Christmas can be a stressful time for many humans, so it’s important to remember how our canine counterparts may be feeling at this time of year. Especially if you have a nervous dog, as there are many facets to Christmas, which can add to the anxiety your dog is already experiencing.
What makes Christmas worse for a Nervous Dog?
An already nervous dog can be made to feel much more anxious by any of these things:
- Arrival, movement and departure of visitors
- Being at someone else’s house
- More noise than usual
- Being dressed up in Christmas outfits
- Getting paid lots of attention
- Excited children
- Changes in our normal behaviour
- The presence of the presents (and the tree, and anything else they don’t understand)
- Being around stressed owners (e.g. if you have difficult family around you and you’re likely to argue at some point)
- Car journeys (to see your relatives)
- Fat bearded men breaking in via your chimney 😀
How to help your nervous dog at Christmas
If you follow these simple tips, your nervous dog can have a much more relaxing Christmas. Please do bear in mind that if your dog is very nervous, chances are there are things that you can do at other times of the year to help him/her feel calmer too – more on that in a moment.
- Ask everyone who comes into contact with your dog to ignore them initially. Whether they are arriving at your house, or you are arriving at theirs. This gives them the space to work the situation out without feeling under pressure. Ask that they continue this for at least 15 minutes.
- Make sure your dog has a quiet place they can retreat to, away from the hubbub if it gets too much.
- Don’t try to sooth or reassure them if they look anxious. They don’t understand the words, so this only confirms their thinking that there is a problem. If there wasn’t a problem then you wouldn’t look concerned.
- Ask anyone who wants to fuss or play with your dog to only do so by calling them over for the fuss or play (this helps because it gives your dog a choice about it). Suggest that they keep it to a minimum and let your dog go and rest again afterwards.
- Don’t let anyone who isn’t extremely familiar with your dog already take them for a walk. Walking can be one of the most stressful activities for a dog, so if they are being walked by a relatively unknown person, that will make your dog even more concerned. If you don’t have time to take them yourselves, then they are better off not going.
- Keep them separate from noisy, boisterous children.
- Don’t dress your dog up like the below (don’t worry, this is photo-shopped)
Why do I have a nervous dog?
If you have a nervous dog, that is its personality combined with (in some situations) the circumstances it’s been brought up in. However there is a lot you can do to help it to feel less nervous day to day. The main reasons a dog will be nervous is because they don’t understand what is expected of them, so they are worrying about whether they are doing the right thing all the time, and they don’t understand what/whom is safe who/what isn’t. Chances are your dog isn’t looking to you for understanding, because it doesn’t realise that you are capable of making these decisions and showing them the way.
To reduce your dog’s nerves you need to take the leadership role in a way that is crystal clear to your dog. Unfortunately our regular human behaviour towards dogs doesn’t show them this. It’s something you need to learn to do specifically. You can learn by reading one of Jan Fennell‘s books, or through being taught one-to-one.
I’d welcome your comments below on any questions you have about your dog’s nervousness.