acceptable. Supervise, supervise, supervise is the name of the game here with a gradual increase in privileges.

For those of you reading this before getting a new addition to your family; if you have a dog that already has issues with other dogs, then fix that first. Don’t just assume things will fall into place because you get a puppy rather than an adult dog. It just doesn’t work that way. It might but again, it might not. It’s frustrating to see situations that could be fixed easily by changing the humans, not the dogs.

The bottom line for success with a potential conflict between new canine housemates is to feel comfortable taking the lead. I can show you what to do, tell you what to do, guide you along the process but I cannot do it for you. I don’t live with your dogs, you do.

Those who have successfully worked through this process, please share your experiences in the spaces below. Failure stories are welcome as well.

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Peace and Good Will? ‘tis the Season for Stress

It happens to all of us, both canine and human, during the holidays. The hubbub and pace of all that needs done affects the humans. What affects the humans, affects the animals in the household. Stress is infectious. Oh, not via the usual contraction methods. But infectious it is. It’s a pay it forward type of infectious. It can affect how you act and cause changes in the daily routine.

Dogs love routines. Routines convey security and comfort. Routines are very upended during the holiday season, potentially causing confusion and uncertainty. The humans in the household often have shorter fuses and tighter schedules, leaving less time for fun and frolic. Fun and frolic with the canines is important to them.

On the other side of the coin, fun and frolic of the over-indulgent kind on the part of the humans, can cause even more stress on the canine household members. Hung-over pet parents are no fun! Your crew learns to lay low and wait for the storm to pass.

Then there are the added culinary temptations to deal with, many having dangers of their own. There are trees inside, another temptation, along with what lies beneath. Decorations around the house, adding to the ambience for the humans, are more temptations to resist. What is a canine to do!?

Even during the busy holiday season Bing and Tango take long walks everyday.

Even during the busy holiday season Bing and Tango take long walks everyday.

How can you help your crew at this time of year, to feel more normal and safe in their routine? Easy, with a few simple actions. Start with exercise. Whatever your usual exercise routine is with your crew, do everything in your power to maintain it. I never miss a walk with my crew. I take them in the car somewhere every single day; rain, shine, sleet, snow, etc. They may only get out of the vehicle briefly in the worst weather, to sniff something different than they can sniff in their own yard, but they get out and that is the important part. A minimum outing is about a half an hour. This helps us all. Sanity returns.

Mealtimes are another important consideration. Try to stick with your usual routines for meals. Adding rich treats to their diet at this time may be what they want but minimize the unhealthy additions. Real food that is healthy for them is fine but do know what is and isn’t healthy for them before you indulge them.

The most important routine stabilizer is attention from the humans that they love. Be in the moment with them at least once a day. Don’t brush them off because you are short on time. Make a love connection. Notice when they need your attention even if you can only offer a moment or two. Connecting with your crew will help them handle the hustle and bustle of the holidays much easier than having to stay out of the way of grumpy humans. It can also change a grumpy human to a less grumpy human. Lower blood pressure is a happy result!

Feel free to share your dealing with the holidays with your crew. Please post your secrets below. And have a safe and happy holiday!

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