I know it’s a scary thought but the holidays are just around the corner. With Thanksgiving next week and Christmas just four weeks later, the time to prepare is running out.

Whale Eye

Whale Eye

The holidays are often a time for family and friends to get together and enjoy the company of one another. For many of us, our dogs are included in our families and we want them to be a part of our festive activities. However, for some dogs, the holidays can be more stressful than they are enjoyable. Even the most socialable dog may find the constant attention by their adoring fans to be a bit too much for them.

Signs that your dog may be getting a little stressed:

Our dogs don’t speak English but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to communicate with us. We all know the overt signs that our dogs have had enough such as growling, barking, snapping or biting but did you know that those are often the final resort by our dogs to say, “Enough is enough”?

Some of the more subtle hints our dogs give us when they are starting to feel a bit overwhelmed or uncomfortable include: lip licking, yawning, turning/looking away, closed mouth and showing the whites of their eyes (often called whale eye). 

Another signal we might see are things such as not performing a command they already know; we may see the dog sniffing the ground or just looking away from the owner. This is often thought to be our dog ignoring us but is just that they are uncomfortable and will do what are called displacement behaviors (behaviors that have no place in the context you see it in).

Now, many of the signals I described will be seen when the dog is not stressed as well, so how do you tell the difference? Context is everything. If you are seeing just one of these, it could be just a lip lick or perhaps they saw something move off to the side. If your dog is giving off more than one of these signals in a situation that may be too much for him, you are probably seeing some stress signals. The more of these signals you see, the more likely it is stress-related and you should try and help reduce that stress.

What can you do to help prepare your dog?

Bone up on your dog’s obedience. Not only is it fun (or, at least, it better be if you’re doing it right!) but it will help your dog to feel more confident and comfortable. 

Take your dog on a nice long walk before guests begin to arrive. A tired dog is a happy dog, not to mention they will be calmer around all the guests.

Give your dog a break from all the guests and attention. Even if your dog isn’t constantly getting attention from all the guests, it will still be nice for your dog to leave all the fray and enjoy a nice nap in a room all to themselves.

Let your dog have a safe place they can retreat to if they need it. It is always important for our dogs to have a safe place to call their own and this is especially important during the holidays. Make sure your dog has a crate or safe room that they can go to and make sure that no one bothers them there. This is especially true for your dog’s crate.

If your dog can’t handle it, don’t make them. Not every dog is able to handle a house full of people they hardly know, if at all. If you are unsure if your dog will be able to cope, let them off the hook. Set them up in their own private room with some really tasty treats to keep them occupied. These can be frozen Kongs stuffed with goodies, a tasty raw bone (yum!) or deer antler. What ever it is, make sure it is tasty and safe for them to have while you are out of the room.

Help your dog enjoy the holidays with you and keep everyone safe and stress free :-)

Bruce

 

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine so I do apologize if I sound a bit strongly about this. I am often astounded at how often I see people coming over to dogs they do not know and greeting them without ever asking first. In addition to it being rude, it is also incredibly dangerous. No matter how cute that dog looks, it is no guarantee it is friendly.

When I was younger, my parents taught me never to touch something that did not belong to me and to always ask permission first. It just came naturally to me that I should ask a pet owner who’s dog I wanted to greet if it was okay to do so. In addition to that being the polite thing to do, it also helped protect me if the dog was one that did not like to be greeted. As sad as it is to say, not every dog enjoys having a stranger whom they have never met to come over and roughly pat them on the head. I know that your intentions are good but please take a moment to ask first.

Imagine how the dog might see it. I want you to put yourself in the dog’s paws for a moment. How would you react if a complete stranger came up to you and roughly gave you a hug? Did I forget to mention that you have a phobia of being touched? Next this person gives you a smooch right on the lips, all the while, speaking Portuguese-baby-talk.

Now me personally, I don’t mind a nice hug from a stranger, granted they don’t smell funny (no offense). However, I certainly wouldn’t want someone giving me a kiss and if they spoke a language that I did not, I would have a lot of trouble telling them “please, don’t” without getting into a physical confrontation with them.

I had taken one of my St. Bernard’s, Bruce, to the pet store with me to get some provisions. As an adorable fluff ball, he is a magnet for attention. I do my best to help people say hi to him in a way he likes but I can’t always. This particular day, a woman came out of no where, loomed over Bruce and wrapped her arms him in a great big hug. I was horrified for a moment before Bruce gave what is known as a muzzle punch to her face. This meant a closed mouth punch that resulted in her glasses being knocked off and slime all over her face. I was horrified at what I had allowed this woman to do to my dog, and embarrassed by his actions (though, quite frankly, they were appropriate).

Luckily, the woman was not scathed and was actually laughing about it. However, if this were a different dog, this woman could very easily have needed plastic surgery because of her actions; even a very low level bite to the face can be devastating. And if that had occured, you can bet that the dog will be likely euthanized and the owner possibly sued, all because some person didn’t ask first.

Now, asking the owner is really only half the equation. You also should always ask a dog if it’s okay to pet them because sometimes even owners may not realize their dog would rather not be petted. They may just be having an off day or perhaps a bit stressed out. No matter the reason, asking the dog will help to save the dog from taking issue with your greeting.

How should you ask the dog though, you may be wondering? By being respectful of their space for one. Do not just rush up to a dog and expect them to like you. Approach the dog at a gentle pace and stop just outside the dog’s bubble. Allow them to make the move towards you if they would like. If the dog seems relaxed and interested in your attention, then gently pet the dog. I recommend gently petting the dog on the side closest to you, on the chest or around the chin. This way, the dog can see where you are petting and can easily walk away if they are done with getting your attention.

Hopefully, you now of a small glimpse of how our dogs may perceive us saying hi. Now, there are many dogs out there who would be absolutely thrilled to have you do this to them but by asking permission first, you can be more polite to person and pet alike and I for one would like to see some more politeness in this world.

For additional resources on how to greet dogs appropriately, for what to avoid, and to better understand how dog’s may feel about this, please feel free to contact us or visit www.drsophiayin.com for some fantastic free handouts.