Give Your Dog The Joy Of Christmas

Encouraging calm in your dog is important at Christmas

It’s that time of year again! Christmas brings to mind delicious food, gathering with loved ones (although sadly not so much in 2020) and festive decorations. It is a tradition many of us look forward to, but if we do not prepare accordingly it can be at best unnerving and at worst dangerous for our dogs.

In this post we will look at how we can help our dogs stay safe, calm and enjoy the Christmas period with us. After all, they are family too.

Christmas Trees

Christmas tree

It’s not Christmas without a Christmas tree, but who knew that a Christmas tree could pose a danger to dogs? There are several factors to consider especially when leaving dogs unsupervised:

1. Pine Needles

If you have a real Christmas tree you know they shed their needles daily. These can get stuck in your dog’s paws which can be really painful. They can also cause irritation in their mouths and stomach if ingested, leading to vomiting.

Ensure you vacuum regularly or even better stick with an artificial tree! If you have a puppy or dog that is into everything then I would strongly recommend keeping them in a safe space such as a pen when unsupervised or place the tree behind a barrier.

2. Christmas Tree Decorations

Avoid placing chocolate decorations on the tree which are poisonous to dogs and often just at the right level for them. Be aware that many dogs and puppies can view baubles as toys and something to be explored. 

A broken bauble could be dangerous if they got pieces in their paws and ingesting them could cause internal lacerations and intestinal blockages. 

3. Fairy Lights

There have sadly been reports of dogs becoming entangled within the wires as well as the dangerous temptation of chewing electric cables. Ensure that all wires are hidden and lights are switched off when leaving your dog unsupervised.

Food Safety

Food safety

Food is always abundant at Christmas! Unfortunately many of the foods that we traditionally eat during this time of year are toxic to dogs. Keep your dog well away from these foods and ring your vet immediately if you think they have eaten any of the following:

  • Chocolate (the darker the more toxic)
  • Grapes and Raisins (including any foods that contain them e.g. mince pies)
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Leeks
  • Chives
  • Artificial sweeteners 

Festive Plants

It’s not just food that’s potentially dangerous to dogs. Many Christmas plants are also toxic. I recommend swapping to the artificial kind or at least keeping the following well out of reach:

  • Poinsettia
  • Holly
  • Mistletoe berries
  • Ivy

Guests

Guests at Christmas

If you are reading this in 2020, you may sadly not be having any visitors on Christmas Day. However for those lucky enough not to be in full lockdown, consider how you will manage your guests and dogs together. 

Even for friendly dogs, the presence of new people in the house and a change in routine can really unsettle them. Consider the following if you have visitors over the Christmas period:

  • Ensure your dog has a safe space they can retreat to if things are getting too busy for them. This could be their crate, another room or a quiet corner with their bed in. You may need to let guests know not to disturb your dog whilst they are there.
  • Keep greetings low key. If you have lots of people suddenly entering your house, you may want to shut your dog away with something calming to do, whilst they enter.
  • If you have a nervous dog, try greeting guests outside and then following them back into the house once your dog is more relaxed.
  • Provide appropriate entertainment for your dog. When we have guests, our time and energy is spent hosting which often means less attention for our dogs. Look at investing in some new toys or a tasty chew.
  • Be prepared to keep dogs separate if your guest is bringing a dog too. Christmas Day is not an ideal time to introduce dogs to each other for the first time. However even if the dogs are already friends, their behaviour towards each other may be different because of the change in routine and environment. Have somewhere comfortable and relaxing where the dogs can be split if they need a time out.

Loud Sounds

Loud sounds

As well as coping with the sounds of laughing, screeching and music, our dogs often have to deal with noises such as Christmas crackers and New Year fireworks.

If you notice that excitement levels are high and the room is very noisy, consider giving your dog a break and putting them elsewhere with some relaxation music playing.

You could also get into the Christmas spirit and make your own silent crackers. There are plenty of DIY kits, just omit the bang! If your dog doesn’t cope well with fireworks, please read my previous blog for top tips on how to support them. http://mindfulpaws.co.uk/fireworks-and-dogs/ 

Christmas Dog Costumes

Christmas dog costumes

If you walk into any pet shop, you will find a whole section dedicated to dog outfits, particularly around Christmas time. The temptation is real! What pup wouldn’t look cute with a pair of reindeer antlers or a knitted scarf?

However before we buy a canine christmas wardrobe, we need consider it from our dog’s point of view. Of course there are legitimate reasons to purchase dog clothes such as a jumper or coat if they suffer from the cold. But most dogs don’t need them, particularly indoors. They can often feel restrictive and most christmas costumes aren’t designed for comfort.

If you really want to add a festive touch to your dog, then consider purchasing a lightweight Christmas bandana which can be slipped over their collar. This will not interfere with their movement and does not impact their temperature.

Summary

Having a dog as part of the family doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the same Christmas spirit we usually do. With just a few adjustments, our dogs will be enjoying Christmas as much as us.

What is your favourite thing to do with your dog on Christmas Day? Mine is watching Nutmeg open her presents, she has so much fun tearing off the wrapping paper! 

Wishing everyone and their four legged friends a very merry Christmas!

Helping Your Dog Through Fireworks

Fireworks

A study by the RSPCA suggests that over 60% of dogs show marked signs of distress during the sound of fireworks. That’s a lot of scared doggos out there!

