by Sarah Bartlett KCAI CD R QIDTI
The Christmas period can be both good and bad for your dog. Good in the fact that you will be around a lot more than usual if you have to go to work, so your dog will benefit from hopefully more attention, but it can also have its pitfalls. Christmas can also be an extremely busy and stressful time, with often more visitors to your home that usual, a lot more noise, LOTS of different kinds of foods available for your dog to scoff (if he gets his paws on it) and a glittery prickly green thing in the corner that flashes on and off and has got chocolate things dangling from it!
Remember, look at things from your dog’s perspective – he has got no idea or concept about the fact that it is Christmas – it is just any other day to him, but with a lot more going on.
We all tend to eat a bit too much at Christmas, but if your dog eats too much or eats the wrong things, the consequences for him can be far greater than having to join Weightwatchers in the New Year.
A lot of the foods that we like to eat can actually be toxic and dangerous to dogs. Chocolate has a chemical in it, Theo bromide that can be fatal to dogs and raisins can also be dangerous, but one of the main culprits can be the turkey. Be careful that it is not within the dog’s reach whilst it is defrosting if it is a frozen one and if you give your dog cooked turkey leftovers be careful that there are no bones in it.
There will usually be a lot more food ‘hanging around’ at Christmas so make sure that it is not within the reach of your dog – remember that dogs are opportunist eaters and will eat most things if they have the chance.
In addition, feeding extra quantities of leftover Christmas food can really upset your dog’s digestion, and guzzlers can get bloat if they shovel food down too quickly.
Be careful, too, about all the other things that you need to keep well out of reach, edible tree decorations, aspirin and other medicines like indigestion liquids that you may just leave in reach.
If you are planning to have a lot of visitors over the Christmas period, remember that they may not be welcomed by dogs who are fearful of strangers, so if your dog’s normal day to day routine is a calm quiet environment and you know that he may be upset by lots of people trooping through the house, shouting, laughing and being merry, it may be a good idea to provide a ‘safe’ place for your dog to go to – maybe the corner of a room that won’t be used, or somewhere quiet that you can create a ‘den’ in. Decide beforehand and try to get your dog used to going there before Christmas.
If you will be having children to visit (particularly toddlers) be extra vigilant. Even the dog that lives with children happily all year round can find the levels of stress, excitement and noise unbearable at Christmas, so make sure that you provide your dog with a safety zone where the children can’t reach him – maybe in a quiet room, in a crate or behind a baby gate. Whatever happens, don’t risk incidents with kids and dogs, especially at a time when you might be distracted or less vigilant in your supervision.
If you have more than one dog in your family, it is important to remember that even the dogs who are best pals throughout the whole year, sharing everything, can have a major hassle on Christmas day. A break in their normal routine, more food available, a lot of noise, stress, more people and less space can all be contributing factors. Another factor, just like children, can be squabbling over presents. Giving your dog’s new toys at Christmas can cause a fight if one wants what the other has got. Bear in mind that some dogs need space between them to feel relaxed with a new possession, they need time to enjoy it and let the novelty wear off a bit. If you suspect that a case of present grabbing might occur, manage it with supervision, put their leads on and keep them at a suitable distance.
There are four key things you can do to help your dogs, and in turn your visitors over the Christmas period.
Making a den;
If your dog has a crate, that they enjoy resting in, leave the door open and ensure as much as possible that they can go in there if they choose at any point while you have visitors.
If it’s not already, you may want to cover the crate with a blanket or towel leaving the just the door part uncovered, making them their own little safe haven or cave.
If your dog is not crate trained then put a blanket across two arms on a sitting room chairs or from the sofa to a nearby side table and place their bed under, again making a cave for them should they choose.
You may choose to use a utility room or similar with a baby gate across the doorway so your dog can still see what is going on, but escape to a quieter areas when they feel the need.
If your dog is an excitable and bouncy youngster, you may need to ask them to retire to their safe place regularly too. A little like overtired toddlers dogs can become over stimulated which in turn makes them even more excitable. Frequent rests and breaks will minimise this,
I would also be clear to any visiting children that when they dog is in the crate or in its safe place that they are not to approach them or call them.
