Life with a fearful dog requires additional management to ensure that our pets are kept safe and as stress free as possible. There are simple steps that an owner can take to help make the holidays a time of joy and happiness for everyone.
Be sure that your dog has a ‘safe’ space to retreat. As much as we might want our dogs to be involved with all aspects of our lives, for the shy, nervous or fearful dog, being in the thick of things only adds to their anxiety. Before the holidays designate a place for your dog where it can be undisturbed and comfortable. For some dogs a crate or mat in the corner of the living room might suffice. Others may need to be further away from the festivities. Good things should happen in this space, marrow bones are chewed, meals are eaten, treats are shared, stuffed toys are disemboweled. Do this well before the holidays so your dog can learn to feel good in their safe space.
Discuss medication options with a vet. For dogs that are afraid of people, having celebrating guests around, even if they ignore the dog, can be stressful. There are medications that can be used situationally to help your dog feel less anxious. If your dog does feel anxious while people are around it will only reinforce that feeling and make it more likely to occur again in the future. There are other calming options available that do not require a prescription from the vet, experiment with these to find ones that help your dog.
Research boarding kennels before the holiday rush. If you must board your dog during the holidays be sure that the staff understand your dog’s needs. Be specific as to how you want your dog handled, do not assume that kennel staff know how to interact with scared dogs. Draping something over their kennel door might be comforting to your pet. Bring your dog to the site several times before leaving them, make it a positive experience for them with treats and games. Medications and other calming options might be appropriate here as well.
Take advantage of holiday roasts. Giving your dog a tasty tidbit (but avoid the fat!) each time the doorbell rings, or someone comes into your home can go a long way toward changing how your dog feels about new arrivals.
A happy and safe holiday season to you all!