As we prepare to visit family this Christmas or have friends around for the holidays, how much thought do you take of your dog’s emotional well-being?
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 over whelmed, 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.
Animal Behaviourist, Tellington TTouch Practitioner, Real Dog Yoga Instructor & Author
Toni has worked with domesticated and wild canids since 1989. After a long and successful career with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, she started her own business as a Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner. She is now one of the highest qualified Practitioners in the UK. In 2001 her skills in TTouch took Toni to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust were she meet a pack of socialised wolves. She went on to work with them for over a decade as a Senior Wolf Handler and Education Officer for the organisation. In more recent years, Toni has gone on to become a Real Dog Yoga Instructor, (Visit www.therealdogyoga.co.uk to find out more) and updated her qualifications in behaviour with the International School of Psychology and Behaviour, for which she is also an affiliate. She is now a full member of The Association of INTO Dogs as a certified canine behaviourist. She teaches all over the UK and abroad, works with clients' one to one, and writes. Toni lives in Oxfordshire, England with her husband and their dog MrP.
Over the last two decades, Toni has been developing her writing. She spent two years editing and writing features for Wolf Print, the UK Wolf Conservation Trust's international magazine. She went on to write for national dog magazines, rescue society newsletters and blogs. Her first and second book, The Truth about Wolves & Dogs, (Hubble and Hattie 2012) and Among the Wolves (Hubble and Hattie 2015) have been a great success. Her latest writing collaboration with co-author Karen Bush sees a series of books entitled HELP! My Dog is…. Titles include, HELP! My Dog's Scared of Fireworks, HELP! My Dog doesn't Travel Well in the Car, HELP! My Dog is Destroying the Garden and HELP! My Dog has a Canine Compulsive Disorder. All are available in paperback and eBook format on Amazon. Toni and Karen have many more titles planned under the banner of Skinny Dog Books – named as they both own sighthounds and the books are small and concise. Visit www.tonishelbourne.co.uk for more details about Toni, her work and books. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Truth-about-Wolves-Dogs-216136181810393/ Twitter: @tonishelbourne