It’s nearly Christmas, traditionally the time of year when we look forward to enjoying lots of yummy food, time with our friends and family, hopefully a break from work and of course – pressies! Lots of us also think about involving our dogs and cats and other furries in the festivities; gifts, advent calendars, novelty costumes etc. but how often do we think about the psychological impact of those couple of weeks? True, it’s lovely to have lots of fun with our pets, they’re part of the family after all, but for some, it’s worth thinking about their well-being.
1) A House Full Of New People
The Holidays are a time where lots of different people come and go and maybe stay too. This contrast in routine can be very unnerving for some pets, maybe you’ve just recently re-homed a new family member – you’ve got a more nervous cat or dog or maybe the guests you have just don’t adhere to your training or behavioral plans – this can all cause considerable stress.
2) Noise Noise Noise!
Yep, the Holidays are full of it, there’s no doubt about it, this time of year isn’t quiet! If you’re dealing with pets who really don’t like a great deal of noise, then you’re going to have to work out a coping strategy. Build some quiet dens, tell guests/family members that some rooms are ‘quiet rooms’ and pet sanctuaries and although no one wants to spoil any fun, try to limit extreme noise. Allow your pet to run and hide and simply exclude your pet/ask a friend to pet sit when you know something really noisy will happen e.g. fireworks. You can also try lots of complementary therapies and of course behavioral modification from a qualified consultant.
3) Routine Change
Everything changes during the Holidays. Pets quickly learn when to expect meal times, walks etc. aspects of the day that are especially salient to them. Pets that are already anxious can become more so when routine is lost, so try as hard as you can, not to break routine over the festive period.
4) More Furry Friends
With the arrival or more humans, often comes more furries, this applies frequently to dogs. Understand that your dog may not automatically get on with your friends dog! Meeting in enclosed spaces within the household e.g. hallways, corners may also lead to sparks flying as may competition over resources such as food, chews, treats and your affection. This may also become worse if dogs are already highly aroused with the excitement surrounding the festivities.
5) You’re Tense – I’m Tense
Animals are very perceptive and will quickly sense stress. The Holidays are already a stressful and tense time when you naturally want everything to go right. If you begin to become anxious, your pet will also.
6) Don’t Set Your Pet Up To Fail
Every year I hear stories of how dreadful somebody’s dog or cat has been over the festive period. Maybe the dog has ransacked the presents on Christmas Eve or the cat has gobbled the turkey on Christmas morning! Well awful though this may be, you can hardly blame the pet! Simple stuff here, keep everything out of reach or shut the pet out. Don’t attempt training your dog at a highly skilled recall when you’re stressed to the hilt or when he’s totally highly aroused by his latest squeaky toy – it won’t work! (& you’ll just be completely irate).
7) Listen, Don’t Expect
Try not to have expectations about how your pet should behave and what your pet should be doing ‘just because everyone else’s dog/cat does this/that’. If you do, you’ll just be disappointed. Your pet is an individual with his/her own idiosyncrasies. If your pet doesn’t want to stay and eat Christmas dinner with you, is scared by the noise of crackers being pulled and wants to go to a safe space, isn’t that keen on opening Christmas presents like the pets in the movies – fine. Listen to your pet and do what’s best for them, not you.
8) Christmas Wardrobes
Great fun for many pets and if so enjoy it, it’s part of Christmas. As above though, listen to your pet. If you can see that he/she isn’t enjoying it, don’t do it. Dressing up your pet can cause a good deal of stress.
We all get short on this at this time of year. Okay, it’s fair to say that human members of the family probably test it pretty much! Remember that your pet may be struggling and that if he/she is presenting with behavior that is unusual, it could simply be their way of dealing with the routine/environment change, so try hard to understand and not punish
10) Enjoy and Have Fun!
After all the above, lets reserve the last point for enjoying our pets at Christmas. They make our family complete and without them with us at this special time, life would be a much less rewarding place.