The ultimate guide to having a safe and stress free Christmas with your dog
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But ultimately quite a stressful one too. With four legged friends around this can be the case for more reasons than one. They might be difficult to manage around visitors, become hyper-active in social situations or are expert thieves!
The good news is there are several ways in which we can make Christmas stress-free and most importantly of all, safe for you and your dog.
First off, if your dog is a prolific thief or counter-surfer it goes without saying that access to present unwrapping, food prep and eating areas needs to be managed as well as possible. If your house isn’t open plan, baby gates work perfectly for this. Pop your dog behind the gate with some food and presents of their own so that they don’t get FOMO when you are unwrapping your own gifts, or eating your way through the day. Otherwise a puppy pen if your house is open plan is just as effective. Make sure you introduce the confinement area before Christmas Day in a positive way using toys and treats, so that they are happy to enter in anticipation of their food and presents by the 25th.
This is not just to make your day more enjoyable, more importantly it is to keep them safe. Lots of items that we buy around Christmas are dangerous to dogs which if consumed can result in a trip to the emergency vets. Not what anyone wants on the big day!
- Cooked bones
- Mince pies and Christmas pudding
- Macadamia nuts
- Sweets containing sweeteners
Dangerous plants if ingested:
- Christmas tree
It is also important to watch your dog, especially if they are a puppy, around gifts or Christmas tree decorations which could be a choking hazard. If your dog does manage to steal an item, try the ‘drop and swap’ method of offering them something of even higher value in exchange for their prize. This is preferable to prising the item from their mouth which can result in them holding on even tighter, or could even result in you being bitten.
Avoid causing any unnecessary stress by forcing your dog to dress up if they are uncomfortable with it or having lots of unnatural pictures taken. This causes a build up of anxiety from the get-go, not what we want before the real stress begins!
If your dog is over-aroused by visitors and you are expecting guests for dinner, ensure your dog has had a good walk and at least an hour before they arrive to calm down to set them up for success. Providing them with some calming activities to do to take the emphasis off the guests is also really beneficial; a Mud Daddy lick mat covered with some peanut butter or dog food and popped in the freezer in the morning will give you a great emergency tool for when the guests arrive which should keep them going for the first hectic 20 minutes.
If your dog is worried by visitors it can be less threatening for your dog to meet them on neutral territory. Suggest the your guests join you for a walk where they don’t force interaction with your dog by trying to stroke or talk to them, before you all go back to the house together. Briefing your visitors to ignore your dog (as much as they would love to make friends with them), is how your dog is going to feel as comfortable as possible throughout the day. Do not let visitors, especially children approach their bed, food bowl or toys. If they are particularly reactive to visitors, if possible, have Christmas Dinner away from your house to give you, your dog and your guests as stress free a day as possible. Otherwise, keep your dog behind a baby gate with enrichment activities throughout the day to keep them occupied.
Enjoy the day!
Preparation is the key to success, so on Christmas Eve make sure that you get as many enrichment activities prepped and ready to go as possible, so that in the madness of the morning it is one less thing to worry about. If your dog is occupied as much as possible you set yourself up for a successful day. Easy activities include:
- Muffin tin with treats covered with tennis balls
- Present for your dog with a toy inside
- Frozen Mud daddy lick mats or feeding toys
- Puzzle feeders
- Cardboard box filled with treats
- Scatter feeding their breakfast in the garden
Wishing you and your pets a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2022!
Rachael Claire is an IMDT accredited Behaviourist and separation anxiety specialist working remotely across the UK.