Many dogs cope brilliantly at Christmas, but it can be an unsettling time for others. The daily routine is disrupted, there are more visitors, stuff lying around and tempting food items to snaffle. It’s not uncommon to see behaviours at this time that you’d really rather not be, and the consequences can be far reaching. With a bit of thought and planning though, you can help avoid some of the common issues.
If your dog is uncomfortable around people, then having an onslaught of strangers in the house can be a problem. Make sure your dog has a peaceful place to get away from the crowds, where he can be reliably undisturbed (and make sure he is ok at being left alone). Give them a tasty chew, stuffed kong or bone if appropriate. Chewing can help promote relaxation, and may help them cope better.
Educate your visitors on how you’d like them to behave around your dog, before they turn up. Keep greetings calm and non-invasive for the dog – remember, dogs should always be able to ‘give permission’ before being touched. If you think your dog really won’t cope, consider letting them stay somewhere else familiar to them, like a friend or family member.
Dressing your dog up
If your dog is *genuinely* relaxed about wearing ‘costumes’ then all is fine, but make sure that your dog is able to say ‘no thanks’ if necessary. Be sure you can recognise the signs if your dog isn’t happy. If they look anxious, try to avoid you, hide away (or anything else that looks like avoidance if you approach them with a Christmas jumper or reindeer ears) leave them be. Never drape electrical lights around your dog.
Some dogs find people who have been at the booze unpredictable and unsettling, so if you have been indulging in a tipple or ten, just be aware that your dog may not understand why human behaviour has changed all of a sudden.
Children can be super excited at this time of year, and your dog may find that either highly over-arousing and want to join in with boisterous games, or just downright scary. Remember, all dogs and children need to be properly supervised at all times by an adult, and that means actively watching them, rather than just being in the room.
A good game for children to play with lots of dogs is ‘hunt the treat’ (or toy). Hide treats in boxes around the house or garden and then let the dog go exploring. A good use of all the boxes presents come in!
Again, if your dog won’t cope well with this, make sure they have a quiet area they can be where they are guaranteed not be disturbed, or give your dog something else to do so they don’t get over-involved. Scatter feeding their normal meals in the garden while the children are playing could be one way to keep them entertained.
Remember there are a number of things that are toxic for dogs that tend to appear at this time. Make sure your dog never has access to:
- Chocolate (especially dark chocolate). Consider wrapped gifts that *might* contain chocolate and keep these well out the way. Remember the canine hooter is extremely skilled in finding things that you can’t!
- Sultanas/Raisins. This includes fruit/Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas pudding etc
- Plants. Poinsettias and holly can cause tummy upsets if ingested, as can other Christmas plants.
- Lefts overs, including bones from a carcass.
- Alcohol. Many dogs will drink alcoholic drinks, especially sweet ones, so don’t leave glasses within reach of the dog.
If you think your dog has consumed any of the above, seek immediate veterinary advice.
If you have a new dog or puppy, remember that all trappings of Christmas, like trees and decorations may seem very alien to them. Introduce them carefully, and don’t be tempted to orient the dog/pup towards them. Instead, pair watching decorations go up with a calm behaviour like chewing an appropriate item. Try not to get frustrated if your puppy decides that nicking baubles of the tree is the best game ever, just make sure anything tempting is out of their reach!
By following these simple steps, you can help make your dog’s experience of Christmas that bit more calm and relaxing. Remember, stressed dogs behave in unpredictable ways sometimes, so if they do something that worries you, take a moment to think about how you can reduce stress for them.