The upcoming holiday season can pose many problems for caregivers of anxious dogs.
At this time of the year anxious pets may have to deal with an increased exposure to their triggers, without being probably prepared to handle them.
Their caregivers may have changed focus to creating special moments for family and friends and have forgotten the difficulties that having an anxious pet adds to this equation. Know your dog’s triggers and take these into account when arranging your holiday celebrations.
Some of the things that may add to the stress quota for an anxious pet include:
Christmas tree with flashing lights
A new object sitting in the room – yes something as simple as the appearance of a Christmas trees can be worrying for some pets
Change in daily routine – more/less contact
Being the object of increased attention
Being the object of decreased attention
Being dressed in silly hats/costumes
Excited squealing, running children
Relatives visiting with their pets
Party hats and whistles
Children’s toys that make noise
Not getting enough rest/sleep
Exposed to rich/new foods
Anxious animals may need to be given extra space and quiet time away from some of the new people and events that surround a holiday period.
If an animal is known to be anxious and worried by the arrival of visitors to the home the animal should be well prepared ahead of time, in a safe place, behind a solid and locked door where the caregiver is able to enter and check on the dog, but unknown persons cannot accidentally wander in there and disturb and startle the dog.
A startled dog is apt to react with aggression.
Some less worried dogs may handle the visits if guests follow the instructions of the caregivers.
Instructions should be made clear well ahead of the visitors arriving and agreed upon. Instructions may include – Do not TOUCH, do not STARE at, do not LEAN over. If guests are not trusted to follow the caregiver’s instructions then it may be better to sequester the dog away.
If a caregiver cannot relax while the dog is free amongst guests then the dog is better placed away. Sometimes a dog is better to spend time at an alternative house if the house is too unstructured to follow the dog rules.
Anxious dogs are helped by learning to enter and remain happily in a crate. This is a space not used for entrapment or confinement but an area that a dog seeks out to feel safe and no-one should bother the dog that seeks out time in his/her crate.
There are many good links to teaching a dog to use a crate.
Once happily in a crate a dog can have good things to do in this spices, eg stuffed Kong, antler to chew.
Some dogs who are currently under the care of a veterinary behaviourist may be able to have intermittent use medication to provide anxiety relief over a stressful period.
Remember Christmas is not a time to expose your anxious dog to his/her triggers. Work to desensitise to triggers must take place at an intensity and at distance that sees the anxious dog remain calm. Christmas is not this time. If your dog is not ready for what lies ahead it is time to start preparing an alternative NOW.