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Five Simple Rules for a Dog Safe Christmas

Five Simple Rules for a Dog Safe Christmas

We are approaching that time of year that I admit, nowadays for me, is tinged with a little bit of dread as well as excitement. For the last four of five years, we have heard news of a child fatality by a dog over the Christmas period. I cannot tell you how devastating this is and how dog behaviourists across the world cry inwardly, if not outwardly when this happens. All that dog behaviourists want for Christmas is to know that families and dogs are safe! Please don’t think this is something that only happens to other people! Please can you grant us all this wish by sharing this important message to those who have dogs.

This does not need to happen! Why does this seem to happen at Christmas? Why do some dogs attack children?

Christmas is a time of excitement. Families visit families and travel many miles with new additions to their families. There is less space for our dogs and many are not prepared for this.  We rarely consider our dogs when we make holiday plans, but in fact, if we did make plans, everybody would be safer; including the dog. We expect our dogs to just fit in rarely considering that the dog might have needs. Here are some basic rules to help to avoid a tragedy this Christmas:

  1. Prepare in advance. If you are expecting visitors and you have a dog, please make sure you establish a safe place for your dog NOW. This place is only for your dog and no other visitor is allowed into this space. The ideal place is a spare bedroom, or a utility room where nobody should need to pass by or disturb your dog. Let your dog get accustomed to this space NOW. Fit the space out with a dog bed, an Adaptil plug in (this is a synthetic calming pheromone), calming classical music and some toys as well as a food bowl and drinking water. This way, if your dog struggles with guests you can let him into his safe space so he can feel calm and safe away from the chaos. However, if you do not prepare your dog for this space and you need to use it when you have visitors this is likely to distress your dog and he might feel ostracised and unsettled; then you are not likely to use the safe space if the dog is distressed when confined in it. This is why he must start using it NOW. If you do not have space, and you anticipate there might be problems you will need to make alternative plans, even if this means your dog must stay with someone else in a calmer home, or your visitors stay somewhere else. It is better to be safe than sorry.
  2. If your dog is not used to children and you are expecting child guests, don’t leave anything to chance. If you have a rescue dog and don’t know how he might behave, don’t leave this to chance. Use this safe space for your dog. If your dog is used to children make sure you observe closely anyway. Some signs your dog is not happy include:

If your dog is not happy there is a chance he may need to use aggression, this is why these signals are so important. These are messages your dog gives to let you know he wants space so that he can avoid showing aggression.

  1. At Christmas time, it is a very common time to have family arguments; more so than at any other time of year. Many dogs become agitated when people argue and can direct aggression to those arguing. This is because it frightens the dog and they need to try to stop the arguments. So, if the atmosphere becomes fractious, someone needs to show the dog to his safe space so he need not be exposed to this. The same response can be displayed in response to rough play between humans.
  2. Please consider whether your dog will be visiting where another dog lives. Do not assume just because you are family these dogs will automatically get on together. Make sure you allow for the dogs to be kept apart in their own spaces. If you have a dog that dislikes other dogs it is unlikely that he will get on well if visiting someone else who has a dog. Nor will a dog be able to receive a strange visiting dog into his home without trouble if he already dislikes other dogs. If dog fights break out, sometimes they can redirect their aggression onto people; children are especially vulnerable as their face is often at dog’s face height. This situation should be avoided.
  3. Do not leave anything to chance. Never leave a dog unattended with other children even if your dog is already accustomed to children. This does not mean he will like ALL children. Be particularly careful of new babies as their smell and noises can be particularity confusing to dogs. Do make sure that the dog is kept away from visiting babies and small children, or at least kept on a lead so that the dog can be quickly removed if necessary. If you see any of the signs in point 2 above, at any time, please remove the dog to his safe space.

If these basic and simple rules can be followed, everyone and their dog can have a safe and merry Christmas. Please share this with your dog owning friends this Christmas.


Denise Nuttall

Dog Behaviourist & Trainer, M.Res, B.Sc (Hons). Full Member APBC. Full Member of TCBTS. MAPDT 00963.

Published on November 28, 2016


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