This is a great exercise to teach on a matt, on their bed or a comfy place for your dog. Giving them a long lasting chew or a stuffed kong or a licki mat on their settle area is a great and easy way to start.
Chewing and licking are both very calming things for a dog to do which will in turn help them be calmer and settle too.
If your dog chooses to go and relax there of their own accord then approach them slowly and calmly saying ‘settle’ in a soothing tone and either give them a low value treat on their bed ( so they lower their head further to get it) or give them a gentle slow stroke or tickle their chest. By doing this we are introducing the word to the action.
Settle should not be similar to a formal ‘stay’.
Look for signs of your dog relaxing, this may be tucking their paw underneath them, their hips tilted over so their back end is on its side, this could be your dog totally upside down. Think about how your dog normally chooses to relax and sleep. What position is this? It could be curled up in a ball.
Every step your dog takes toward being in its most relaxed position while you are training the settle should be rewarded calmly and with a soothing voice.
Try not to reward the dog for looking at you for this exercise. This may feel wrong, but your dog will not be totally relaxed if it is always looking for where you are or if there may be a treat on offer.
With enough practice you can even start training this in different environments too, maybe at the pub or a dog friendly café or at friends and family’s houses.
- Do not use your dog’s name when training the settle or they will think you are calling them to you.
- When returning to your dog don’t make too much of a fuss or they will break the position they are in. A simple low key good is all that is required.
- Always try to place a treat (ideally low value, some raw carrot, maybe a dry biscuit or some of its kibble if you feed your dog dry food) between the dogs paws and on its bed. This stops them trying to leap up to meet the treat half way.
TheLeave Itexercise can be a life saver for your dog. Like children, dogs are apt to pick anything up that is within reach, particularly food.
Christmas time means lots more food, and temptation around for our dogs. Many of which can poison or even kill our dogs if ingested.
Of course, if the food your dog picks up is laced with rat poison or is a cooked chicken wing this can be fatal for your dog to eat. It can be virtually guaranteed that all dogs will pick something up in their lifetime which will make us scream ‘’No! No! Drop it!’’, so it is vital to have a good grasp of this command.
Some people teach the leave it command where you are asking your dog to wait for food or a toy and then give a command like take it or okay to tell the dog that they can have it.
To my mindleave itmeansleave it. Full stop. End of. You are never having it. I like to use the wait command when I am asking my dog to wait until I give permission for him to have something, or I am going to ask him to move at some point.
Like the wait and stay, I like to have a clear difference between wait and leave it.
Look at it this way - if you teach leave it when you are asking your dog to wait until you give your permission for it to eat or take a toy, then your dog will always be waiting for the next words out of your mouth i.e. take it, okay etc to have what it wants.
So, you are in the park with your dog and your friend and you are chattering away to your friend and your dog spies a cooked chicken carcass (lots of thin bones that could puncture his gullet there) and goes to eat it. You have previously always taught him to wait for food by using leave it and then giving a release command. So you see him go to gobble up the chicken and you shout LEAVE IT! YES, YOUR DOG WILL LEAVE IT … FOR A FEW SECONDS MAYBE but because normally after you say leave it you say ‘take it’ or ‘okay’ pretty soon after. So you then turn to your friend to resume your chat and say ‘’anyway, or okay, what was I saying?’’ and your dog thinks you have given a release command and gobbles it up before you can get to him or even before you notice.
If you have taught your dog thatleave itmeansLEAVE IT. END OF. FULL STOP. FINITO. YOU ARENEVER HAVING IT,then in all likelihood, it will leave it. You can then use leave it for lots of things – wanting to go to other dogs or people, running or chasing birds ducks etc, paying attention to anything you don’t want him to, rolling in unmentionables etc.
So here’s how to do leave it – it’s easy.
For this you will need 2 types of treat; a low value one that your dog is not too fussy about and something fantastic that your dog loves but doesn’t have very often. For instance, let’s say that the low value treat is a dog biscuit and the high value treat is a piece of smoked sausage.
Now, put the biscuit in one hand and the sausage in the other and put the sausage hand behind your back. Offer your dog the biscuit on the flat of your hand, saying‘leave it’if he goes to take it, palm it and say‘ahh ahh’. Try again. You are waiting for any hesitation, or turning of the head, or going into a down. As soon as your dog does this, say‘good leave’,put the hand with the biscuit in behind your back and reward with the hand holding the sausage.For leaving the low value treat your dog gets rewarded with a high value treat.
