We mistakenly think taking our canine companion with us or letting others bring their dog to our home will be fine.
Vet nurses will tell you that the number of dogs on dog-related injuries go up over the festive holiday period as stressed dogs
clash in already disrupted households. Many dogs struggle with strange dogs in their personal space, and our attention is often elsewhere entertaining our human guests
to really notice tension building between the canine visitor and our own pooch.
So what can we do to prevent a problem?
The obvious answer is to leave your dog at home or ask friends and family not to bring their dog to your house if they are not regular visitors and your dog’s best friend. If this can’t happen then try these steps to ensure your canine buddies are safe. (However please note this advice is just a snapshot of the things you can do to prepare, so if in doubt consult a reputable local dog trainer to help).
If possible arrange to meet up
and walk the dogs together before you visit at Christmas. This could start with an on-leash
parallel walk i.e. both dogs walking in the same direction with space between you without the dogs being able to make physical contact. If one dog is nervous, make sure the distance is wide enough for comfort, and have both handlers walking between the dogs. Over time if both seem calm and happy you can decrease the distance. Don’t rush to let them romp around off leash, especially if their energy levels don’t seem to match. Take it slowly
and arrange to meet in the park again before you visit for Christmas.
Swap a towel or something with the other dog’s scent on it (it can even be some hair that you have in a container, to take home). Regularly let your dog sniff this scent and then reward them with tasty treats, dinner or a game depending on what they enjoy most.
If after several meeting in the park, you decide to try a trial run at home with both dogs, prepare the house beforehand. Take up food bowls, toys and beds or anything you think your dog will be protective of. Anything that might be a flash point, try to eliminate.
On the day of the trial run or even Christmas day, meet up again on neutral ground first and take the dogs for a walk so they can let off some energy and get to know each other again. When back at the house, let them in the garden first and then into the house if all is going well.
If one or both dogs are crate trained
make sure the crates are set up in appropriate places
– think carefully about the location, and use them when needed. This should be if you feel the dogs are getting over excited or one is looking overwhelmed, or at meal times when dogs might have a tendency to not be supervised so closely or be food guarders. It is best to give the dogs regular down time
with something tasty in a cosy crate rather than let them get over-tired or upset and have an incident happen.
If you don’t have a crate or your dog doesn’t like one, create barriers when needed with baby gates or puppy panels or anything that comes to hand. Some dogs need to have a visual barrier too, so be prepared to cover gates with towels or blankets.
If your dog is nervous or reactive, and you haven’t been able to do several introductions, I would suggest keeping the dogs separate at all times to be on the safe side. Some introverted dogs need lots of time alone so are happy to be in another room.
Think about the length of time you are visiting and try to ensure your dog’s routine is stuck to as much as is feasibly possible. Dogs can get incredibly stressed if dinner or walks don’t turn up at the right time.
The most important thing is, you want to set all the dogs and humans up for success so plan your visit carefully and make sure each person knows, agrees and sticks to the plan. That way everyone, including the animals, will have a very merry Christmas.