We are in the midst of my favorite time of year. December is always so full of cheer, joy, and kindness. I really think that people tend to be better humans around Christmastime.
I’m also a huge fan of things like hot chocolate, apple cider, mulled wine, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Bundle a good cup of hot chocolate with a roaring fire and a cheesy Christmas movie and I’m set for the evening.
As much fun and excitement, the holidays can bring us, though, it also brings an elevated level of stress. Maybe not this year, but especially in year’s past, company would be bustling around, schedules aren’t the same, kids are home from school, and travel plans are made. It’s just a different sort of chaos.
Just as this affects us (is your toddler having more meltdowns than normal?), it also affects our dogs. Dogs thrive in routine and familiarity. When we go and throw all that off by making unusual holiday plans, our dogs can start to show some increased stress behaviors.
Maybe your dog stresses up. Stressing up can look like hyperactivity, excess barking, or chewing on non-dog items (watch those new shoes you bought for that holiday party!). We can get so frustrated with this kind of behavior because it feels like they are acting out just to spite us or make our lives more difficult (spoiler alert: they aren’t).
Or your dog might stress down. This can look like they are withdrawn. A normally cuddly dog might lay across the room instead of on your lap or they may seem disinterested in walks or other commonly enjoyed activities.
No matter what kind of stress your dog is showing, it is our job as their guardians to make sure they have an appropriate outlet for their feelings. There are three easy things you can add to your dog’s life during this holiday season:
- Give them something tasty to chew on. Anecdotal evidence shows that chewing or licking can bring a dog’s state of energy down. By giving them something natural and focused to work on, they can learn to self soothe in times of uncertainty. Things like antlers, yak chews, frozen filled kongs, or licki mats are great options.
- Take them on a sniffari. Find somewhere that is quiet and full of nature so that they can sniff a variety of different smells. Bonus points if you put them on a long leash and harness to let them feel a little freer. Sniffing is scientifically proven to lower both heart rate and blood pressure meaning it physiologically calms your dog which leads to a calmer mind. Not to mention sorting through all those different smells is mentally exhausting for a dog.
- Create a cozy place for them to have some alone time. Get out some nice soft blankets, a plush pillow, and some classical music for them to have a chance to get away from the chaos. You can use a crate if your dog likes crates, a pen, or a different room. The separation allows your dog to settle and sleep. Lack of sleep could be one of the causes for them to be more stressed so giving them a designated nap time could help their mental state. Bonus points if you combine separation with something tasty to chew on. NOTE: If your dog does not like to be separated from you or suffers from separation anxiety, the holidays are not the time to practice this skill.
Dogs show stress in similar ways to humans – either by acting out (like your 3-year-old) or by shutting down (like your spouse interacting with the in-laws). We all need some time and space away from the chaos so find ways to help your dog this holiday season and give them ways to cope with all the hustle and bustle.
From my family to yours, we hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!