Then you could practice dropping things directly in front of him and saying ‘leave it.’Remember to pick the low value treat that you are telling your dog to leave up before you reward with the high value treat.
Then, if you are out with your dog and he goes to chase a duck/jogger/cyclist/child, or eat a rotting carcass (or roll in it!) you can say‘leave it’, but you mustALWAYSreward for a leave, even if it is not with food, remember you can always use praise.
Remember leaving something could save your dog’s life.
When a dog jumps up, even if you glare at him, yell at him and shove him away, you are giving him what he wants: looking, talking and touching. Jumping up works! Dogs repeat what works…
Why do they jump up?
To get attention; to get you to look, talk and touch him.
As a puppy, this was irresistible. You responded by bending over and cooing. Now he’s a half grown (or fully) over-stimulated adolescent and it just isn’t cute anymore. This is NOT his fault; he is doing what you and others have taught him to do.
If we are to teach your dog NOT to jump up, we must concentrate on what we want him to do INSTEAD and spend lots of time teaching him and practicing under varying levels of distraction.
Your dog must learn to keep all four paws on the floor.
If you or your guests pet your dog whilst he is on his hind legs, the behaviour of jumping up is being rewarded. The first thing you have to do is train all humans who interact with your dog! Teach your dog to sit for petting and then don’t allow anyone to pet your dog unless both front feet are on the floor. IF your dog knows what he is supposed to do, when he starts to jump up withdraw all attention, including eye contact. Now remind him to “SIT” and praise warmly, bend down to his level to help him remain seated. Unless you have spent HOURS proofing this exercise and everyone he meets is consistent, he doesn’t really understand!
I often use treats to pay the dog for not jumping up while training too.
If the dog has sat, or even just resisted the urge to jump I will drop a treat or two on the floow, by my feet or by another persons feet. This way the dog will lower its head and sniff to find the treat. All whilst gaining more information about the other person by their scent and the sniffing action helps with calming the dog too.
If one person rewards the jumping up, they will try again and again to see if they get away with it again, hence the importance if training every person who interacts with your dog before they interact.
REMEMBER! If you are to use a command when they do jump, command is “OFF!” not “DOWN!”
“OFF” means “put your feet on the floor” or “get Off -or- Off the couch”
“Down” means “put your elbows and belly on the floor”
Though more importance should always be put on setting the dog up to succeed, giving the instruction to sit for example & then reward for the good behaviour, rather than just shouting down till the cows come home to little or no effect.
When you arrive home and your dog goes ballistic, jumping all over you, withdraw all attention.
Fold your arms, look at the ceiling. Ignore the dog completely; pretend there is no dog, no looking talking or touching. Dogs can be very hard to ignore if necessary, stand facing a corner and do not come out until your dog is quiet and calm. If the frenzy begins again as you come out of the corner, go back. The dog will soon learn that to get you out of the corner is to stop jumping and barking.
If you reach to pet him and he jumps up – withhold petting until you get a sit. If he gets over excited, go back to the corner or leave the room.
An alternative to this is to replace the corner with looking out of the window like it is the most interesting thing in the world etc.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Just because your dog will sit for you doesn’t mean he will for visitors.
Practice ‘sit for petting’ as a stay exercise, daily. Raise your excitement level gradually, imitating actions of people who greet your dog. Waving – patting – goofy voices – squatting or looming – raise the difficulty factor in tolerable increments and help your dog succeed.
Next, practice with family and friends, at the door after ringing the doorbell, with adults and children of all ages until your dog is fool proof. You will have to train the humans who come to visit as well, as if one in ten visitors’ rewards the behaviour of jumping up it will take a lot longer to train your dog not to jump.
Step away – to the side or backwards suddenly as he jumps so he misses you, verbal praise the instant his feet touch the floor, remind him what he should be doing (sit) then praise/reward.
- Avoid looking, talking and touching (‘No! bad dog’, pushing off and making eye contact).
- Scattering treats and calm touching rewards for the right things.
- Practice makes perfect
From me and the Bartlett Zoo, have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year with your pooches and loved ones!