It is likely you are reading this because you want to minimise the distress your dog experiences during fireworks or because you have a new puppy and you would like to prevent them from becoming scared in the first place. The good news is both scenarios are possible.

In this post we will look at how we can help our dogs adjust, become familiar with and potentially even relax during fireworks.

Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks?

Imagine hearing fireworks without any kind of explanation. We cannot rationalise the sound to dogs. The loud, unpredictable bangs and claps are totally unfamiliar and can be very startling. Dogs can also hear higher frequency sounds more clearly than us as well as detecting sounds further afield. This means that you might not be bothered by the fireworks on a neighbouring estate, but your dog can quite clearly hear them.

How Can I Help My Dog Feel More Relaxed With Fireworks?

There are several ways you can help your dog feel more relaxed during fireworks season. We all want the best for our dogs and helping them manage stress is one of our biggest responsibilities. Below are my top 6 tips that you can start today:

1. Desensitisation

Desensitisation can reduce firework anxiety

Desensitisation means getting your dog so used to something, that it no longer impacts them in any way. So once your dog is truly desensitised to fireworks, they will behave in exactly the same way as if there weren’t any fireworks happening. It is that normal to them. And surely we all want this for our dogs! 

To do this we will be giving our dogs something really fun and positive to do whilst they get used to the sounds of fireworks at a level they can handle. This step takes a little bit of daily time commitment but is hugely worth it.

You will need:

  • A device to play a recording of fireworks through. (You can get recordings from anywhere as long as they sound realistic such as YouTube)
  • Your dog’s favourite toys
  • Your dog’s favourite chew
  • Food enrichment activities e.g. kong, snuffle mat, licky mat

How to:

  1. Begin by playing the recording of fireworks at the lowest volume possible.
  2. At the same time present something that your dog loves – this can be a chew, a toy or stuffed kong.
  3. Allow your dog to eat or play whilst the fireworks are in the background for a few minutes then stop.
  4. Repeat this several times a day every day.
  5. Slowly begin to increase the volume by one notch at a time.
  6. If at any point your dog seems stressed or more focused on the sounds than the food or toy, stop the exercise and keep the volume slightly lower for a few days before gradually increasing again.

The end goal is to have the fireworks playing on a volume that’s loud enough to replicate them in real life, without your dog reacting at all to them. Patience and time is key here especially for dogs that have a history of being very worried by fireworks.

2. Comfort

A dog having cuddles

Contrary to popular belief, comforting your dog when they are scared won’t increase their fear. We are often told that if we reassure our dogs when they are already anxious, their behaviour becomes worse because their fear is being reinforced. But the truth is we can’t reinforce fear, especially something that our dog is already fearful of!

Instead go and comfort your dog. Give them cuddles (if they like them), talk to them in a soothing voice, let them come as close as they want. This won’t mean they are suddenly cured of their fireworks phobias but it will definitely decrease their stress a little.

3. Adaptil

Adaptil makes a synthetic version of a mother’s comforting pheromones she would naturally release to soothe her puppies. These come in the form of wipes, a collar (that stays on for 30 days) and a plug in diffuser. Adaptil claim that their product has been scientifically proven to reduce stress behaviours in dogs such as panting and trembling. There are also many dog parents that swear by it. 

Some people notice more of a difference than others and usually adaptil products  work best when combined with exercise, the right nutrition and enrichment for the dog. The good news is we can’t smell this pheromone so it won’t bring any odours into the house!

I would recommend using adaptil a few days before fireworks begin so your dog becomes familiar with it, whilst also allowing it to take effect before the noise starts.

4. Thundershirt

Thundershirts can have a calming effect

A thundershirt is worn by a dog like a jumper, but is specially designed to be a snug fit. The continuous pressure applied to your dog’s torso has been shown to help release calming hormones such as oxytocin. 

Not all dogs will appreciate a thundershirt though, especially those with handling issues so only try it if you know your dog will be fine wearing it. Make sure you have a few practice runs with your dog before fireworks night to ensure it fits well and is comfortable for them. You can buy them from most pet shops and amazon.

5. Providing a Safe Space 

A safe space can reduce anxiety

Your dog will probably already have a favoured place they go to relax. Some dogs enjoy small spaces and curling up under furniture or in a crate. Wherever your dog is likely to settle most make it extra cosy for them with lots of soft bedding and an area they can retreat to if they want when fireworks start. 

Hopefully if you have been consistently doing desensitisation training this won’t be necessary, however a safe space can really help those dogs that are still showing fear around the sound of fireworks.

You could also consider playing classical music which has been proven to reduce stress in dogs, whilst also drowning out some of the noise from the fireworks.

6. Plan ahead

A few simple management tips that can really help during fireworks season include:

  • Walking your dog in daylight hours so you know you won’t be caught out.
  • Where possible staying in with your dog and not making any plans (easier during covid!)
  • Remembering that although bonfire night is the 5th November, people will start releasing fireworks before and after this date so be prepared for a few weeks of being there for your dog in the evening.

Summary

More than ever this year we need to ensure our dogs have the support they need to get through fireworks season. It is likely there will be more fireworks than usual in neighbouring gardens due to covid and the cancellation of large gatherings at bonfire displays.

The best thing you can do for your dog is prepare and get them used to the sound of fireworks ahead of time. And don’t forget to continue the odd bit of practice throughout the year especially as fireworks tend to crop up around New Year and sometimes randomly!

If you feel like your dog is really struggling with fireworks or any other sound sensitivities please contact me and I will be happy to help.