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Have a Happy Canine Christmas

07/12/2017 - Behaviour Matters

Top Tips for a Safe and Happy Christmas with your Dog

As we rapidly come towards the close of another year, this is the perfect time to remind us all that this may be a time of fun and festivities for us, but for our dogs, especially those in the home, it is going to be a time of increased hazards and dangers. So, I’m going to cover a few tips and tricks to hopefully get you all through the festive season without incident.

The first thing to do is to take a few moments to consider what these seasonal hazards could be – a few minutes spent doing this now and then thinking about how to reduce the risk of an incident, is going to be time well spent. Remember, some may not be as obvious to us as others.

Because incidents involving people are the most serious, from a legal perspective, I’m going to start here. A dog, for a variety of reasons, may be cautious around new and novel things and Christmas can be a feast of the weird and wonderful. Imagine from a dog’s point of view the first time he sees Santa, he does not know whether Santa is safe or unsafe – let’s face it, he does not look like your regular human – all in red with a monster beard and lots of Ho Ho Ho – he’s probably going to look a little out of the ordinary to the dog.

So, in the case of Santa, it’s pretty understandable if a dog finds him scary – I have seen many children in floods of tears at the thought of meeting him.

What we forget is that at this time of year we are likely to have lots of friends and family visiting our homes, to our dogs though, these visitors could be strangers and potentially dangerous.

Unfortunately, when a dog sees something out of the ordinary, it is quite understandable that he will be cautious and consequently, if he feels sufficiently worried or scared, may well behave in a way that you may not expect.

To help our dogs, it makes sense to be aware of their body language and then you will hopefully be able to see if your dog is unhappy. Dog body language is complex, but as general rule, if your dog looks worried, he probably is and we need to understand that he is not comfortable and would rather not meet your guests. Another more obvious sign would be snarling and growling and we generally do not need much help in understanding this one.

So, if you have a dog that is uncomfortable around visitors, give them a safe space where they can be kept away from the hustle and bustle and where people will leave them alone. Believe me, a dog that is uncomfortable around people, would much rather be left alone.

So far I have concentrated on a dog being worried by visitors or a very odd looking stranger in red, but there are plenty of hazards associated with the festive season that the dog would not even consider dangerous.

Puppy Stars tree

Dogs are professional scavengers and have refined this skill with thousands of years of evolution and the festive season is an absolute treasure trove of opportunity to exercise this behaviour. This innate desire to scavenge may unfortunately expose them to a wide variety of dangers.

Many of us will have the obligatory tree and will decorate it with a variety of interesting objects and goodies. To our dogs, the tree is a collection of shiny and smelly objects that need to be investigated and of course, being novel, are likely to get some additional attention – dogs love to chew and eat things we would not even consider edible.

Then we have the presents tucked under the tree, these can be of great interest to dogs. Some will have food hidden in them (please remember that chocolate is toxic to dogs) and who knows what else; batteries, plastics, sand, chemicals etc. Because of these hazards, we should think carefully about what we hang on or around/under the tree.

Alcohol is another substance that is harmful to dogs and likely to be more available over the festive period. We all know that alcohol in excess leads to hangovers and hangovers lead to hangover remedies. The trouble is, some of these remedies can be something our dogs’ like to eat, given the opportunity. I am certainly aware of several dogs who have consumed packs of paracetamol or ibuprofen that has accidently been left within reach of the dog and subsequently resulted in emergency veterinary treatment.

No matter how diligent we are, there is always a chance we are going to make mistakes and this is a time of year, where there are often plenty of opportunities to make them. If your dog gets something you do not want him to have, all that ‘retrieve’, ‘leave’ or ‘drop’ training is going to have been time well invested.

Sometimes though, your dog may decide that he wants to keep something that he perceives as valuable. If you have a dog that guards objects, this is the time to choose your battles, if the object is safe for the dog to have and he is unlikely to ingest it, then leave alone. If however, you need to get the object from him, don’t go into a battle of wills, in the contest of ‘teeth and skin, skin don’t win’ be smart and avoid adversarial methods. Being smart, most dogs rush to the door if the bell is rung or the door is knocked, so if your dog has something and you want it, go ring the doorbell. While the dog runs to the door, somebody collects the guarded object. Another option is to show the dog a really tasty treat, toss to one side at a good distance from the dog, as he gets up to collect it, pick up the object. Once you have retrieved the object and all is safe, consider how you can prevent it from happening again.

There is lots of good information on the internet at this time of year – The Kennel Club do a great downloadable leaflet on poisons.

Puppy Stars Pie

If your dog ingests something hazardous, you need to seek medical advice immediately.

Finally, this is the one day a year where lots of families cook together and overload the hob. If we had toddlers in the house, we would be extra cautious around cooking and leaving hot items within reach – a pan of boiling water pulled over could cause serious injuries. We would not leave toddlers unsupervised and if necessary, would place them into some type of confinement, such as a playpen. With this in mind, we should not take our eye off the ball if we have dogs – dogs are just as capable as toddlers of not seeing the danger and subsequently jumping up to grab something from the side or from the hob if the opportunity presents itself.

If we think of our dogs as toddlers and supervise and confine where we need to, we can have a happy and safe Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all form us all at Puppy Stars.

Nick Honor