Yes yes, it’s only November and we’re talking about Christmas. However it’s okay, because we’re not going to encourage you to buy some over-expensive electrical goods from a slightly fancy department store.
Instead, we’re going to encourage you to think forward about the needs of your dogs as the festive season starts to pick up and your routine changes. Perhaps you have people over for drinks or dinner? Or maybe you go travelling to visit family, or they might all descend on you. Whatever happens, now is the time to start thinking about how your dog might cope and how you can help.
Just as some dogs are fine with fireworks whilst others are terrified, many dogs are okay with noise, crowds, and change of routine, but there are those who find it scary, unsettling and even upsetting.
Here’s a few tips on what to do to help your dog stay safe and secure this Christmas.
1. Safe Space
Every dog should have a safe space all the time, but this becomes increasingly important when the house can get busy and confusing for your wee pal.
A safe space is somewhere your dog can go where he won’t be disturbed, where he can sleep in peace and feel calm and protected from the chaotic life we humans lead.
This could be a corner of a room, a dog crate, under a table or another room entirely - so long as you and everyone else in the house knows that when your dog goes there, he is not to be disturbed, poked, or in any way involved with your life until he decides to come out.
It might only be a couple of minutes, or it might be the entire time people are visiting. Your dog should be able to take whatever space and time they need. He’ll come out when he is ready - maybe to investigate the chances of some food, or maybe, once everyone is in and settled, he’ll come out for a cuddle. The key is not forcing your dog into any situation he is not comfortable in, and letting them settle whenever they need to.
Chewing is something which reduces anxiety, so if you do put your dog in a crate (or your dog chooses to go himself) then why not try filling a Kong and freezing it for a healthy, long-lasting treat?
If you are able to put on some calming classical music for your dog, that has been shown to be relaxing to dogs too. Classic FM recently did a dog friendly session for Bonfire Night (even though they added firework sounds to their adverts - d’oh!) and that’s the channel we like to put on.
We did for a time use Radio 4 but then they had a report on hunting with lots and LOTS of dog barking, which wasn’t the calm effect we were hoping for...
2. Darned Kids!
This might be a time of year children come to your house. It might also be the case that your dog hasn’t met children before, or the children haven’t met a dog. So long as you can give them your full attention (and not just a casual glance when basting a turkey), this is a great opportunity for them to learn about each other.
Make sure you are vigilant when they meet, keeping in mind your dog’s body language, and that a wagging tail does not always mean he is happy.
Children like to get up in the face of dogs, which is never a good idea. This is a good time to teach a child new to dogs how to give one a clap, show respect and how to feed him treats.
It’s also a good time to show your dog not to be scared of this tiny human, but also that it’s okay to go to their safe space if they feel nervous. And remember, don’t let the child go to the dog’s safe space, as that would be further increase your dog’s anxiety levels.
3. Travel Time
We often visit friends and family at Christmas, and it’s always best when we can take our dog with us. For those dogs not used to vehicular travel, this can be a stressful time as they might find themselves in a car more often, and for longer periods than usual.
As always, make sure your dog is secure in the car. We use these EzyDog harnesses which come with a seat restraint to keep our dogs from flying around in the back. If you can, have someone sit in the back with your dog for comfort, and who doesn’t want to cuddle a dog on a long drive anyway?!
You’ll know what is best for your own dog’s security - some go in the boot, some don’t like to see out windows, some like to be in a crate. Whatever works, just keep in mind to take breaks for your dog to wee and poop, make sure they are offered water regularly.
4. Adaptil Spray
If your dog needs that little bit extra help to stay calm during busy periods, we recommend Adaptil spray. We’ve been using it for years, and have seen its calming effects on a range of dogs. You can also get it in a spray and as part of a collar.
We used it for a few weeks straight in the house when we were expecting baby Sam, as this was going to be a major change in the house and we wanted our dogs to be as calm and anxiety-free as possible during this time as things were going to get very different.
It doesn’t have any negative effects on your dog - it doesn’t make them lethargic or go off their food - but do keep in mind any allergies your family or your dog may have, and plan accordingly.
5. Safety Present
No matter if you’re an old hand at dog keeping or you’ve just got your new puppy, Christmas can always catch you unaware with nasty surprises.
Specifically, you know how we like to wrap presents and put them under a tree? This can be a problem if someone has given you a box of chocolates. You might not know what they are, but your dog’s nose knows, and if they are tasty fancy choccies then the next stop after your dog ripping through the packaging in the middle of the night will be the vet.
Chocolate, of course, is one of the most well known human foods that can be lethal to dogs, but it’s worth becoming familiar with the larger list of food you shouldn’t give to dogs, which includes macadamia nuts, cinnamon and ice cream.
It’s wise to keep presents somewhere dogs can’t get to before Christmas day, and keep an eye on your dog when you are unwrapping. You don’t want to get so caught up in the fun that you misplace that Toblerone bar and your dog runs off with it! A disaster on two fronts there, because Toblerones are amazing.
6. Home Boarding
Finally, if all else fails, perhaps thinking about somewhere else for your dog to stay for a few days might be best.
Somewhere calm, run by professionals who have your dog's best interest at heart, who have had loads of gorgeous reviews from visiting dog's humans, and who take the dogs out on a gorgeous walk every day.
If only we knew somewhere...!