I have always been fascinated by the relationships we share with our dogs. We are a completely different species but have converged over several thousands of years to forge a friendship that is truly unique. Perhaps the main fascination I have is how we communicate with dogs, and whether or not we are able to understand them the way they need us to.
Unfortunately, we can succumb to treating our dogs as our own fur-children (yes, I am guilty of this too), expecting them to meet our needs not as a dog, but as a human being. As a behaviourist, this is a massive cause for concern, because most dogs can never live up to this expectation and invariably fail miserably at it. This is often when we see signs of anxiety develop.
One of the main causes of stress and anxiety for our dogs is projecting our needs onto them. This is especially evident when it comes to how we celebrate the holiday season. After a busy year, most of us are raring to socialise and make up for lost time, but this may mean the needs of our dogs are pushed to the end of our priority lists. The most important element in avoiding unnecessary stress and anxiety for our pets during the festive season is to better understand their needs.
Five ways calm anxiety in your dog this festive season
Here is a list of what you need to know to keep your dog calm and reassured during the holiday season:
1. Predictability is Key
Dogs need predictability. This means that routine is essential and what they are expecting in this routine is positive and controllable. Keep things simple, repetitive and rewarding in their lives, like going for a walk at the same time each day.
2. Create a safe space
Following on from the previous point, just like us, dogs also need to feel some sense of control. A safe place such as a cosy bed can help alleviate your dog’s anxiety if people are coming over to visit, or if you are travelling with your dog. This safe place must be inaccessible to anyone your dog does not know, especially children. It also needs to be somewhere that is comfortable, quiet and positive. Some people will say their own bed is their dog’s safe place. And if this sounds like you, too, then allow your dog access to your bed when there are visitors. When I travel with my dogs, I always take a bed with me that has familiar smells and is associated with positivity. It is remarkable how quickly a safe place can reduce anxiety and even remove distress.
3. Stay connected to your pet
It is so important to think from your dog’s perspective more than your own, especially when it comes to training your dog to cope in a human world! Always ask yourself; “Am I setting my dog up to succeed or fail if I do this?” If your answer is ‘fail’, then avoid that environment for your dog.
Involve your dog in training in the lead up to an event. For example, if you predict that your dog will feel uncertain about visitors coming over, teach them to station to their safe place, with the expectation of a high-value reward. Practise this each day as often as you can. I recommend utilising your dog’s daily intake of food as training treats too, so the best way for them to eat is by learning this new coping skill. Put this behaviour on cue such as ‘on your bed!’ and when you feel your dog may be showing signs of uncertainty in the future, cue them to their bed and allow them to take control of their environment without the stress and worry of their surroundings.
4. Supplements may help
Make a daily supplement part of your dog’s routine. Compared to a decade ago, there is now plenty of research in canine wellbeing and how supplements can assist in the health and happiness of our dogs. ZamiPet Relax & Calm daily chews contain L-tryptophan, Valerian Root, Chamomile and L-theanine, which all support a healthy nervous system. Supporting the function of a dog’s neurons can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
5. Veterinary anxiety treatments
Talk to your vet about medications. Although some owners may prefer to steer away from veterinary treatments, dogs with fears and phobias are often in need of pharmaceutical help, which can help them learn to cope better in this modern world.
If you’re anything like me, you will probably opt for a quieter Christmas and New Year break where possible; knowing that your pet’s happiness and safety is just as important as your own. We get so much joy from our dogs and Christmas is all about joy, right? So, with that in mind, stay safe, keep your pets safe and always think about life from their point of view. You might also find that thinking more like a dog helps you have a more mindful and positive holiday season, too!
Laura V - Animal Behaviourist
The information in this article was checked by ZamiPet Veterinarian and General Manager Dr Andrew McKay, BVSc, University of Melbourne, 2000. Vet Registration No: V3985
Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.