Christmas can be a very exciting time and is often filled with presents and games, delicious food, and plenty of fun with our loved ones!
Whilst we often enjoy the festive fun, dogs can sometimes feel worried by the unusual sights, sounds and smells, as well as the different activities and routines in their homes. Dogs use their body language and vocalisations to communicate that they’re feeling uncomfortable and distressed about things, and it is important to know what to look out for so you can take steps to help them out. For example, growling communicates that a dog really isn’t happy in a particular situation, and a dog may growl at someone they know well if they’re behaving in a way the dog finds overwhelming in order to communicate this.
Therefore, it’s important that owners acknowledge any sign that their dog is becoming worried and change things to help them feel better. Research from the British Medical Journal states that in almost half of dog bite cases, the person knew or had met the dog before, so it’s important we know how to keep both ourselves and our dogs happy and safe this Christmas. Planning ahead can help your dog feel safe and relaxed.
We've put together some reminders to ensure everyone has a pawsome Christmas.
With all the excitement and distractions that Christmas brings, it is vital to ensure dogs are not left alone with children, and that children are not interacting with dogs without active adult supervision.
Christmas is a very busy time for adults, and you may find yourself trying to juggle lots of things at once! However, if you are expecting visitors this year, it’s a good idea to discuss some Be Dog Smart rules in advance and agree to help each other out by taking it in turns to actively supervise dogs and children at all times. It is also important to make sure any adult agreeing to supervise child and dog interactions feels confident and comfortable doing so.
It is best to have these conversations before your visitors arrive, so that everyone is prepared and all adults in the home are sharing this important role. It would also be recommended to have treats readily available to use as a distraction for your dog if necessary. You could either have some treats on you or keep a pot of treats in the house, out of your dog’s reach. Simply drop a handful of treats on the floor to quickly distract your dog if needed.
When you have visitors, you can take extra steps to ensure everyone stays safe and happy:
- Make sure your dog is walked and fed, and that they have a safe, quiet place they can retreat to if they want to, without being followed or disturbed.
- Set clear boundaries and create separate areas for the dog away from the children, this could be putting up a baby gate or something similar.
- Be active. If you are worried about an interaction between a child and a dog, intervene right away and ensure the dog can have time by themselves in a separate area with water, toys, a bed, and other important resources.
What’s normal behaviour for a child, such as running, shouting and energetic play, can be difficult for a dog to cope with. If any dog feels worried, scared or hurt, they may resort to biting as a way of communicating those feelings, or if they feel they have no other choice.
Christmas is understandably an exciting time for any child and should be enjoyed fully. However, it is best to keep the fun and games to rooms or areas away from any dogs. All dogs in the home should have a safe and quiet space available to them should they choose to be away from the festive fun. Don’t forget to make sure that this is always a positive experience for your dog! You could leave them with tasty treat to chew on or if they’d prefer not to be left alone, create a rota so that one adult is with them if they find time on their own difficult.
When children are playing with your dog there are a few things to remember; dogs will often try to play with items that aren’t theirs, so make sure children only use the dog’s own toys during these play times to avoid future confusion, and ensure that children don’t encourage dogs to play with clothes or hands.
If your dog picks something up that doesn’t belong to them, you should swap the item for a tasty treat or a toy that your dog likes! You should never try to remove something from your dog’s mouth, but instead scatter some tasty treats on the floor to distract them and then calmly remove the object once they have dropped it. Try not to snatch the object away as this could cause your dog to panic and grab it from you.
If your dog walks away at any point during playtime, you must take this as an opportunity to stop the game and take a well-deserved break. Your dog should always have the opportunity remove themselves from playtime and be given space.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Dogs need lots of sleep and you may often see them napping in their beds, or other places around the house. They may also choose to rest if they are feeling worried or poorly.
Throughout the busy Christmas period, as we have already said, it is important to ensure your dog can retreat to a quiet place if they wish to. You may even want to build your dog their very own doggy den where they can happily relax and be left alone, whilst you enjoy the festivities. This should always be a positive experience for your dog and should never be used as punishment, as excluding your dog may cause them upset. You must never approach or stroke a dog once they are in their bed or den as this should be a safe place for them to rest without human interaction.
Dog Body Language
When your dog is feeling worried or uncomfortable, they might express these feelings using the following actions and body language:
(this is not an exhaustive list)
- Ears back
- Licking lips
- Moving away
- Avoiding contact
- Lifting a paw
- Showing their tummy
- Tucking their tail up beneath
Here are some great illustrations to help you and your children spot signs of distress in your dog;
We recommend learning as much as possible about dog body language and how to recognise when dogs might be feeling worried or uncomfortable by an interaction, or a situation they are in. If your dog shows any of these signs, give them space or allow them to move away from the situation they are in.
It is also important to remember that every dog is different, and every dog will have their own way of showing you that they are worried. By actively supervising child and dog interactions you are in the best position to quickly recognise these signs, and to act accordingly.
Make Sure Everyone Is Dog Smart!
Share our advice with your children so that they know how to behave safely around the dogs they share their homes and lives with, as well as to ensure dogs can enjoy their home environment and feel safe and relaxed. Remember, however, that children must always be actively supervised as it can be hard for them to remember rules when they are excited or curious.
You may also be introducing children to dogs who they have not met before, or possibly to children who are fearful around dogs. We offer a variety of free downloadable resources for parents and children to read to help build confidence around dogs. It’s important everyone is as prepared as possible in advance as fearful behaviour from a child/human can sometimes be difficult for a dog to cope with.
For more information on how to Be Dog Smart, visit our website. You can also head to our YouTube channel where you can find lots of fun craft ideas this Christmas!
Finally, we wish everyone a fun, safe and Happy Christmas!