Ah, the festive season is here! For us humans, Christmas time usually means having some time off work and spending it eating, drinking and having a great time with family and friends.
But what does the Christmas season mean for our dogs?
Every year we see a spike in training enquiries from pet owners just after Christmas. We are busy all year round, but over holidays periods we always see more dog owners reaching out for training assistance with their dogs – we even have dog owners call in distress because someone has been bitten by their dog.
Recently, a good friend asked me why this would be the case… Enter inspiration for a new blog post!
When you are home over the holidays you are spending more time with your dog, and are exposing them to more stimulation than they would normally receive during a normal work day when they are home alone. Spending more time with them also allows any bad habits they have established to start to feel like big problems. Maybe they haven’t got any worse, but you’re seeing them much more when your home.
We have all heard horror stories of dogs stealing the Christmas ham or turkey or counter surfing on the Christmas lunch table – just as we hear horror stories each Easter about dogs who gorge themselves on chocolate and need to be rushed to the emergency vet (after hours and/or on a public holiday is going to be one expensive vet visit!).
But as professional dog trainers, when enquiries start flooding in post-Christmas we tend to hear some more serious problems – like dogs that are stressed or become aggressive when family or friends come to visit, or who jump everyone when they arrive, including Granny who they hurt badly by accident. We hear about dogs that can’t handle busy party environments and whose owners, now they are on holidays, want to spend more time with them but find taking them out a nightmare. Spending time with their dog reminds them or exposes them to their dogs bad habits, such as leash pulling, over excitement, reactivity, lack of recall and general manners. The same is true for owners who take their dogs on holidays with them and find bringing their dog on holiday, instead of being something that should be enjoyable, is stressful as their dog lacks reliable life skills and may be stressed or over stimulated by travelling and staying in a new environment.
Often over Christmas we will have friends and family over to celebrate and if the dog misbehaves, owners will lock them outside or away from all the action. But if your dog hasn’t been taught to self settle or learn to relax on their own, this will create more stress and frustration and the dog can try to fix this with behaviour you may not like – barking, destructive behaviour, crying, stress, digging etc.
Consider that after Christmas when your dog has just spent every day with you for two plus weeks they may struggle to adjust to you going back to work and no longer being available to them 24/7. How will your dog deal with that loss?
How can we prevent the stress of Christmas and everything that comes with it from affecting our pets? Here are some tips for making life easier for you and your dog over the festive season;
If you have a dog who is stressed or easily becomes over whelmed or over excited, make a plan on how you will manage them during the silly season, trips away and parties. Below are some tips on things to think about when it comes to keeping your dog safe and happy (and yourselves less stressed) over Christmas.
This is the big one. Is your dog crate trained? Place trained? Can they relax knowing visitors are in the house, but can’t access them? Crate training is without question one of the best ways to manage dogs when you have guests over, throw a party or are travelling. A crate will give your dog a safe place to relax and switch off and is a great way to manage them in new or stimulating environments.
If you are travelling with your dog and they don’t have a reliable recall, make sure you pack a long line with you so you can let your dog have some off leash freedom without the worry that they won’t come back when you call them.
Does your dog get over excited when visitors arrive or if food is out on the table? Don’t set your dog up to fail, if they aren’t able to behave reliably, manage them accordingly.
Many dogs will get sick as they are fed a very different diet over Christmas, many people too! So try not to over indulge your dog – some extra treats are a-ok but remember your dog is not a garbage disposal unit (as much as they may like to be!)
If your dog is not crate trained, start now, many dogs take to the crate like a duck to water and will welcome having their own safe place.
3) Life skills
Life skills are the general manners and obedience that we want our dogs to have to make living with them easier. For example, does your dog have good manners? Can they greet visitors appropriately, or stay in a crate or on a place bed when guests arrive at your house? Do they have good leash manners, or a reliable recall? Do they have good impulse control when they become excited or over stimulated? Remember that dogs only know what we teach them. If we haven’t taught our dogs target life skill behaviours (like how to relax in the house) to teach them what they should be doing, they won’t be able to do it. Don’t expect your dog to know how to behave or understand what it should be doing if you haven’t taught them that skill.
It is up to us as dog owners to teach our dogs appropriate manners and life skills, practice these and proof them so we know our dogs can reliably do what we ask them.
Remember that dogs without good life skills rarely have a good quality of life, because they are difficult to have in the house, out and about or in more exciting environments. Their world becomes smaller and they get out much less and because of this, behaviour problems like reactivity, aggression, lack of impulse control, leash pulling etc then become worse.
4) Don’t leave it too late
Don’t leave it too late to plan what you will do with your dog on Christmas day and around the holiday season. If you need to use management like having them restricted to outside areas or certain rooms of the house, that is ok, but get them used to it BEFORE you need to restrict their access.
Many people bring new puppies into the household over Christmas. If this will be you, contact us NOW, not after Christmas so we can help you get started the right way. One of the biggest mistakes new puppy owners make is bringing home a puppy when they are on holidays and letting the pup adjust to the idea that they will have free access to you, their new owner, 24/7. These pups inevitably find it extremely difficult to adjust once owners are back at work and that’s when we get a frantic call from their owners asking for help for a behaviour they have (accidentally) taught their puppy.
It is much easier for us to prevent problems occurring rather than help you with a bad habit or behaviour problem that the pup has gained success with many times.
6) Thunder storms and Fire Works
Do you have a dog that is stressed by fire works or thunderstorms? In many states in Australia, Summer is the season for storms and around the festive season – New Years Eve in particular – there are many fire works set off in neighbourhoods all around the country. If you know your dog is storm or fire work phobic, plan ahead and have some strategies to help them deal with loud noises.
The PetArk Calm supplement is also ideal to have on hand to help your dog relax in situations that may trigger stress.
Thundershirts are also a good tool for dogs that feel stressed and anxious during the storm and festive season.
Of course dogs with severe anxiety really need professional help from a qualified behaviourist, but these tools can all help alleviate stress and anxiety. If you have a dog that has a real problem in these situations, get in contact with us ASAP so we can assist you.
7) Have Fun!
The holiday season is a time to enjoy a break with your friends and family, which of course includes our dogs. If you are lucky enough to have a break over Christmas, use it to bond with your dog, play with them and enjoy their company. We have a number of great fun training programs that are FREE to read (LINK HERE) that you can use to increase your dogs value for you and the rewards you have to offer. If you have time off, why not use it to make your relationship with your dog better, and teach your dog something fun (and useful!) in the process. Here are some links to training programs and games to get you started:
That’s it from me (Bec) for 2016! Thank you to all of our clients and customers who have supported us this year, without question our busiest year yet. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season with your dogs and I look forward to working with you in the New Year.