Nearly all pups go through the teenage crazies, but at this time of year it can be even more frustrating for owners who are starting to get homes decorated for Christmas and are busy sorting out festivities.
It can be useful to see things from the point-of-view of your pup. Growth spurts, teething and hormone surges mean that she’s finding it difficult to control how she’s feeling at the moment (not unlike human teenagers. And at least you don’t get your sweet Labrador coming home with a nose-ring and tattoos plastered all over her belly ….)
CHEWING THROUGH THE GROWTH PERIOD
Gnawing and chewing on things are soothing for dogs, and she’s pretty much going to try anything out for size over the next few weeks. Wooden Christmas decorations are going to be a huge temptation, even if she hasn’t been inclined to chew anything until now.
You need to make things easy for her. Even though it can be a realease of frustration, and an understandably human response, to yell ‘no no no!’ at her, shouting means that your adrenaline levels spike. Both you and your pup end up feeling tense and on-edge. Adrenaline meets adrenaline: so, if you shout at your dog, you get a response of increased excitement (adrenaline), or fear (adrenaline), or ‘aggression’ (adrenaline).
Added adrenaline just takes everything over the top – and some dogs simply get-off on the attention of being shouted at because shouts tend to come with eye contact and most dogs love being looked at. Consequently, shouting increases the Feel Good of chewing on the forbidden object for some dogs, which means that she’s a lot more likely to do it again.
WHY FEEL BAD ONLY WORKS FOR SOME OF THE DOGS FOR SOME OF THE TIME
I don’t avoid shouting or hitting because I’m a nice person. I don’t use them because they don’t work very well. They may seem to, the first few times that you do them, especially if you have a fearful dog. But anyone who uses shouting as a way of controlling their dog soon turns into a Louder and Louder Shouter. Often without realising. Because using Feel Bad only works as long as it feels bad enough to outweigh the Feel Good of whatever the dog is doing. They soon get immune to the shouts, so you have to shout even louder to get a response.
And a shouty household doesn’t create a calm, happy festive season. In fact, it can all end-up a bit Christmas Grinchy ;)
So, to help your dog and your family, it’s a good idea to think about what your dog needs at this festive, but sometimes quite frantic time.
If your dog is showing a lot of interest in Christmas decorations, and if you want to have scented candles lit, make sure that they’re either out of reach of inquisitive noses or keep your dog away from them by using a puppy pen or keeping her behind a baby-gate.
Make sure that she has plenty of ‘safe’ chew toys, including good quality bull bars and stag horns.
Our dogs are highly attuned to us and our moods. Most dogs tend to feel safer with the stability of a calm, settled household around them and young dogs and puppies can find the excitement around Christmas preparations quite upskittling.
Even extra visits from posties and delivery people can prove quite a challenge for dogs who find people coming to the house difficult.
If your dog is starting to show any signs of feeling uneasy about changes in routine and extra activity in the home, it’s a good idea to start preparing your pup for Christmas now. If you’re expecting high levels of visitors, have a quite place away from the busy-fizzies where she can go that feels safe, calm and quiet. This can either be her usual bed, if it’s in a room where she won’t be disturbed, or it can be in a separate room.
What really matters is that everybody who comes to the home understands that she needs to be left alone if she’s in her safe place (including Uncle Ted, who may firmly believe that all dogs love him and every dog should put up with him hugging them. If Uncle Ted can’t behave himself around your dog, then Uncle Ted needs confining in a puppy pen ….)
By starting to make this place feel safe now, it means that she won’t feel anxious or uneasy when all the festivities start. Putting her in there ‘cold’ on Christmas Eve will just cause unnecessary stress for both of you, because she’s very likely to throw a whole load of things at you to get let out. The room won’t feel safe at all, especially if your dog is used to having access to you all the time and can be a bit clingy.
Over the next two days, try spraying Pet Remedy or a calming blend of essential oils onto her bedding (bergamot, geranium, lavender and mandarin are all mood balancers and calmers). Doing this means that the herbs won’t only have a therapeutic effect, they will also have Feel Good associations because she will have smelt them when she was feeling calm and settled. After two or three days, try putting her bed (or her crate, if you crate her over-night) in a room where nobody will go and disturb her during the festive period. Spray her bedding with the same blend that you’ve been using
Give her a stuffed, frozen kong to help her feel calm. Chewing and sucking has a soothing action on dog’s brains, and being left with a calming blend in the kong will also work on her ‘happy hormones’ and help her cope with being left on her own. I’ve included a recipe at the end of this post.
SLOW STEPS AND IGNORING
Now for the hard bit. Ignore her! Leave her for about 20 mins the first time you try this and ignore any attention-seeking behaviour. Although whining, howling and barking may be quite distressing for you to hear, it’s often the sign of a frustrated dog rather than a truly distressed dog. However, if your dog really does suffer from separation anxiety, then you need to do some work on building her independence and helping her cope with being apart from you. If you get high levels of this from your dog and she doesn’t settle when you leave her, contact me to arrange for some work on Separation Anxiety.
You might well find that she hasn’t eaten her kong when you finally let her out – don’t worry unduly about this at first. Dogs often can’t eat when they’re feeling stressed, but some levels of stress are manageable for most dogs. You should find that she’s more able to eat it as you practise leaving her over the next couple of days.
REDUCING ATTENTION FOR CLINGIES
When you go to her after each period of being left alone, just open the door to the room and turn away without looking at her, before going back to whatever you were doing before you let her out. Making a fuss of her as soon as you go in makes your attention the most important thing for her to look forward to when she gets left alone, and is often one of the reasons why dogs get Separation Anxiety. Not only do they struggle with being on their own, they’re addicted to the Feel Good of their owners coming back.
Try building-up to longer periods of being left alone in this safe room while you’re still in the house. After you’ve done it for a few days, invite visitors over for between half an hour and an hour, and use exactly the same techniques that you’ve been using. Even though it might be a wee bit embarrassing if she goes back to howling and whining (she may well do because of the sounds and smells of somebody else being around. New things often result in dogs going back a few pawsteps. Just Carry On Calmly and she’ll soon stop.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Christmas can be festive and cheery for the whole family if you understand that your dog is likely to find the increased activity a bit unsettling. If you can be thoughtful about what she needs, plan well ahead, and make sure that she always has time and space away from seasonal sparkles, then you should all come through it calmly and happily.
FROZEN KONG RECIPE
1tsp of ground pumpkin seeds – they need to be ground so that your dog absorbs the magnesium elements.
1 tsp of ground sunflower seeds.
1 tsp of unsalted, sugar-free peanut butter
1 tsp of coconut oil
1 tsp of natural yogurt
Mix all the above together and freeze for at least an 2 hours before giving it to your dog.