Dogs & Christmas

08 January 2020, Aimee Orme

The holiday season is upon us. It’s an exciting and magical time of year but with the decorations, the food and all the strange visitors it can sadly be stressful and dangerous for your beloved pooch. The key to a happy and safe holiday season is preparation. For example, if you know your dog has problems with people, be that fearfulness, fear aggression or simply over excitement now is as great time to address these issues. Prepare the house with separate areas where your dog will be safe and can retreat to if necessary. Even the most social of dogs can become overwhelmed by lots of visitors. This division and creation of safe spaces can be done using a crate or baby gates in a quiet area of the house. Start acclimatising your dog to these areas now. Feed him his meals in here, play with him and make sure to offer feeding toys and chews in these areas. Invest in some new toys for your dog pre - Christmas to keep him entertained whilst you are busy. Toys that encourage foraging and snuffling are perfect for this. Take the time to read up on doggy body language. Learn the subtle signs that your dog might be becoming overwhelmed. For example, many people see humping as a sign of dominance when it is actually a sign of stress. Other signs may include yawning, licking his lips, turning his head away from people, freezing or stiffening up or giving a hard side - ways stare known as “whale eye”. Educate your visitors too, particularly those with Children on what not to do around dogs. Lay out the ground rules and write them down somewhere that everyone can see them, such as the fridge door. These should include not approaching the dog whilst he is resting, eating or if he has stolen an item he shouldn’t have. The rules should also include not feeding him any food other than his own. Taking the time to do some obedience training as well, could potentially save your dog’s life. One exciting part of the holiday season is the food. This can be bad news for your dog though as raisins, cooked bones and chocolates are highly dangerous to all dogs. By teaching your dog to leave food and to drop items using rewards and positive reinforcement you can prevent accidents. Preventing access to the kitchen is also a good safety measure. When it comes to dealing with introducing your dog to visitors, the method used will depend on how your dog is with people. For all dogs management and prevention is important. Prevent them from performing the behaviours you do not want, so you can reward and get the behaviours you do want. If your dog loves to jump on people to say hi, then leash him or have him behind a baby gate when greeting people. Then focus on rewarding him for keeping his feet on the floor, typically a big handful of treats thrown on to the floor will allow him to focus elsewhere and calm him down a little. If your dog shows fear towards people, whether it is through avoidance, or through aggressive behaviours, then distance and management are key. Keep your dog at a distance that they feel safe and relaxed and use food to help them create new positive associations with people. Remember not to force your dog to interact if he does not want to. If you know your dog is particularly going to struggle with the holiday season, or you are going to be out a lot, then please considering using a quality daycare or boarding service. It could also be worth seeking the advice of a force free behaviourist as well. Have a fabulous holiday season, be safe and have fun. (at the end or side of the article) Teaching Your Dog to Leave Food Start with some tasty treats in both hands. With one hand behind your back, keep the other hand closed, say your dog’s name and “Leave it” and offer the closed hand to your dog. As your dog licks and paws at your hand simply wait for him to back off and away from your hand. When he does say “Yes” and reward him with a treat from the hand behind your dog. Teaching your dog to Drop Start with some tasty treats. Say your dog’s name and “drop” and offer the treat. Repeat this a lot. Then try with your dog’s toys whilst he’s playing. Always swap with something that is better than what he already has.