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How to keep your dog safe and stress-free at Christmas

How to keep your dog safe and stress-free at Christmas
Learn About Dogs

The month of December is a time dedicated to celebrations, family, friends, food and fun. It offers a pause from normal life, the opportunity to chill out, see the people we don’t often get to see, and eat loads of indulgent food.

However, Christmas often brings a lot of stress and anxiety, for both people and their pooches. You will know your dog all too well, attuned to their individual behaviours and traits, so you’ll probably have an idea about how your dog will cope over the festive season.

The holidays often mean that our pooches are confronted with many strange situations and switches from their normal routine. For dogs, Christmas might not be the most wonderful time of the year.

We’re here to give you all of our top tips and tricks on how to keep your dog safe and stress-free at Christmas time, ensuring that you and your four-legged friend enjoy the festive period without the hassle.

Visitors

Mums, dads, aunties, uncles, grandparents, siblings, friends and whoever else you can think of will probably be popping in for a festive visit in December. Although some dogs might love the extra attention that comes with extra people, it can be really overwhelming for the more anxious members of the pooch population.

Although our dogs get to avoid the stress of hosting, not needing to cook, clean up or offer drinks to their guests, many are likely to feel incredibly stressed out with the presence of new people in the house.

Keeping your dog stress-free at Christmas

Decreasing your furry friend’s stress levels in this situation is important. To help, you can create a safe, denlike space for them, away from all the noise, just make sure it’s comfy and feels like a positive place to be for your dog.

Ensure it’s in a quiet room that nobody will enter, put loads of toys and blankets in there and give your dog some treats while they’re in there to create a positive association with the space.

When your visitors arrive, you’ll have to do some training with them too. Make sure nobody approaches your dog if you know that they’re uncertain, allow your dog to be the one to approach or totally ignore the visitor if that’s what they prefer.

If your dog approaches, see if they’ll take a treat from your visitor, but if not, don’t worry. Basically, the main thing to remember here is to not force your dog into making friends.

If possible, try to spread visits out over a number of days, so that there’s not a load of people in the house all at once for your dog to hide from. You also need to be really careful of children in the house if your dog is a bit anxious and aloof.

Don’t let the child try and play with the dog if your dog has no interest and you must supervise them at all times to prevent any accidents.

Routine changes

Has your dog ever rudely reminded you that it’s dinnertime, even if you’ve only missed the clock by a mere 5 minutes? Well, it’s because dogs love a routine. They know the time we wake up, the time they eat, the time they go for walkies and the time they go to sleep.

As a result, the Christmas commotion might be all a bit too much for your dog.

Christmas brings a total change in routine, we sleep in later, we’re not out at work and we’re probably spending more time seeing friends and family. Your dog might be grateful of the fact that you spend more time at home over Christmas, but some of the other changes might be unnerving.

If possible, the best thing you can do to decrease your dog’s stress levels is to try and keep their routine as normal as possible. Stick to your dog’s regular walking, feeding, napping and playing times to hopefully retain some sense of normality over the festive period.

Loud noises

Fireworks, Christmas crackers, Christmas music and the constant chatter of people can be enough to give us humans a headache, so we can only imagine how our pooches must be feeling. A lot of dogs might just find all the noise of Christmas downright annoying, probably because it interrupts naptime, but some dogs will actually find the extra volume really frightening.

Helping your dog stay calm at Christmas

Pets are really sensitive to loud noises, and the bangs of fireworks on New Year’s Eve, or the pops of Christmas crackers around the dinner table might make your dog feel scared, anxious and frustrated. To help your fearful four-legged friend, you could try desensitising your dog to the sound of fireworks well in advance.

Essentially, this involves playing audio clips of fireworks at a low enough level so that your dog doesn’t react, slowly build up the volume and offering treats to build a positive relationship. Check out our full blog post on helping dogs cope with fireworks.

Playing calming music, creating a safe space for your dog to retreat to and always being available to offer comfort if needed will all make a world of difference in helping your dog over the Christmas period.

Christmas tree

Putting up the Christmas tree is one of the main events of the festive season, but for your dog, they might walk into the room and think ‘what on earth is that?!’. We can’t really blame them for being bewildered and even frightened by a Christmas tree, it’s a huge thing that’s appeared out of nowhere in their home, covered in strange decorations and flashing lights.

If your dog is barking, growling or even hiding away from the Christmas tree, they might genuinely be frightened of it. To help with this, try to throw treats near the decorations to build a positive association.

Even though it might be really inconvenient, try to decorate in stages if you’ve got loads of decorations for around the house, giving your dog some time to acclimatise to the new objects.

Also, if you can keep all the furniture in the exact same place, rather than rearranging the whole house to accommodate for a tree, your dog will feel much more content in their surroundings.

