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Prepare Your Dog for the Festive Season

22nd November
This Christmas please think about the festive season from your dog’s perspective as it can be a very unsettling time. Not least that 15% of all Britain’s dogs spend Christmas Day at an emergency vet!

Christmas is a time for having fun with loved ones but for many, can be a stressful and lonely time. During the festive period, 17% of people report feeling lonely. Spare a thought for our dogs who may be feeling the same.

Stress in Our Dogs

We know how stress builds over time, especially if triggered daily, while we can ’understand’ and compartmentalise stress, dogs cannot. Their outlook on life is simpler in that all they want is fun with their needs being catered for. Inevitably the festive season is stressful, but it’s only recently that scientists have discovered that stress is actually contagious!  A study in Italy showed that stressed dog owners had high cortisol blood readings and so did their dogs! Dogs under three may not have had enough socialization with visitors, so preparation is key.

In a study from Belfast University last year, scientists proved that dogs distinguished the odour of cortisol on their owner’s breath. Over time, dogs associate certain scents with stress, which can cause them to become anxious too. What’s more, studies concur that a stressed dog can take up to 72 hours to de-stress. The concern about intense stress in dogs is that they become hypersensitive, excited, perhaps barking more, panting, yawning and pacing. Observe your dog, and look out for these tell-tale signs.

Preparing Your Dog This Christmas

Take steps to relieve this pressure on your pooch. Remove him from the proceedings to settle in a quiet space with an interactive chew toy, with the radio on low volume, which will help your dog calm down and think. The last thing anybody wants is a preventable dog bite happening when the dog is reacting out of fear, confusion or resource-guarding behaviour.

Apart from the human stress factor, the Christmas tree is arguably the most dangerous festive feature that can add a raft of stress.  Real pine trees drop their needles, which, in the right quantity, can be toxic to dogs and sometimes get lodged in their throats, causing a massive Vet emergency. Male dogs could be tempted to scent mark it, while dogs that like sticks could see a huge opportunity presented with a whole tree in the room. Similarly, imitation trees with internal wires, synthetic tinsel and plastic could easily combine for a trip to the vet.

I suggest decorating your tree after you’ve spent some proactive training teaching your dog to ignore this indoor tree feature. The training game is being rewarded for staying at a safe distance! Add the decorations gradually, and consider how your dog might see baubles as balls, tinsel as a rope, and fairy lights as a flashing rubber chew toy. Opt for fabric decorations paperchains in place of tinsel, and avoid any chocolates either on the tree or as wrapped gifts under the tree.

Remember to keep your dog’s routine as normal as possible. Keep their meals the same, although a bit of cooked turkey is OK, but NO cooked bones! No mince pies or any food with raisins or chocolate as both can cause kidney failure in the right quantity. Ensure you keep up long walks and activities, which will help tire your dog, and help re-balance any stored cortisol overload.

Top Tips


Invite friends and family over before Christmas to teach your dog calm well-mannered meet and greets with the end behaviour settling in a dog bed either in the main room or in another away from the guests.


Training your guests to be calm around your pooch is so important. I recommend playing the game “What Dog?  My guests are taught to ignore my dogs with no speech, and no eye contact until the initial excitement of people arriving subsides.


Pre-empt any accidental reward for unwanted behaviours like jumping up, racing around, or barking. Out of choice, I encourage Prudence my Mini Bull Terrier to relax with an interactive toy. She has her TV on for festive cheer until the atmosphere is calm especially when food and eating is finished.


Being mindful of stress triggers like deliveries and guests arriving. So, by training that the front door is a game for practising calm behaviour involving a sit-stay on a mat or a dog bed will help keep the cortisol low.
Some dogs aren’t as lucky as our pets and they will be spending Christmas scared and alone on the streets. Read how you can Help Us Help Them this Christmas.

About the Author – Anna Webb

As a Canine Nutrition and Behaviour expert, Anna combines her psychology degree, with study at the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies (CIVT) and over 20 years of experience. Host of the award-nominated A DOG’S LIFE podcast, she lives in London and is owned by Prudence, a Miniature Bull Terrier and Mr. Binks, a re-homed English Toy Terrier. www.annawebb.co.uk 



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