Surviving Christmas

Updated: Nov 11

Christmas is always an exciting time of year, all the build up and anticipation, catching up with friends and family, keeping up the traditions and enjoying a change of routine or scene. It can be a stressful time for people so it’s no surprise our dogs often find it overwhelming too. They have the added disadvantage that they can’t understand why everything has changed suddenly or why there is so much happening in their home.

We might think it affects the nervous dogs most, the ones who enjoy the stability of their routine or those who have a more select group of human-friends. But even those dogs who LOVE people, can become overwhelmed very quickly. Whether your dog loves new people or is more socially-selective, they will experience increased stress during this time of year. Stress from excitement can impact a dog just as much as stress from fear or uncertainty, and all stress, good or bad, can lead to more problem behaviours.

For many people, and their dogs, Christmas means a change of routine and a change of surroundings. This may be because people are at home rather than at work, people are visiting the house, or you’re visiting other houses, you may change your walking routine, perhaps taking far longer walks than usual or visiting different places with your dog. All of this can lead to your dog feeling over-tired or over-stimulated and as a result you may see some behaviour changes, for example:

  • More barking

  • Mouthing and jumping

  • Difficulty settling

  • Increased reactivity

Christmas is chaotic so it’s unfair to expect your dog to behave as they would on a normal daily basis, to some extent you have to decide what behaviours you’re willing to accept and which ones you need to manage more effectively. Behaviours practiced in times of stress can develop into habits so you can’t simply assume your dog is barking more because of ‘Christmas stress’ and the behaviour will stop when everything returns to normal. However, you may decide now is not the time to work on your dogs’ jumping up and put that on the list for next year … you have to set the rules and expectations.

Dogs will be overwhelmed at this time of year, but so will all the humans, which means your dog won’t be in the best place for learning and you won’t be in the best place for teaching. Good management is key in these times, it’s far from the ideal training environment, unless you’re surrounded by people who are likeminded and understanding of your training. Even so, training your dog is unlikely to be top priority so to take the pressure off everyone, make sure you use management to set your dog up for success.

Rest Time

Rest is one of the first things your dog is likely to lose during all the Christmas excitement, where they may be used to a regular routine of rest time during the day, this is lost and they have fewer opportunities to switch off and relax. They may be used to sleeping for 4 hours while everyone is busy working, but with work schedules gone, they lose this regular routine too.

Your dog may need help to find rest time each day and you will need to be the one who sets this up. A dog who is excited by all the activity of Christmas is unlikely to take themselves off for a sleep, likewise a dog who is anxious about it all will struggle to remove themselves to go and relax.

To help your dog you could: