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Preparing your dog for Christmas visitors

Do you have a fabulous Christmas Day planned with your nearest and dearest? Presents, games, Christmas dinner, drinks and lots of fun planned. I think we all deserve it after the past few years we’ve had but have you thought about how your dog might cope? Or are you worried about how your dog may react to people coming over?

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Amie Brown - Professional dog trainer and owner of Canine Pawtential

When preparing your dogs for the holiday period, it’s important not to wait until just a few days before. This is something you should be starting to think about now, especially if you don’t normally have visitors over or you have a particularly worried, nervous, or reactive dog who might not be able to cope well in busy situations.

Being as prepared as possible will save you, and your dog, a lot of stress. 

Top tips

    3 top tips to prepare before people are coming over

    1. Make sure all your dogs needs are met not only immediately before your guests arrive but also, the week running up to guests arriving. It’s important to focus on meeting their needs on a daily basis.

      Getting them out on a 3 hour hike the morning your guests are coming is just not feasible. Sure, they may be tired after it, but they will likely still be very overwhelmed and stressed about visitors being there. Being consistent with their exercise and mental stimulation all week will set up for a much easier day when your guests are there.

    2. Set up treat stations around the house. Fill small Tupperware tubs with dehydrated treats or kibble and place them in easy to access areas anywhere and everywhere you can. This will allow you to reward your dog quickly when they do something you like. This will also help in stopping them practice unwanted behaviours as you’ll be able to capture their good behaviours with ease.

      Prevention is better than cure and if you can catch your dog doing something you like, those behaviours will happen more and more in the future.

       

    3. Manage the environment. Think about the day your guests are coming over and picture where your dog will be. Will they be in the room with you while you’re eating dinner? Will they be able to cope with the temptation of everyone eating yummy food or with snacks around the room? Do you need to purchase anything to help them feel more comfortable or keep them safe? Will you be using a baby gate, a pen, or a crate? Do you have guests that are children or elderly who if your dog jumped up on, it may cause an issue?

      If you’ve answered yes to using a gate or similar, it’s very important that you start introducing that now. Think about how your dog and guests will cope and prepare for that scenario. 

    What role can your guests play?

    Ask them! Would they like to interact with your dog?

    If yes, then let them go ahead with getting involved with the training when they come over! Another thing to think about would be, is your dog be comfortable to interact with the guests?

    It’s important for your dog to be comfortable too. If either your dog or the guests aren’t comfortable, put your dog in another area, behind a baby gate with a fun activity for them to do like a snuffle mat, Kong or puzzle toy.

    Don’t just put them somewhere with nothing to do while the visitors come in, this will only make them feel frustrated. If you have a visitor who would like to deal and help with your dog’s training but they’re only going to make things worse by maybe, hyping your dog up too much or not following your training instructions, it’s absolutely okay for you to give your dog another option and put them in another area that you’ve set up for them. This will avoid any training failures and also keep your dog under threshold. 

    It's a great idea to make up or buy a sign to put on your front door for when guests arrive to let them know that your dog is in training and what they should do as they enter the house – should they ignore your dog while you deal with them? Should they throw treats on the floor for your dog? Should they play with the dog or throw a toy for them to retrieve and redirect on?

    Make sure your guests know what’s expected of them to ensure your dog is successful when they enter the house. 

    What should you be training now in preparation for your guests?

    Go to you mat/bed or place training – this gives your dog a dedicated area to go to relax and lay down. If you practice this enough, your dog will realise that there’s a history of good things happening there, and they’ll be comfortable there. This will take a lot of work to be solid so extra importance on practicing this weeks, even months in advance. 

    How?

    • Use your treat stations and set up a comfy bed close to one of them, the comfier, the better.
    • Anytime they go to that bed, capture it and reward with some treats – even for investigation initially. 
    • If they sit or lay down on it, give them a big jackpot treat – fire a good few treats to them one after the other in quick succession. 
    • As you continue to reward this, it’ll be repeated more and more often.
    • You could also use treats to guide them on to the bed and release the treat when they’re on there. 
    • Repeat x1000.

    Prepare your dog for alone time

    Alone time is also a very useful skill to practice and prepare when you’re having visitors over. Some dogs may not be comfortable or used to being put in another room or behind a baby gate/in a pen while you have company so it’s best to get started on this as soon as possible. 

    • Set up mock scenarios where you put your dog in another area whether that’s in another room or behind a gate, while you and your immediate family have dinner.
    • Make sure you give them an activity to do and ensure their needs have been met beforehand. 
    • If they’re not okay with it then you need to make another plan. 
    • If they’re not used to enrichment toys like snuffle mats, licki mats, puzzle toys and Kong! Make sure you offer them before you stick them in another room with them. Otherwise, they’ll find them frustrating and not enjoyable as intended. 

    Set up a Relaxation Station

    Another great idea would be to set up a Relaxation Station for your dog. This will allow them a safe and relaxing space to go to when things may be a bit much or their normal routine is altered when you have visitors over. 

    In the weeks leading up to the big day, take them to their relaxation station, follow their normal daily routine, give them a frozen kong in a space where they normally go to bed, if that space is normally the living room/kitchen where your guests are, set up this area and spend lots of time there beforehand. Turn the lights down, have mood-lighting, play some relaxing music and just hang out there with them for a few hours every night so that when it's time to use it, they’re happy, comfortable and safe there.

    Never shove them in a room they’ve never been before or an unfamiliar area, this will cause stress and anxiety unnecessarily. Make sure you’ve always prepared them beforehand and ensure they’re comfortable. 

    Something to be mindful of is – it’s okay if you don’t want to think about training your dog on Christmas Day or any other day you’re spending quality time with friends and family. Don’t shame yourself for using management or opting out of training – if it’s best for you and your dog to opt out, do it!

    If people are coming over and will be there for a long time, enjoy your time together but, after a few hours, you might need a break, if your dog is involved, your dog might need a break.

    When you have people over for a long period of time, your dog should have some alone time anyway for some sleep and rest. Join your dog at this moment so you can also decompress and go back to your guests without feeling drained or worried about your dog.

    Bonus tips for you this holiday season

    A few bonus tips for you this holiday season:

    1. Prep all of your enrichment beforehand. Freeze kongs/licki mats, fill up puzzle toys and place them all in an area that’s easy to get to so you’re not scrambling around on the day having to prepare both people food and dog food!
    2. It’s okay to say no to your guests bring their dogs over! This may cause too much stress. You already have lots to deal with, cooking, cleaning, making sure your dog is comfortable. You need to think if the dogs will have any issues sharing toys or spaces, who will be looking after the other dog? Will the owner take complete responsibility? If the dog in question is one of your dog’s best friends and they get a long well, go for it but make sure you think about all scenarios and if it’s worth the extra stress.
    3. Lastly, it’s 100% fine if you need to simply manage the day because you or your dog won’t be able to cope with the training. You can opt out and be prepared to if need be. 

    Wishing you, your dogs and your family the best Christmas yet! 

    Be safe, take care and be merry! 

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