Pets with Problems

How To Keep Your Dog Calm During the Holidays

The Christmas holidays are often a busy and hectic time. Shopping, preparing to entertain guests and decorating are just some of the many tasks that need to be completed in just a few short weeks. Although this time may be stressful for you and the other humans in your home, it’s particularly stressful for your dog – especially if he suffers from separation anxiety, as these dogs are very sensitive to any changes in the household routine. To help your dog stay just a little bit calmer and more relaxed there are some simple things to bear in mind. Read on to learn how to help your dog happily weather the holidays!

Start Training Early

This first point may seem obvious, but you should be investing time training your dog long before the holidays start. Time spent in advance can help them cope better with the chaos of Christmas. By taking the time throughout the year to properly train and socialise your pup, you can make the holiday season a little more bearable. Basic manners training is an excellent place to start.

Maintain Your Routine

Most dogs are very sensitive to routines – they like to know what is happening and when – this particularly applies to dogs who have separation anxiety. Sticking to the routine of walks, feeding times, play time and bed time helps your dog feel safe and secure. During the holiday season some of these routines are easily overlooked as your own routine changes. Although it may be a challenge, it is critical for your dog’s stress level to ensure the routines you have established throughout the year stay in place as much as possible. Consider these daily rituals like a promise to your dog that you simply cannot break. If you do have to change a routine pay attention to how it impacts your dog and give him a bit more attention than usual to help him feel secure.

Additional Exercise Can Be Helpful

Although this may be a challenge, finding the time to give your dog additional exercise may be one of the best ways to help keep him calm. By spending extra time on walks or at play, your dog will be tired and have less energy (in a good way) at home. This lack of energy can certainly help when guests come over, or other stressors present themselves. If you are simply too busy to provide this exercise, you may want to consider hiring a dog walker just for the holiday season. This way your dog gets the extra exercise, and you can still be at home preparing for that special meal with the family.

Make a Safe, Comfortable Space For Your Dog

Although this year may look different than most, it’s common to have gatherings at your home over the holidays. This increase in people in the home means new smells, noises, and other potential triggers that may worry your dog. By establishing a quiet corner of the home that guests cannot access, you can help your dog avoid a lot of this excess stimulation that may lead to unwanted behaviours. .For at least a week before the chaos begins feed your dog in this space, put his bed and toys there and always give him any treats there – make this the best place on the planet. When visitors arrive, particularly children, they must be told not to approach or disturb your dog when he is lying in his bed or crate. With children this is particularly important as many dogs, especially those who are not used to kids, find it very difficult to cope and if disturbed might react – ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ is a very true adage. If your dog is particularly nervous, you may want to consider hiring a pet sitter where your dog can go and stay during the busy times.

Determine Who Can, and Cannot Interact with your Dog

With family and friends visiting, they will want to play with your dog. After all, they are part of the family too! If your dog is friends with people, this is fine, but it is still important to let your dog make the choice – do not let anyone force attention on him and let him get away when he has had enough. Pay particular attention to children as they are likely get very excited. Although they mean well and are just trying to express their love for your dog, it can become overwhelming very quickly. Dogs biting kids is usually a result of the dog being overwhelmed and not being allowed to escape. Remember, it is the adults who are responsible for the way the kids behave with the dog – he is not a toy and must not be treated as such – hugging, tugging and kissing can frighten the dog and he may react in defense. Also bear in mind that during the holidays friends and family may have had a little too much to drink which may lead to further interaction that the dog does not want! Keep an eye on your dog and if you think he is getting a little too excitable or trying to get away, step in, stop the games and allow him to relax.

Speak to your vet about supplements to help reduce anxiety

There are many calming supplements on the market that may greatly benefit your dog during the holiday season. Although you may not make it a regular practice of using these types of supplements, you may find this time of year makes them a necessity. As with any type of medicine, you must consult with your vet before adding something new into their diet especially if your dog is already taking any other medication.

Prepare For Fireworks and Other Noises

The holiday season means there will be celebrations, often late into the night, that simply do not happen any other time of year. Large crowds and street parties may be rare this year, but fireworks are likely to be on the increase as they were with Guy Fawkes. These noises can be terrifying for a dog. Having a plan before days when fireworks are likely to be set off is critical to ensuring your dog’s stress levels stay as low as possible. If your dog has ever suffered from separation anxiety make absolutely certain that he is not left alone when you expect fireworks to go off – this makes being alone even more frightening and can set you back in separation training. If your dog is noise phobic consult your vet for some stronger medication to help him through.

Other Common Holiday Considerations

Even when your home is free of guests, there are several other stressors and dangers that are present.  Make sure to consider the following:

    1. Secure your Christmas tree, decorations, and presents so your dog cannot get into them.  These new items may look like toys and will interest a curious dog.  This is particularly important if anything inside could be hazardous.
    2. Be EXTRA vigilant when cooking and when food is lying around.  There are many holiday foods which are highly poisonous to dogs – in particular chocolate and any grape based food such as mince pies and Christmas pudding.  If your dog ingests any of these get him to the vet immediately – delay could result in death.  The Blue Cross has an excellent article listing all the things that are dangerous to your dog –
    3. Make sure you have easy access to your dog’s microchip info.  With people coming and going in and out of the house, your dog may slip through and need to be located.  Being prepared with login and other information can help get your dog back home safely.

Prepare Your Dog For The Holiday Season

Every situation, and every dog, is different. The important thing is that you, as a loving dog parent, are taking the time to think about your dog’s needs. Every dog’s threshold of what they can handle is different, and you’re the best person to come up with the plan. By considering everything that may be stressful for your dog, you’re also helping yourself stay less stressed by avoiding poor behaviour.

Contact Me For Help

If you are struggling, I cannot urge you enough to contact me for help. The expertise I can offer is priceless when helping your dog overcome his anxiety and knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel – your dog CAN be happy at home alone.

Please, contact me with any questions you have.  

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