Yikes! Surely it can’t be Christmas again already?
At least the furry family members are easy to buy for. If you’re like me, though, chances are you’ll be suckered in by novelty. But does your dog really want a squeaky ball shaped like a Brussels sprout?
OK, a giant gingerbread man plush toy might be a hit for a few minutes, but does it meet your dog’s long-term needs? What is it that a dog really wants for Christmas?
Let’s take a look at the festive season from a dog’s-eye view and see why the fun might actually be deeply unsettling for your pet.
What Dogs Really Love
- A sense of security
- Consistent rules
These plumb deep into what makes a dog feel safe and secure. And a happy, confident dog is less likely to develop bad habits such as peeing in the house or acting aggressive.
A Sense of Security
Visitors, flashing lights, strange smells and guests constantly arriving and departing during the festive season can be difficult for a dog to understand. All of a sudden, a quiet household is turned on its head. The home even looks different, draped in tinsel, decorations and lights.
The house is your dog’s core territory, and changing the way it looks, sounds and smells may unsettle her. To help your dog cope, think about:
- Putting decorations and presents out of the dog’s reach, which not only decreases the risk of chew hazards, but also stops you from having to tell your dog off. The latter leads to a sense of frustration when dogs see something super interesting but know they’ll be scolded for checking it out.
- Give your dog a den to retreat to, away from the madness. A crate is ideal — the dog can remove herself to a safe place when the festivities ramp up. But don’t go overboard decorating the crate. This is the dog’s space, not yours.
- Think about how your pet copes with guests. If necessary, set a room aside for the dog to hunker down until the festivities are over.
Stick With Routine
Knowing “what happens when” is important to dogs.
From mealtimes to going for walks, try to keep these activities roughly on schedule. This helps your pet feel secure at a time when everything is different.
Be Consistent With Rules
The holidays offer a chance to unwind, but this doesn’t mean you should relax the house rules where your dog is concerned. For example, if she isn’t normally allowed to beg from the table, don’t cut her some slack at Christmas.
This is because changing the rules is confusing for a dog. She won’t understand that yesterday was a special day and today things are back to normal. So when next she begs and is refused a tasty morsel, she’ll feel confused and frustrated…which, again, leads to conflicted emotions and may result in bad behavior.
Being consistent with the rules adds to the dog’s security at an unsettling time because she’ll know what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
This excited pooch can’t wait to unwrap a rather familiar-smelling present:
Give the Gift of Your Attention
What does your dog want more than a squeaky penguin or reindeer antlers?
Your time and attention, of course.
With so many distractions during this season, it can be tempting to have the dog take a back seat. But know that carving out time for her will benefit you both. For you, it means walks in the fresh air and relief from meal planning and present buying. For the dog, it means precious one-on-one time to reassure her that all’s right with the world.
Indeed, not lavishing time upon the dog is storing up potential problems born of frustration or boredom. Remember, a dog who’s under-stimulated is liable to make her own entertainment, which could mean pulling down the tree or chewing up Auntie Pam’s gift.
Think laterally if time is scarce — give the dog a distraction. This can be as simple as putting some kibble inside a rolled-up newspaper and taping the whole thing shut. Give this to the dog so she can chew through to the treats inside, which gives her valuable mental stimulation and you time to get what you need done.
So this Christmas, be sure to give your dogs what they really crave: security, routine, continuity and attention.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.