It’s that most wonderful time of the year (or so they tell me!).
Love it or loathe it, Christmas is nearly upon us and that can present some big challenges for our dogs. There’s a lot more yummy food around (and not so yummy food - Brian is currently obsessed with the Christmas cake and although I keep telling him it is Toxic Fruit Death Cake, he remains eternally optimistic).
There are many shiny, dangly, toys which rattle intriguingly (and whoever said Christmas tree decorations were not toys has obviously never met my dog). There are THINGS wrapped in PAPER (I approve wholeheartedly of enthusiastic paper ripping - I just don’t approve of it involving teeth and happening minutes after I just finished the wrapping).
Those home hazards all involve some degree of management, but perhaps the biggest challenge is the change in routines - Christmas means changes in working patterns, parties, visitors to the house and trips out to see other people. This might mean new places, unfamiliar people, unusual situations and meeting strange dogs.
Brian and I recently spent a week visiting family across the country. This involved all of those things (our family down south have five dogs between them), as well as long car journeys, hotel stays, restaurant dining and even staying with Granma while I was working! Brian coped like an absolute trooper, but it was pretty obvious as the week went on that he was finding it increasingly difficult and would really just like to go home now!
With that in mind, I wanted to share some of our general hints for making the whole process of Christmas visits more enjoyable and less stressful for everyone involved.
Laura’s top ten tips for Christmas visits
- Plan for walks before setting off on Christmas journeys - long trips in the car can be a lot less stressful for your dog if they can settle in and have a post walk snooze for at least some of the drive.
- Plan breaks into long journeys - not only will your dog need the toilet, finding nice spots to stop for a walk will refresh your head and give them a chance to stretch their legs and burn off a little energy which makes the journey less taxing for everyone.
- Plan meetings with new dogs carefully. Let them meet outside the house first before you take them inside and have a back-up plan in case they just don’t get on - can they be kept apart in the house while you visit? Can one or both dogs settle comfortably in their cars (use jumpers and blankets as needed to make sure they stay warm). Be confident to say if something isn’t working.
- Make safe spaces that your dog can withdraw to if it all gets overwhelming - can they use a crate to get away from children or dogs they aren’t used to? Is there a room they can go settle in and be left alone?
- Bring plenty of stuffed Kongs and delicious chews to give your dog something to focus on and to help them calm down if they’re getting worked up.
- Don’t be scared to tell family members and friends what you need them to do - you know your dog better than they do. If it would be easier, why not write it down and send it to people in advance? This helps them take your instructions seriously and also gives them time to prepare.
- If you can, put up dog proof pens outside doors which lead to escapable gardens - this lets everyone relax a little and not be on tenterhooks that the dog might make a bid for freedom!
- For overnight visits, think about whether staying with family or friends is the best option. If there are too many unknowns (other dogs, children, too many people that your dog may struggle with), is there dog friendly accommodation that you can book nearby?
- For prolonged visits, make sure to plan in time for your dog to chill out and decompress. This might involve time out in the car, in the crate, or a strategic withdrawal to your bedroom.
- If staying in places you don’t know very well, find some local walks before you go. I always take Ordnance Survey maps with me when I go away, so that we can find all the local footpaths, but you can also often find good local walks online. Family and friends (especially those with their own dogs) may also have some good ideas about walks that would suit your dog.
These are guidelines rather than actual rules (every dog is different and your mileage may vary) but they worked pretty well for us. We adapted an oversize puppy pen to make an enclosure outside Granma’s back door so that she could let him out while I was away (anyone who has watched Brian’s excitement at going OUTSIDE will understand why I didn’t want Granma, who is almost 90, to try and take him out on a lead!).
We tried introductions to my brother-in-law’s dogs, but two over-enthusiastic Labradors and two Newfoundland crosses turned out to be too much, so we made a strategic withdrawal to the crate in the car, which he was much happier about.
Whatever works for you all, I wish everyone some happy and non-eventful holiday visits.
Laura & Brian
P.S. Well Connected Canine is taking some well-earned time off over Christmas to spend time with our dogs and our own families. We’ll be closing on Thursday 21st December and re-opening on Thursday 4th January. If you do need to speak with us before Christmas, make sure you get in touch soon - it’s creeping up fast!