It’s that time of year again, shopping, gift giving, and family/friends visiting.
Let’s look at it from your dog’s point of view. For most families, they may have large gatherings about 3 times a year, some more and some less. When we have a dog that is not used to a lot of people, children, or all of the sights and sounds that come with it, it can be stressful and scary.
I receive is an escalation of calls right after the holidays, with worried pet owners who have had incidents over the holidays. The worst part is, even if no one is injured, the stress to both the dog and the humans, is not worth it! It’s much better to be prepared and prevent your dog from being in a situation where he feels he needs to respond at all.
We talk about the 3 “F’s” in dogs.
When they are in an environment that they consider scary, they have three options. Flight, Fight, or Freeze. For many dogs, when feeling cornered, their only option is to “fight”. This could even include someone that is just trying to pet them if they feel there is no other option at that moment. They get stuck, and feel the only option is “fight”. Fight could be a growl, lunge, and if needed, a bite.
So, just how can we set them up to succeed for all these upcoming gatherings and any in the future? (Keeping in mind, if you find a qualified force free trainer, you can begin to work on a behaviour modification plan to help things change!)
I would suggest one of two options:
1: If you know your dog is already a bit nervous of loud commotion, children, or people in general, this is not the time to train!! This is the time to manage and prevent any incident. Management could mean putting your dog somewhere safe and comfortable. Exercise him well before your visitors arrive. If you have some visitors he is comfortable with, they can go and visit him at any time! Most importantly, buy him or make him some great things to do/eat while he is in his safe room. Snuffle mats can actually be made at home. or stuff a rubber Kong and freeze it (or other Kong products, they are all great!)
- You can also use Adaptil spray/ plug in is a good option. This emits a copy of a naturally occurring pheromone, produced by lactating mother dogs, that helps to moderate anxiety. You can also use lavender in a diffuser (which has been proven to relax dogs!) as well as a radio or white noise machine.
- Set this room up ahead of time so that your dog has already made a positive association with it.
2: If your dog is all right with visitors, not fearful but not overly fond either, I would suggest putting him behind double baby gates so that he can see the action but can have his own space to rest as well. When things die down a bit, and there are less visitors, you could let him come out then and have a visit but until then I would suggest a double gate system (using baby gates). This is using two gates as above, although this is a photo of outside gates, so that there is a space in between them.
- This is so that children (and adults!) can’t place their hands over the gate to say hi and scare your pup! I had this exact case last year at Christmas, it resulted in a bad dog bite and a child in the ER at Christmas.
You still want to have some great things for your dog to do, bully sticks, are excellent too, Kongs and more!
If at any time you think your dog is stressed, have a room ready for him to go.
With some easy planning, both you and your dog can enjoy the holidays! Here’s hoping that your whole family, four legged and two legged, have a wonderful holiday season!
About Lisa Davies:
Lisa Davies (KPA-CTP, CDBC, CTC) has been training for 17 years. She graduated from the Academy for Dog Trainers, the Harvard of Dog Training Programs, and is also a certified Behaviour Consultant, specializing in aggression, including dog to human. She has a huge passion for helping rescues become more adoptable through training and is an BC SPCA Animalkind Accredited Trainer.
She shares her home with her husband, two Terriers, a Pointer and a Chihuahua, two goats, a miniature horse and two bunnies.
Contact Lisa at:
Pawsitively Canine Dog Training Services