Does your dog know it’s Christmas?
The answer is simple – no, he doesn’t know its Christmas, but dogs definitely know something is happening!
That could be due to human stress levels being contagious to our dogs, whilst we’re preparing for Santa Paws?
When you think of Christmas from your dog’s point of view it’s no wonder ‘tis the season to be stressed. With an understanding of how changes in routine can affect every individual dog differently.
Being aware that dogs that aged three years or under won’t have benefitted from as much early socialisation around visitors as older dogs, so preparation and planning this Christmas will make all the difference.
Awareness of the hustle, bustle and festive frenzy on our dogs and the omnipresence of stress created by us humans, which according to new science could transfer to your pooch.
Scientists at Queens University in Belfast discovered that dogs can ‘distinguish’ the odour of cortisol on our breath, and in our sweat.
The study involved four dogs and 36 humans. Samples of their breath were taken immediately after a complex mathematical test, and after four minutes. The dogs were able successfully to select the stressed samples from the relaxed samples.
Shedding more light on the human-dog relationship, this study adds to our understanding of how dogs may interpret and interact with human psychological states. It also confirmed the truth in the old adage: that dogs can smell fear!
Interestingly, in another study from Sweden, scientists discovered that stressed owners and their dogs shared increased levels of cortisol in their hair.
The connection to cortisol levels were higher in winter, and highlighted the synchronisation of stress between two different species, and the reality that stress could be contagious.
We know how stress builds overtime, especially if triggered on a daily basis, whilst we can ’understand’ and compartmentalise stress, dogs cannot. What’s more, studies concur that a stressed dog can take up to 72 hours to de-stress.
As dogs don’t know its ’Christmas’ - the preparations: buying the festive food, the presents, moving furniture to accommodate a tree in the front room, lots of deliveries, holidays disrupting routine, visitors and the arrival of so much food can be unsettling.
Taking its toll emotionally, mentally, and physically, it’s easy to understand how dogs could ‘snap’ and bite in a situation, out of fear, confusion, or resource guarding – all which could be avoided.
Stress affects every dog differently, but hypersensitivity, perhaps barking more, panting, yawning and pacing are tell- tale signs, or becoming territorial and protective. Be conscious to deflect, and offer alternative behaviour cues to distract and promote a sense of calm.
Think about maintaining your dog’s exercise routine, and regular diet being mindful that stress affects digestion and increases thirst, so adding some highly hydrating bone broth will help keep cortisol low.
Bearing in mind that 15% of Britain’s dogs do spend Christmas Day at an emergency-vets, minimise any risks, especially associated with the Christmas tree, a 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 dogs’ throats, causing a massive Vet emergency. Similarly imitation trees with internal wires, synthetic tinsel and plastic could easily combine for an expensive trip to the vet.
Male dogs could be tempted to scent mark it, while dogs that like sticks could see a huge vet opportunity presented with a whole tree in the room!
Dogs don’t know it’s Christmas, but that doesn’t mean they cannot enjoy the experience as part of the family, making it fun and safe from your dog’s point of view – so messages don’t get lost in translation.
10 TOP TIPS THIS CHRISTMAS:
- Plan ahead - invite friends and family for short proactive training sessions 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, no eye contact until the initial excitement of people arriving subsides.
- This helps pre-empt any accidental rewarding of 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 practicing calm behaviour involving a sit stay on a mat or on a dog bed will also help keep the cortisol low.
- Train the Christmas tree etiquette! Reward your dog for staying away from the tree with an ’in your bed’ cue, 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 all about 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, fairy lights as a flashing rubber chew toy. Use fabric or paper alternatives.
- Avoid Christmas costumes, unless your dog displays zero stress when wearing a Santa suit or reindeer antlers. That’s no yawning, no head turns, no panting, no squinty eyes. If in doubt opt for a festive bandana instead and choose less is more!
- Opt for a hearty dog friendly Christmas dinner like Paleoridge’s Turkey & Cranberry. Peace of mind in a bowl, it’s a limited- edition meal comprising a succulent blend of British Turkey meat and bone, offal, fresh and juicy cranberries, with a side of vitamin-packed lamb tripe, and a vegetable medley
- Don’t underestimate the scavenger in the midst. Watch out for counter surfing, and keep the cooked turkey carcass safely away.
- NO cooked bones! No mince pies or any food with raisins or chocolate as both can cause kidney failure in the right quantity.