‘Tis the season to be jolly, which could mean your home is busier than usual with the spreading of Christmas cheer. If your dog is not used to having lots of house guests it can be an unsettling time, so what can you do to help your pet experience festive comfort and joy?
Meet and greet
Some dogs are more sociable than others and this can depend on what sort of upbringing they have had. A puppy that was adequately socialised in its formative first weeks is more likely to be confident when encountering new people and situations than an older dog who has had little exposure. A rescue dog who has previously been badly treated by humans will probably struggle with a sudden influx of unfamiliar faces.
If your dog is likely to get over-excited at the arrival of guests, it is a good idea to take them for a long walk or play ball games beforehand to tire them out. You can also distract your dog with something like a puzzle feeder or stuffed Kong while your guests are settling in.
When your guests arrive, ensure your dog is out of the way at first and then allow your dog to come and meet them when they are ready. Never force your dog into an interaction and instead be guided by their behaviour. If your dog would rather keep away, that’s fine but if they do interact in a calm way, positively reinforce the behaviour by rewarding with a tasty treat.
Give your dog some space
All dogs need a place to retreat to, regardless of their character. Even the most sociable dog will need time out eventually to rest so it is important that they have a safe, cosy place to go where they won’t be disturbed.
If you’ve got a houseful, find a quiet corner in one of the less used rooms to put your dog’s bed, bowls and toys in. Your dog can then take themselves off when they’ve had enough or you can encourage them to spend some time here with a food-stuffed toy if they become too excited.
Establish ground rules
Make sure all your house guests know how to behave around your dog, especially young children who might be tempted to chase or bother them while your dog is resting or eating. Never leave your dog unsupervised around children, regardless of how well-behaved your dog is. Accidents can happen and it is never worth the risk.
It might be a habit now for you to put plates of food out of reach of your dog and not to put hot drinks on low surfaces but non-dog owners might need this pointing out to them. You should also make sure that your guests know not to feed your dog anything without your permission.
If your dog is particularly sensitive to noise, it might be wise to discourage guests from bringing things like party poppers, balloons or crackers with them.
Over the Christmas period it is advisable to keep to your pet’s usual routine as much as possible, as this will help them to feel settled and content. Remembering their walks and mealtimes will keep structure to your pet’s day and ensure their needs are met.
If your dog is likely to get stressed by having new people in the house, try a canine pheromone diffuser or spray in the places they like to retreat to. These products are synthetic versions of natural scents given off by nursing dogs to calm their puppies. Many owners have found success in calming nervous dogs this way. If your pet is particularly struggling, you should speak to your vet to see what other options are available. Natural alternatives are also available.