Surviving Christmas Day
By using the code SANTAPAWS (available until 22/12/21) you’ll get free Local Delivery on any orders AND some free Roast Venison for your pup. So what are you waiting for, they’ll be delivered just in time for Christmas!
If you’re unsure of what chews to pick for your pup, just get in touch to discuss.
Surviving Christmas Day
( If you’d like to skip, learning about WHY your dog is so bonkers around guests and would like rough guide to making life easier scroll down. But if you want the best out of your dog, read it all!)
Christmas day without a dog can be a fairly stressful day for some, what with preparing unholy amounts of food, ensuring the kids presents are stacked under the tree and playing host to numerous amounts of family members. When you add a dog into this equation it’s easy for things to be just a tad more stressful.
This guide will help you to understand, plan and manage your pooch whether you’re going to be hosting Christmas this year or visiting others with your pup. Whether you’ve had difficult Christmas days with your dog before or this is their first – it’s likely to be a big change of routine for your pup. They may be nervous around guests or just absolutely over the moon that people are arriving. For your dog there might be a lot of jumping up to be done, pinching of food off the side or running off with the kids new toys. Either way your pup is likely to be up against it and naturally as with any situation that involves us getting behaviour of our dogs that WE want –the responsibility falls to us.
If you’ve not heard me say it before, then clearly you’ve not ready many of my other articles, (what are you waiting for!?)
Set Your Dog Up For Success!
What does that mean exactly?
It means if you put them in a situation they were likely to fail in, likely to get told off for, likely to embarrass you in, there’s only one person to blame – your other half!
Setting our dogs up for success is the not-so-secret way to getting all of your training achievements. By managing and adjusting their environment we make them far more likely to succeed. So what does that mean for Christmas?
Whenever I’m going into a household with a dog that gets hyped by a guests entrance, I first look at the predictors, the events leading up to jumping all over that guest. Here’s some common ones for you to peruse below.
- The Dreaded Doorbell/Knocker
This is usually the first thing your dog hears before the chaos ensues. That lovely little chime that you selected for the family to let you know visitors calling so you could break out the best china and posh biscuits is now a noise that terrifies you and fills you with dread. “SOMEONE GET THE DOG!”
It’s at this point that your dog goes from relaxed and chilling on the sofa to DEFCON Banana-Crazy. It’s the first indicator that a new best friend will soon be setting foot in the house, it’s enough to wag your tail off.
- Human Behaviour Changes
Shouting for the dog to be put somewhere, heading for the door. Nobody knows your body language better than the dog and like most humans you’re as predictable as a Spaniel in a Pigeon Park. You’ll say the same things, walk and open the door in much the same way EVERYTIME.
All further information to your dog that someone very soon is going to be setting foot in the house!
- The Chorus of “Hiya’s, Hey’s, Hello’s & How Are Ya’s!”
Predictability strikes again! This is music to your dogs ears, they’ve heard the door handle and they can hear those voices too. They’ll be in any moment!
- The Dreaded Hallway
It’s here that your dog may get access to the guests coming in. They may be excited to see your dog or a little overwhelmed by the 30kg + Labrador/Springy Cockapoo (Other breeds are available and certainly just as excitable). Their response to push your dog away or rile them up with a high pitch greeting only serves to make this choke point in your house all the more difficult for your dog to control any part of their body.
At this point, your dog’s a mess. They’re goo, the brain has turned to mush and the impulses and routine takes over. Cue 30+ minutes of diving on the guests trying to get their attention whilst you apologise profusely as your dog just completely embarrasses you and couldn’t give a monkey’s about your attempts to get control of them. Each predicting event which may have been learnt over time fills your dog with more anticipation, more arousal.
Now that’s just a normal day when guests are coming over – pair that with Christmas day when the number of guests can double/triple, the house is completely different to usual and there’s been a morning of exciting and novel experiences like presents being opened etc.
Christmas day is hard… hard for you, hard for your dog and hard for you guests.
So what can we do short term to give everyone a better, calmer experience?
How do we set our dogs up for success at Christmas?
Control and Management is key with any behaviour. If our dog has access to the behaviours we don’t like and their motivated to do them, that behaviour will likely be reinforced. That means it’ll happen again!
By controlling and managing our dog we can put a stop to this. Gates, Pens, crates and popping your dog on a lead for sometimes just the first 30 – 60 minutes can mean your dog isn’t being fuelled by having access to your guests and getting excited or frustrated by jumping at them and not getting them rolling on the floor like they used to when they were a pup. It may be necessary throughout the visit to use management on and off if you can see excitement is rearing its head again.
