Christmas can be stressful for dogs – here’s how to tackle it

For many people, the holidays are a time for celebration, family gatherings, fun and joy. But for our pets, Christmas can be a stressful time. The change in routine, visitors, loud music, late nights and decorations can all worry them.

With Christmas day fast approaching behaviourist Carolyn Menteith highlights the importance of spotting the signs of stress and anxiety in your dog, and six ways you can help alleviate this

What are the indicators of stress in Dogs?

Unlike humans who can be verbally expressive in showing stress, dogs are a lot more subtle and reliant on body language.

It’s important to be a lot more mindful in noticing the changes in your dog, however thankfully some stress-induced behaviours do mimic our own. These can range from:

  • Yawning or licking lips
  • Changes in eyes (showing the white or their eye) or ear position
  • Excessive and unusual shedding
  • Panting, salivating or trembling
  • Hiding
  • Pacing
  • Changes in body posture
  • Attention seeking or clinginess
  • Loss of appetite

To relax your pup during stressful situations, Carolyn Menteith shares her six expert tips owners can use to help keep things calm and collected.

Tip 1: Understand your dog’s needs

Having a deep understanding of your dog and how they behave when they are relaxed and happy usually makes it easier to identify when their behaviour changes in any way. It is important to remember that not all dogs behave in the same way and the secret is knowing your own dog so you can tell if they are behaving in a way that is unusual or out of the ordinary for them.

Tip 2: Remove from stressful situations

If your dog is stressed, move them to a safe place. This can help them regain their usual composure. Noise is one of the most common causes of anxiety – especially during firework season. These sudden and loud bangs can be terrifying for some dogs, and they can quickly become stressed, fearful and in some cases, panicky.

Tip 3- Give your dog comfort if they seek it

Thankfully we’ve come a long way from the old-fashioned thinking that comforting a dog will somehow ‘reward’ their fears. This couldn’t be further from the truth and a dog who has trust in their owner can often benefit from their presence and reassurance when they are feeling scared or fearful. Other dogs prefer to be on their own, and so setting up a quiet den during firework season can help give them a place of security.

Tip 4- Be patient

Recognising when your dog is feeling stressed will give you the chance to prevent or remove them from situations they find stressful. In the case of noise phobias or other stimuli you can’t avoid, seek help from an experienced accredited behaviourist who will help you develop a behaviour modification programme of desensitisation and counter-conditioning you can work on to prevent this from becoming a regular problem that will impact both your quality of lives. This won’t be a quick fix however as it does take time and commitment so you will need to be patient.

Tip 5- Exercise

Whilst this may seem an obvious one, dogs are very similar to humans in the way exercise can help de-stress. Exercise is a great mood-booster for dogs and regular daily exercise (both physical and mental), as well as an opportunity to get an outlet for their breed-specific behaviours, can be useful for improving behaviour, reducing boredom and frustration, and releasing feel-good neurotransmitters into your dog’s brain that helps them deal better with potentially stressful situations.

Tip 6- Talk to your vet

If your dog seems to experience stress or anxiety quite regularly and the above are not helping to calm them, speak to your vet. They will be able to refer you to an experienced accredited behaviourist who will be able to help you identify the triggers that are causing your dog stress and anxiety, and create a behaviour modification programme to help build your dog’s confidence and keep them both healthy and happy.