Is your dog looking forward to the Christmas Holidays?
Christmas is stressful for the dog too!
Christmas is a busy, exciting, emotional, noisy time. It is often a time that most houses have their usual daily routines completely thrown out the window.
Most dogs throughout the year are home alone during the working week, they spend their time asleep. Even those that have a ‘work from home’ owner are generally sleeping for most of the day in a quiet, calm house.
As Christmas approaches children start to get excited, routines start to change as various parties and activities crop up.
Then work and school stop as we all finish for the Christmas holidays. The house becomes noisy and often chaotic as we all run around getting things done. The TV is on, the radio is on, the games console is on, arguments may happen, kids fight (been there!) and there is often a constant parade of visitors knocking on the door. All of this together with a huge deficit of sleep (dogs can sleep 16-20 hours a day) can cause massive behaviour implications with our pet dogs due to an overdose of brain chemicals (dopamine, cortisol, adrenalin) released due to excitement, stress, frustration, anxiety etc.
Then we bring a tree in the house and expect him not to investigate it, all those smells, especially a real tree that has been growing outside for years, having birds land, maybe even nest in it. You expect him to leave it alone and distinguish it as an ornament and not pee up it like he is allowed to do on every other tree he has seen in his life! Then you add lots of interesting shiny baubles, tinsel, flashing lights and often nowadays animated, noisy decorations. Some of you will have cuddly Father Christmas decorations or Rudolph Reindeer toys and expect them again to distinguish between them and their toys.
You often have oodles of super tasty treats just lying about too – remember dogs are scavengers. Many dogs will leave the tasty treats whilst you are in the room but will steal them as soon as your back is turned.
Dogs like routine. Lack of routine and change can cause your dog to become unhappy. The dog can become shutdown or super excited/frustrated depending on the dog’s personality.
If your dog’s behaviour/ personality changes during the holiday it is your responsibility to help them cope. Below are some ways to help them
Maintain your dog’s routine as much as possible – walk, feed times.
Ensure they have a quiet, safe place to sleep. Preferably the same space their bed usually is. If this is not going to be possible – Prepare him for the change in advance by moving him before all the commotion begins. Do not allow people to encroach his safe space and ensure that access to his space is not blocked by people, bags, furniture
Stick to his diet
Don’t be tempted to feed him lots of human food titbits – buy/make suitable healthy treats if you want to treat him over the festive season but do not overdo it!!!!
Maintain your Contact/play
Your dog gains a lot of comfort and reassurance from you. If you usually cuddle your dog and they like it – continue to make time to do this, it release Oxytocin, a great feel-good chemical for both of you. If you play with your dog, make time to do this – it forms part of their routine, remember, a routine is good!
Try and add some extra walks
Walks are a great way to help your dog cope with all the holiday changes. Sniffing combined with physical exercise will help your dog relax.
Allow your dog to de-stress
Just as we would take a bath, read a book, watch TV, knit etc to unwind we need to ensure that our dogs can do this too. Sniffing, licking and chewing are our dogs equivalent. Make a little course of obstacles made up of items that you can scatter food on for them to find, spread paste on for them to lick, hide crunchy food for them to chew. Courses should last 10 – 20 mins (I often feed my dogs dinner this way). Snuffle mats, licky mats are great to add to the course, google these if you re not sure what they are
THE GOLDEN RULE
Allow your dog to choose if he interacts with visitors or takes himself off to his bed. His bed/safe place is just that – no one bothers him there! If he is asleep, children and visitors leave him.