Christmas is Coming!

Carolyn Menteith is a behaviourist with over 20 years of experience working with and training dogs.

There is no doubt that after the year that we have all had, and the new challenges that seem set to lie ahead, the thought of the holiday season is even more exciting than usual. Despite all the talk of shortages, rising costs and another impending wave of covid, everyone I talk to just can’t wait for a very well-deserved break to spend with family and loved ones to eat, drink and be merry.

For many dogs however – especially the lockdown puppies – this will be their first Christmas, and for them and many others, the holiday season can bring far more stress and anxiety than it does festive cheer.

It is no coincidence that this is the time of the year when the majority of dog bites in the home occur – with children the most frequent victims – but with a bit of preparation and understanding, you can make sure everyone has a happy Christmas – and that includes your canine family members as well as the human ones.

Christmas from your dog’s point of view

First of all, the children are home from school – and, in many cases, are wildly excited. They might well have their friends visiting that your dog doesn’t know, and as it is getting colder and the nights are darker earlier, they are likely to be spending much more time in the house and more time around the dog.

And of course, the temptation for them to put a Christmas hat or antlers on the dog can be overwhelming – especially for that Instagramable selfie (which tends to bring faces close to teeth…!).

Talking about the house, your dog’s usually predictable environment has become a scene of upheaval. There are decorations everywhere, lights and tinsel cover everything, and to cap it all, there is a tree in the living room! Suddenly there are lots of new things that the dog has never experienced that they aren’t allowed to sniff, play with, chew or wee on!

The run up to the big day

Then as Christmas draws closer, everyone seems busy and rushing around, and often the dog seems to get forgotten in the whirlwind of preparations. The usually predictable routine is totally different, there are unexpected visitors to the house (including deliveries and couriers at all hours) and to cap it all, the weather isn’t great and the days are short, so the dog is probably getting far less exercise than normal. And much as you try, you can’t be everywhere at once and so it is easy to lose track of where the dog is and what they are doing.

For the dog, their environment has changed, their routine has changed and the people they know are behaving strangely. – and that’s before you add alcohol into the mix!

Most well-socialised family dogs can cope with the temporary craziness of Christmas and the holidays – and many actually enjoy it – but for a surprisingly large number, it’s stressful and worrying. Dogs like predictability and routine and at this time of year it is easy for the dog to become under-exercised, over-stimulated, under-supervised and over stressed. It’s easy to see how this is a potential Christmas accident waiting just to happen.

Thankfully this is easy to prevent – as long as you include your dog in the Christmas considerations, and think about what they really want for Christmas.

Things to remember

  • No matter how much you need to do in the run up to Christmas, remember that your dog’s needs don’t stop! They still need the same attention, the same amount of exercise and the same quality time with you that they do the rest of the year.
  • Try to keep their routine the same as always. It is easier for dogs to deal with the unexpected if there is as much predictability as possible.
  • Make sure your dog gets enough exercise and stimulation, so you are not adding boredom, frustration and too much canine energy to the craziness of Christmas.
  • Supervise the dog at all times – particularly when there are strangers (especially children) in the house.
  • Make sure your dog has somewhere quiet to go to if they need a break from the festivities.
  • Do not let anyone grab, hug, or play rough with your dog – that includes everyone but especially children, people the dog doesn’t know, or if alcohol is involved!

It is however true that all your dog really wants for Christmas is you. So, make sure that no matter how crazy, lazy or mad Christmas gets, you spend quality one-on-one time with your dog every day. It might keep you sane until the New Year too!

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