Managing Frustration Levels
Using physical barriers and restrictions can cause large amounts of frustration, which aren’t going to always help us in these situations. Providing your pup with scatter fed food in the garden, Kongs, Lickimats and long lasting chews can help to take the focus off the guest. Again you might want to use this intermittently across the day as activities change. (Present opening, mealtimes and family games etc.)
Position Your Guests Well
My eyes often light up when I see bar stools in a person’s kitchen, and it’s not because it’s great for their Feng Shui. Sitting up higher can often separate your guests away from pups a little more providing them with less opportunity to land themselves directly in the visitors lap or giving them access to ears to stick a tongue in. If you don’t have taller seating like this, sitting at a dining table or asking guests to stand is often a better place for them to be than sat on the sofa where your dog has free access to ALL of the guest. Once things have calmed down, you’ll be able to move around more, but remember that first 30 minutes are when the guest is most novel and exciting to your dog.
Sleep & Rest
Ensuring your pup has had enough sleep the day/night before and gets as much as they would normally do throughout Christmas day is important. Much like us, our dogs are better at processing and making good choices with the right amount of rest.
Start With A Walk?
If your schedule allows it, going for a walk with the guests can be a great way for your dog to get comfortable and relaxed with visitors by providing them with the distraction of the park. This removes all those exciting predictors around the front door too. We’re not trying to exhaust your dog, simply remove focus from guests and expel any extra energy your dog might have.
Take A Deep Breath
Your dog will likely be aware that your behaviour changes round guests, it’s often a contributor to how our dogs are around guests. If we’re getting cross, shouting and punishing our dogs when guests are about it can add fuel to a fire. If your pup is struggling to control his or herself, look at your management and try to understand how difficult it is for them!
There’s a lot to get right and it may go wrong a little bit. Every household I visit to help with behaviour around guests needs a slightly different approach based on number of people, size of the dog, layout of the house and the ability of the owner.
Below I’ve provided a rough guide that can help to make life around getting guests or at another’s house easier for this Christmas. You may only want to use some of it or try all of it.
Disable your doorbell, or tape the knocker shut. Remember what this does to your dog and in the short term it’s not doing you any favours. Let all your guests know that they need to message/ring in advance that they’re nearby.
Upon their arrival, ensure the dog is blissfully unaware and give them a task they might enjoy elsewhere. My go to is often to scatter some dinner/treats in the garden for them to search for.
Ask guests to come in quietly and calmly and run them through the next steps. If your guests are likely to excite your dog and ignore the instructions you give them it may be necessary to lie. Tell them your dog is training to be a therapy dog and therefore MUST learn to be calm around people. It can be the motivation they need to get on board! (If they ask in a few years why your dog never made it as a therapy dog, just change the subject quickly).
Pop guests in high up chairs, at dining tables before bringing your dog through. Ideally, your dog will have been occupied outside or away for at least 10 – 15 minutes.
If gates/pens aren’t being used, pop your pup on lead before coming in the house so they can’t immediately go up to them. It’s at this point I’m going to give my dog their second job to do. A long lasting chew or Kong that’ll last 20-30 minutes at least will help to take the focus off the visitors whilst your dog gets used to their presence.
If your dog is showing signs of calm and relaxation you may be ready to provide them with more freedom and access to your guests. Know your dog! If you think they’re capable of making mistakes, don’t give them opportunity. It can be a good idea to leave a line/lead on your dog for interim management.
Remember, this is a rough guide to helping your dog behave differently around guests on a short term basis. I often adjust and change it for the individual and nobody knows your dog better than you. If visiting another house with your dog, you may want to take a travel crate with you, or now and again pop your dog on lead. Be sure to ask your host if they’re comfortable with you providing chews or food in the garden. Be especially careful if your host has a dog too and avoiding any competition around food/high value chews and treats.
Similar management and help for your dog can be effective and necessary around other parts of the big day. If there’s food on the side and the dog has access, don’t be surprised if they swipe a sausage or too. Dogs generally in busy kitchens aren’t the best idea, especially when the chef is under THAT much pressure.
If you’re lacking long lasting chews, or enrichment toys like Kongs and Westpaws the news is good. By using the code SANTAPAWS (available until 22/12/21) you’ll get free Local Delivery on any orders AND some free Roast Venison for your pup. So what are you waiting for, they’ll be delivered just in time for Christmas!
If you’re unsure of what chews to pick for your pup, just get in touch to discuss.
If you’ve found this advice useful and would like to work on an on going, long term way to help your pup to be calmer around guests get in touch to talk about training in the New Year.