Once your dog has gotten over their initial wariness of the Christmas tree, they might start to get a little bit naughty. Watch out for them pawing at your baubles and pulling them off the tree.

How to help your dog deal with Christmas

Christmas decorations are easily breakable, especially glass ones, which your dog could cut themselves on and even seriously hurt themselves if they tried to eat them. Broken shards of baubles can cause obstructions in the stomach and internal cuts and tears.

Avoid using tinsel and don’t use ribbons, bows and string on gifts if they’re going under the tree. A pile of presents under the tree will be tempting for your dog to chew on, and this will not only be damaging to the gifts you’ve bought, but all ribbons and added decorations to the presents can be really dangerous if ingested, potentially tangling around internal organs.

Alongside this, watch out for the wires attached to your Christmas lights, if your dog starts to chew through these it won’t be good.

If you’ve got a real Christmas tree, watch out for those spiky pine needles dropping. They’re sharp and spiky, having the potential to hurt and cut your dog if they swallow them, so try and sweep up the needles daily. Also, make sure your dog doesn’t decide to take a swig from the tree stand water, some of the chemicals to preserve the tree might be toxic to dogs.

All in all, you just need to keep your eye out with your dog and the tree as there’s a number of potential dangers, and you also don’t want any baubles broken or presents stolen! A last resort might be to put some kind of barrier around the tree so your mischievous mutt can’t get to it.

Unwrapping gifts

Christmas morning comes with lots of excitement and mess, with presents, wrapping paper and bows scattered all over. Although the wrapping paper isn’t toxic for dogs, it can stain your dog’s mouth if they decide to gobble it up, which can look alarming! If they decide to have a whole feast on the wrapping paper, it might cause some blockages and cause your dog some tummy troubles.

Helping your dog at Christmas

We often unwrap new shoes, new handbags, expensive electrical equipment and toys over Christmas, and you’ll probably notice the small sachets of silica gel that come in the packaging. These can often be flung around the room and left on the floor amid the Christmas carnage, which if ingested can make your dog feel quite unwell, potentially leading to vomiting and diarrhoea. Not ideal on Christmas day.

Food

It’s tempting to give your dog a little taste of your mince pie when they’re staring you down with those puppy dog eyes, but it’s important that you don’t succumb to that adorable face.

Christmas brings us humans lots of indulgent, tasty foods to scoff, but unfortunately for our dogs, most of these tasty treats are not suitable and sometimes even poisonous for pooches. We’ve got a full list of the foods you should never feed your dog over Christmas here for you to check out.

Tell your dog not to worry though, we’ve also got a list of Christmas foods they can eat here, they don’t need to miss out on the festive fun with you.

Christmas plants

Holly, mistletoe, poinsettia and ivy are all plants that commonly crop up over the Christmas period, but they can actually be highly toxic to dogs if ingested.

Keeping your dog safe at Christmas

Also, as we know, the needles that drop off our Christmas trees are also really sharp, potentially causing cuts and internal damage if swallowed.

The only way to avoid our curious canines from scoffing all of these plants is to either keep them all out of the house or at least totally out of reach from your dog.

More alone time

Christmas is a busy time, lots to do and lots of friends and family to see, but don’t forget that your dog is part of the family too. It’s easy to get carried away with the festivities, but try not to leave your dog alone for too long as this can be distressing and create serious issues.

If you can bring your dog with you for some of these visits then great! Take their bed, their favourite toys, chews, puzzle games and fun feeders to keep your dog entertained while you’re socialising.

Helping dog's anxiety over Christmas

If you’re going somewhere where they can’t join in on the fun, make sure they’ve been on a long tiring walk before you go, they’re left with a puzzle toy and you make sure you’ll be able to come back home after a little while.

If you’re planning on being out for a while, try to organise someone to come over and keep your dog company.

How can I tell if my dog is stressed?

Your dog’s body language will be an instant giveaway into how they’re feeling, so look out for these signs of stress and anxiety:

  • Barking
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Toileting in the house
  • Drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Hiding
  • Whining
  • Increased grooming
  • Clinginess
  • Destructive behaviour, such as chewing

You know your dog the best, so look for anything out of character and figure out what is causing them to feel stressed. Christmas should be a time for fun and festivities, not fear and stress.

Recap

There are loads of things to think about over Christmas, so it becomes easy to get swept up in the festivities. However, just remember to take a step back and think about how your dog is feeling during this busy time, after all, they can’t tell us directly how they’re feeling, so you’ll need to try and work it out yourself.

By taking the time to understand how you can help your dog feel happier, stress-free and safe over Christmas, you’ll both be able to enjoy the festive period together. Now’s the time to relax, have fun and eat lots of good food!

Sources
  1. Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 37, May-June 2020, 61-70, doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2020.04.005

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