Amidst the Christmas preparations and excitement it is easy for people to forget that their dog’s behaviour could take some of the glitter out of the season of good cheer. If your dog’s behaviour can be troublesome, these tips from The Good Behaviour Guide author, David Appleby from the Pet Behaviour Centre will help you manage Christmas and ensure that the season of good will includes all our canine friends.
Raiding presents that are lying underneath the Christmas tree is a misdemeanour even the most angelic dog (or child!) may indulge in, if giveen the opportunity. Typically this is due to an attraction to substances such as chocolate rather than peeking. The simple approach to management is to deny unsupervised access to the goodies under the tree. The situation is made more complex by dogs that scratch doors to rooms they are denied access to during their owner’s absence. In these cases avoid putting presents around the tree or even putting the tree up until someone is at home all the time.
Jumping up at Christmas guests and persistent attention seeking can be troublesome at a time when people are wearing their “Sunday Best” or wish to talk or watch television. Troublesome jumping up can be stopped using a product called “Down Dog”. This is a spray that does not smell very nice and is used surreptitiously to create a vapour by the person the dog is jumping up at. The effect on the dog is same as the effect on you if you rushed to hug someone who has been eating lots of garlic, you would quickly wish you hadn’t done it. The user of the spray should wait until the dog behaves appropriately, for example by sitting, before giving it some attention.
If your dog is a persistent attention seeker, either directly by “asking” for attention or a ball to be thrown or indirectly such as by stealing things or leaping on visitors, Christmas could be disrupted. You can manage the situation by putting your dog on a lead and getting it to lie at your feet. Putting your foot on the lead and obliging your dog to stay will show it how to behave. Give it attention while it is lying there and it will be happy to do it. You can develop the technique before Christmas so that dog is able to anticipate what you want. Remember that your dog will be much more settled if it has had plenty of exercise.
Christmas crackers and Party Poppers should not be used where a dog with a tendency to sound phobia will be subjected to them. This would cause unnecessary distress and exacerbate the problem. However it is also important to ensure that the occurrence of these little explosions in the place where a dog should feel safest does not cause the onset of noise related fear.
Behaviour around strangers
Christmas is associated with people visiting each other, which is a problem if your dog does not like visitors. It is important that your dog does not meet visitors as they enter the property because it is likely that it will have learnt to bark in this location to chase people, such as the postman, away. Put your dog in another room before you invite them in. Ask them to sit where your dog is used to social contact, the lounge for example, then bring your dog through to them. The visitors’ body posture whilst sitting down will reduce the likelihood of your dog feeling threatened. You can further reduce the risk of intimidation by providing your visitor with tit-bits to feed the dog.
If your dog will not be won over or the risks of trying to introduce people without implementing a formal behaviour modification programme are too great, muzzling or segregation from your visitors will be necessary. This approach will be particularly necessary where children are involved but even if children are not involved you must put safety first.
Christmas may not be the best time for initial introductions to any dogs your visitors may want to bring with them. This is because you will be stuck with them taking turns to sit in the car or another room if they don’t get on. The best chance of mixing dogs that have not before or meet infrequently without incident is to take them for a walk together before bringing the visitor into the home. When they are settled they may be brought in together. This approach can also be used to integrate your dog with your visitors if it is territorially aggressive but happy when it meets people away from home.
David Appleby MSc CCAB is the principal of The Pet Behaviour Centre in Worcestershire, visiting behaviour counselor at the Queen’s Veterinary School, University of Cambridge and is a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. He is the author of a popular series of “How To…” booklets sold primarily through veterinary practices and also Ain’t Misbehavin’ – a behaviour guide for family dogs (Broadcast Books).Last modified: June 10, 2021