Less Stress for Your Dog This Christmas

A picture of a Chihuahua dog in front of a Christmas tree

Christmas can be a stressful time for us. Getting the house clean and tidy for visitors, making sure we haven’t forgotten anyone on the Christmas card list, buying the food and fitting in all the engagements over the festive period can take their toll. However it’s not just us that feel stressed at this time of year – it can have quite an impact on our dogs too! In fact research undertaken by the Kennel Club showed that 40 per cent of dog owners noticed changes in their dog’s mood during the festive period. This short blog article looks at why dogs suffer during this time of year and how you can create a stress free Christmas for your dog.

Why do dogs feel stressed at Christmas time?

It’s most likely that dogs will feel stressed because they are experiencing new sights, sounds and smells for the first time. This may be because they were not exposed to these kind of situations during their socialisation period, the most sensitive time in their lives for learning.

Another reason might be because they are associating these different cues with a negative experience they had in the past. For example, automated Christmas decorations that suddenly move and emit an unfamiliar sound, the sound of crackers being pulled and a steady procession of visitors can all be quite traumatic, especially for dogs that already suffer from generalised anxiety.

One in five owner’s admitted that their dog’s routine was altered during the festive season which is quite significant because changes in routine and unpredictability are well-known stressors for dogs.  And let’s face it, Christmas can cause some disruption to our dog’s daily life for at least a couple of weeks.

For dogs that get anxious when being left, Christmas might just be the trigger for the development of separation related problems. Being out of the house for longer than usual can be scary for dogs and seeing flashing out-door lights from neighbouring households or carol singers lingering outside the home can all be incidents that confuse and frighten the dog that is home alone.

And what about all those rich foods? It’s quite normal for us to indulge ourselves and naturally want to indulge our dogs too. However, sudden changes in diet and allowing the dog to gain access to foods that are unsuitable or even toxic to them can cause gastro-intestinal disturbances.  At worst, some foods may be fatal, however, even mild stomach upsets can be painful and there is lots of evidence to show that pain of all grades is a very common cause of stress.

The festive period culminates in New Year parties and it’s now common-place for firework displays to be part of the celebration which can be a real source of fear for a large proportion of dogs.

How to Create a Stress-free Christmas for your Dog 

  1. Try and keep a dog’s routine as consistent as possible. This includes the food we feed them.
  2. Provide dogs with a den/ safe haven where they can retreat to and have some peace and quiet when visitors come to the house or when things get busy and noisy. But remember, dogs shouldn’t be shut in crates for extended periods and must have been properly crate-trained so they associate it with being a positive and relaxing place to be.
  3. Plan trips out so your dog isn’t left for too long. For some general tips to help look at my FREE E book on Separation Anxiety. It’s also a good idea to try and find out if there are any activities taking place in your neighbourhood that might frighten your dog so that you can avoid leaving them. Alternatively make other arrangements for them to be left with a friend or family member.
  4. Draw curtains and leave familiar music playing to mask outside flashing Christmas lights and noise – it may appear to them like a firework display or lightening which lots of dogs are fearful of!
  5. Make sure your dog can’t raid goodies that are baddies! Chocolate Christmas tree decorations are tempting and food in the kitchen, including minced pies, fruit cake and left-over turkey carcasses can be dangerous but a magnet for counter-surfers.
  6. Prevention is always better than cure so if you have a puppy – make sure that it is socialised and habituated to meeting new people, seeing new sights and experiencing the different scenarios that you would expect at Christmas. This doesn’t mean bombarding them though – slow and sensitive introductions are best.
  7. To help your dog during New Year firework displays, follow the freely available advice from recommended sources and download my FREE E-Book that has lots of top tips to help during the firework seasons.
  8. Consider using natural calming preparations like Adaptil (an analogue of a pheromone that induces calmness) or calming herbal scents that are safe for dogs, like Pet Remedy. There are also a wide range of natural products that can be added to the dog’s diet that can be helpful.
  9. Understanding your dog’s emotions and applying some simple training and management techniques can make all the difference to your dog’s mental well-being. Many of which are featured in my book Fear and Anxiety in Dogs which is available from all good book shops and via Amazon.
    Fear and Anxiety in Dogs book by Caroline Clark
  10. For dogs that display more concerning fear-related behaviours, a trip to your vet might be worthwhile. It’s highly likely that they will refer you to a veterinary/clinical animal behaviourist for more specific help and a treatment plan that incorporates desensitisation and counter-conditioning techniques to help change their negative emotions into more positive ones.

I do hope this short article has given you some useful ideas but if you’d like more specific advice for your dog’s fears or anxieties please get in touch.

Please note: Purchasing the book by clicking the amazon link means that I will receive a small commission as part of the Amazon Associates program, this contributes towards the hosting of this website and the free resources that are available to you. Thank you.

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