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Preventing a dog bite at Christmas

There is no doubt about it, Christmas time is frantic, stressful and a bit like a race to see how much you can do as the clock counts down to the big day. Whilst Christmas can be stressful for you, your pet also has to deal with quite a lot over the Christmas break. Not only do they have to deal with the endless firecrackers that go off nearly every night around Christmas time but if you live where I do (Hunter Region, NSW), you will know it is also thunderstorm season. Couple that with the festive sounds of balloons popping, bon bon’s going off, party poppers, children’s yelling, squealing and screaming, intoxicated adult visitors (or owners) and it’s bound to send even the calmest of animal to breaking point. Many households will also receive additional guests around the festive period. Your pet will have to cope with strangers coming into their house including young babies and children. Young babies may cry/scream and toddlers may get over tired and have tantrums. Unfortunately, most humans do not know how to approach a dog (or more importantly, let the dog approach them) and many think it is ok to charge at them and bop them on top of their head (pat). They also do not know how to read the signals of an animal telling them they don’t want to be patted or to go away. Don’t let it get to a point where your dog snaps or bites your guests because they have been left with no other choice but to defend themselves. Prevention is a much better alternative so don’t allow this situation to develop in the first place. What can you do? Give them space and a place to retreat Respect your dog (or cat’s) need for quiet, calm and space over the craziness and stress of Christmas. Don’t expect your dog just to cope with it because sometimes dogs won’t choose to leave a stressful environment. If you see your dog is starting to become uncomfortable with a situation, intervene immediately and move them into a safe space. Before guests arrive, try and establish a retreat area (a safe area or room away from the action) for your pet and do some conditioning around that. For example, you need your dog to be able to think that ‘going to my retreat means good things for me such as treats, toys, bones etc.’. Every time your dog goes to the retreat area, make it a good thing for them. If you want to allow your dog to interact with your guests and activities, I would recommend giving your dog the option to go to his/her retreat if they choose to do so. You will need to explain to your guests that they are not to enter your dogs ‘retreat’ or ‘safe space’ and that certainly includes no children either. Give your dog a Kong, chew or puzzle toy to keep them busy in their ‘safe space’. It is also an idea to exercise your dog prior to all the guests arriving so that he/she can now relax in their ‘safe space’. Set down the house rules to your visitors Prior to your guests arriving, mention that your dog may become stressed with the extra visitors and activities that will be happening and that you need them to help you. Tell them exactly how you would like them to interact with your pet (or not), what you would like them to do (or not do) and remind them again when they have arrived. You should explain this to any children visiting as well. Never let your guests including adults and especially children grab or hug your dog. Do not let children chase your dog (or cat). Most dogs and especially cats do not like to be restrained or hugged. Remember also that children should not be allowed to interact with your pet unless strictly supervised by a competent adult. If this is not possible, either remove your animal to his/her safe place or move the kids to another area. If your dog has never met babies or children before, do some work beforehand by getting your dog (or cat) use to baby and children sounds. There are some great apps and CD’s available for this purpose. Keep routines the same The more you keep your dog or cat’s routine the same, the less stressed they will be. Routines are important for pets as they know what to expect each day, creating a sense of consistency and control over their environment. Keep feeding and walking times the same. Even on Christmas day it is nice to get away from the family for a little while and walk the dog. Believe me, it’s one of the nicest things you can do on Christmas day! Learn as much as you can about dog (and/or cat) body language Before Christmas do some research and learn how to read your dog/cat’s body language. There are lots of good resources on the internet. You can even print off a poster for adults and children on how to recognize body language and put this up on Christmas day. It is really important that you and your guests learn how to read the body language of your animal, respect it and respond to it. Sometimes the signals are very subtle such as a slight movement of the eye but my advice to you is to watch your animal. Not just at Christmas time but always. They will teach you so much about how they communicate with you.

Here are some free posters and handouts in understanding dog and cat body language:

Use pheramones such as the Dog Appeasing Pheramone (Adaptil) and Feliway for Cats Although pheromones won’t do anything to remove the cause of the stress, it may help to calm your dog or cat. Plug in the pheromones about 2 weeks before Christmas and keep it going a couple of weeks after Christmas. Use soft, soothing music Use soft, soothing music in your house over the Christmas period. Dogs and cats like music with a steady rhythm. No Metallica or rock that’s for sure! Some nice, soft and slow jazz or classical music always works well. Remember dogs and cats have much better hearing than we do so keep the volume down very low! Be calm and relaxed yourself Think about the things you will be doing over the Christmas period which will impact on your pet. For example, don’t leave cleaning and cooking to the last minute, break it up over several days so you don’t frantically clean the house and cook everything in one day and stress your pets out. Try and be as prepared as possible for Christmas. If you are relaxed, your pets will also be relaxed. Cats and dogs are very good on picking up on the emotions of their owners so slow down at Christmas time. Finally, it is vitally important that you do not put your dog in a position where their stress and anxiety builds and gives them no option but to snap or bite. The above tips should ensure a smooth and relaxed Christmas for all in the household. Merry Christmas!! From all of us here at Dogaholics, we wish you and your loved ones a very happy and peaceful Christmas. We hope that the New Year brings to you many more moments of fun and joy with your cherished fur babies. And remember, if you need any help at Christmas time or any other time with your canine companion, please reach out through our contact us page! Dogaholics Dog Training and Behaviour Services (Dogaholics is a dog training and behaviour service located in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area of NSW.)


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