Should I worry about my dog at Christmas?

Should I worry about my dog at Christmas?

“Nooooo not Christmas yet” I hear you cry! It may seem like a distant dream, but hold your reindeer - I am writing this blog now because it may take you a couple of months to prepare your pooch for Christmas.

It’s not just us humans who might be stressing over the yuletide chaos. Our four legged friends, like Fido, can also experience their fair share of Christmas woes. We really must get into the habit of thinking about our dogs at Christmas. We can get so wrapped up with Christmas shopping, meal planning and working out who is coming over to stay that we can forget about poor Fido.

Why should I worry about my dog at Christmas?

Dogs are usually creatures of routine and habit. And guess what, Christmas is the perfect time to throw those routines out of the snow frosted window. When dogs are younger, this can be much easier for them, but this is by no means guaranteed. And older dogs, although previously may have been fine at Christmas, may not feel the same way every Christmas because things change. Dogs can become scared and frustrated and these emotions can lead to unexpected biting. Let’s think of some of the things that may worry our dogs at Christmas.

New family members

Every year family dynamics change. From new family members and their offspring to the ever confusing changes in the atmosphere (thanks to all those party guests and too much eggnog) our four legged friends can find themselves overwhelmed and scared.

Your dog may not feel safe with all the festive shenanigans. They may fret about new visitors, especially younger children who often are not properly educated about dogs, especially if they don’t live with one. With all of the hullabaloo occurring during this period it can be difficult to keep an eye on Fido, and you may not notice him struggling. The last thing you want to happen with your dog at Christmas is for someone to get bitten.

If Fido doesn't usually have regular doggy play dates at home, please think very carefully before inviting guests with dogs at Christmas, especially if either aren't too sociable.

Change in atmosphere.

Fido may enjoy living a peaceful life all throughout the year. With large gatherings of people, their world becomes noisier and less predictable. Throw in alcohol to the mix and this is a potential recipe for disaster that rivals your favourite Christmas disaster movie! Even puppies may find this overwhelming, and it may be a very difficult experience for them, setting them up for problems with gatherings of people in later life. This may be particularly apparent if your pup is in the second sensitive stage between the ages of approximately 6 to 10 months. They can become extra anxious during this period and any negative events can have a more profound impact on them longer term.

Noises, decorations and toys

Many Christmas decorations and even new kids’ toys can be noisy and scary, especially if these are animated or remote controlled. Let’s be real, that dancing Santa toy can be pretty intimidating!  People who are not familiar with dogs may find it amusing to scare them with these strange, animated monsters, as their reactions can appear amusing. But it's not fun for the one being scared and can even lead to serious long term behaviour problems. Dogs aren't furry humans and they don't get the joke. Bah Humbug!

Don’t forget to think about the potential hazards of Christmas trees, foods and gifts. If you have a puppy, they will likely be very interested in the tree that suddenly springs up in their home and all the interesting things on it. It can be expected that puppies will want to explore these things with their mouths and as they wag with excitement ping the baubles off the tree! Don't blame Fido for this, use shatterproof bulbs for the first few years of a puppy rather than family heirloom ornaments.  And as for adolescent male dogs, they may really appreciate the sudden arrival of a toileting post in their lounge! 

Don't leave mince pies, Christmas cake and chocolate lurking at snaffle height as these are dangerous poisons to dogs or you may spend Christmas day a few quid lighter whilst watching Fido puke at the vet. 

A bit of forward planning should ensure that your Christmas runs smoothly. 


But won’t a puppy just take Christmas in their stride?

But puppies, you say? Surely they will just wag their tails and take it all in their stride? You may be tempted to think that they will just adapt. However, the socialisation window for most puppies has passed by approximately 12 weeks. In reality, you are more likely to terrify a puppy with big family gatherings that may be rather overwhelming and this is why breeders often won't let you take on a new pup until after the festivities. Furthermore, not all puppies have a resilient temperament. We must consider factors such as the breed, individual personality, age at which you acquired your puppy from the breeder, in addition to the environment in which the puppy was reared. Unless you have an in-depth understanding of how these factors could affect the development of your puppy It is better to err on the cautious side.


Covid dogs at Christmas 

Let’s not forget the furry friends who joined your family during the Covid era. They have missed out on socialisation, and many already find visitors very difficult. Many Covid dogs have already started showing territorial aggression. Due to Covid restrictions and worries many people have avoided big gatherings at Christmas for the last few years. This year, however, we are starting to go back to pre-Covid routines. 

These Covid dogs are very likely to struggle with visitors with a significant risk of showing aggressive behaviour. You must plan ahead to ensure the safety of your visitors and the wellbeing of your dog. If you are uncertain about this then I urge you to make other plans. Seek the help of a behaviourist and vet now. Consider letting your dog stay somewhere else quieter, even staying at a kennel if you are not able to avoid having visitors. If you decide on a kennel, make sure you arrange several introduction sessions in advance so you know Fido can settle there. 


Older dogs at Christmas

You may expect elderly Fido to be as fine as he has been over previous Christmases, but this might not be the case. As dogs age they can be less adaptable and find frenetic family festivities too much (I know the feeling). 

Elderly dogs are less able to remove themselves quickly from erratic and fast moving toddler feet and may find growling or biting a more effective way of not being trodden on. Furthermore sight and hearing changes may mean they are unaware of something scary until it is right upon them leaving them with few options to deal with this. Sight, pain and hearing loss can mean the elderly dog startles more easily and a startled dog may be a biting dog. 


What can I do to prepare my dog at Christmas?

  1. Create a safe space for your dog now - do not delay. 
  2. The space should be in a quiet area of the house away from planned festivities and where visitors will not go and FIdo should start using this space from now. 
  3. Create a den area in this safe space. This can be a bed, or a fabric kennel, under a bed,  or it could be a dog crate. It doesn’t matter as long as Fido is happy to use it. 
  4. Use an Adaptil® diffuser during conditioning the safe space as well as at Christmas as this pheromone can create feelings of safety. The aim is to condition this as a safe place.
  5. Ensure there is water and a selection of your furry friend’s favourite toys including treat dispensing toys. You can play soothing music as this can calm but also help drown out the noise of festivities. 
  6. Make sure that Fido is encouraged (not forced) into this space every single day from now on and left starting with just a few moments and building up to an hour or so. 

The big day

If you have a dog unlikely to cope well, don't bury your head in the snow; make sure you have planned a rota for people to stay with Fido in his safe space. These people should only be family members he knows and trusts. It is possible that Fido will enjoy meeting new family members at quieter times such as after lunch when everyone gets sleepy and when babies and young kids are napping or after some of the guests have left. Short spells out in the main home with family can be useful. But be prepared to take Fido back to his conditioned safe space if he appears unsettled at any time.

If you plan ahead starting now, Christmas will be the exciting and fun time it is meant to be. It won't take much to be prepared.

Don't forget to get Fido presents and be sure to wrap them for him as dogs simply love opening gift wrapping. Maybe don't leave him unattended with the pressies under the tree because he will enjoy opening them even too and possibly eating them, even if they are not for him. Dogs can totally enjoy Christmas and experiencing new toys and treats too. Plan ahead and enjoy the festivities knowing that Fido will enjoy them too. After all, Fido is family too.




Pawfect Members