Christmas might look a little different this year. This whole year has looked very different than normal for most of us and our pets. Our pets may be out of the habit of traveling, having visitors to the house, and in general experiencing hustle and bustle and change. This means it is more important than ever to be prepared for Christmas.
Preparing for Visitors
Practising with real life visitors has been tricky to say the least, that but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can implement in preparation.
- Create a safe space – provide safe food toys or chewables, favourite bed, calming background noise. Introduce gates/crates/play pens etc early on so your dog is comfortable with their separate area.
- Desensitise to the door knocking/doorbell – record the sound of the doorbell, or make a knocking sound, and pair this sound with a tasty treat, repeat over and over. You could also encourage them to head to their safe space for the treat whenever the sound happens.
- Muzzle training – safety first! If you have any doubts at all about how your dog may react to visitors then get your dog comfortable with wearing a muzzle around the house for safety. This protects your dog and your visitors. Check out our muzzle training video here to get started. If you do feel there is any chance of your dog showing aggression then reach out to a suitably qualified behaviourist to help guide you through the best strategies for your dog.
- Accustom your dog to wearing a harness and lead indoors – if your dog is anything but totally welcoming and calm with visitors then consider introducing them on lead to stop jumping up, or other unwanted behaviour. Practise walking around the house with your dog on lead and rewarding calm behaviour so they don’t get over-excited at the sight of their lead.
- Stock up on long lasting treats and toys – give your pet lots of positive and calm things to do to occupy themselves and try to have walked or played with them before visitors arrive so they are ready for a snooze. If your dog may resource guard, pop them behind a barrier with their treats.
Visitor & Dog Introductions
How best to introduce your visitors will vary from dog to dog. If you have any worries, contact a suitable professional to help you make a plan. Some general guidance could include:
- Many incidents with dogs and visitors occur around the front door, so pop your dog behind a secure barrier whilst your visitors enter the house until everyone is sitting calmly.
- Make sure your visitors know the rules when it comes to interacting with or being around your dog.
- Use leads, muzzles, and barriers as needed to gradually introduce your dog over as long a period as necessary, whilst also giving them regular breaks.
- Become family with your dog’s body language so you can better understand your dogs feelings and needs in any given moment. Check out this article by the Blue Cross https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/be-safe-dogs
Cats and dogs in particular can find Christmas decorations intriguing! As funny as it can seem to start with, it can result in disaster if they end up getting tangled in the tree or lights, or pull the whole tree over.
Introduce your pet to the tree gradually. Put boisterous dogs on lead, or put up a play pen around the tree to stop access to tempting presents and decorations.
Provide alternative activities and reward appropriate behaviour. Don’t leave your pet unsupervised if they may play with or even wee on this natural-style new plant.
Dangling decorations of any kind may be worrying for sensitive types, so again provide lots of positives in that room, and remove anything that is just too much to handle.
Many of the foods that we enjoy at Christmas are dangerous to many of our pets. It is even more important than ever to be vigilant about what might be within reach. Some common dangers include:
- Grapes (raisins, sultanas, currents) – think Christmas puddings and mince pies!
- Onions and others in the same family
- Artificial sweeteners
- Pine needles from Christmas trees
- …and many more!
Be aware of what is in reach for your pet, and remove any presents that may have food, drink or foreign-bodies in waiting. Keeping presents totally out of reach is the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Excess Christmas Spirit and Meeting Santa Claus!
Christmas can be an exciting time, for our pets too! But remember that just like children they can become overwhelmed and overtired. Make sure to stick to their routines as much as possible and give them plenty of time to settle and sleep away from the excitement.
Some pets may become grouchy if there is too much going on or they feel they can’t get out of the way. Some may not be used to visitors, children or even meeting little elves or Santa Claus! Always watch your pets for signs of over-excitement or anxiety and give them time out as needed.
New Year, More Fireworks
We’ve just said goodbye to most Bonfire Night fireworks, but New Year is likely to bring its own. Don’t leave pets home alone, make sure they are exercised during the day so they can be kept in during the evening and night, stock up on games/toys/chewables that your pet likes to keep them entertained. Block out the flashes by shutting curtains and the noise by putting on music or other background noise and be prepared to stay up with your pet to provide reassurance until they’re calm.
Providing reassurance or sleeping with your pet to minimise fear may be needed and is perfectly acceptable.