• Preparing Your Dog For Christmas

December 17, 2020

Denise Nuttall Animal Behaviorist and dog trainer talks about how to prepare for Christmas with your dogs in mind. 

Christmas is coming! Oh yes, it is; it will be here quicker than you can say “pantomime”.

As you are busy planning your Christmas or Thanksgiving, please don’t forget to plan for your canine pals. Whether you are planning on family visiting you, or you will be visiting family, don’t forget to include the family dogs in your planning.

Christmas can be stressful for dogs as many are not accustomed to travelling to see other family or are not accustomed to larger numbers of people visiting their home.

Here are some of the common things that worry dogs over the Christmas period.

  • Travelling to strange places.
  • New stuff arriving around the house, such as trees popping up in their home and noisy singing and dancing cuddly toys to name a few.
  • New toys, or equipment turning up. For example remote controlled or noisy toys, large dining table brought in, high chairs, push chairs etc.
  • Babies and children.
  • Elderly people; walking sticks, walking frames, hats etc.
  • Lively people/parties; inebriated people (smell of alcohol or behaviour changes).
  • Visiting family dogs or other animals.

Often, a series of worrying things have an additive effect and the dog is unable to cope.

photo of growling dog

Even if your dog was happy to see family members and dogs in previous years, things change that might mean this is not the case this year. For example, as dogs age they become less tolerant of new and strange things. A puppy might have been fine last year, but if they have not continued to have experiences like family gatherings, may not be comfortable this year. As pups start to reach maturity (any time from 6 months for smaller breeds to about 3 years for larger breeds) they may start to use aggression to keep scary people away from them; whereas, previously, they might have shown appeasement behaviors. Appeasement behaviors are frequently mistaken for wanting belly rubs or smiling. This can lead to bites because appeasement is the dog asking for space. If not given, and the dog is touched, their signal didn’t work and now they have to escalate.


It is always wise to ensure your dog has a planned safe space. If you have family visiting you, this is easier as you can prepare a room in advance that your dog can learn to settle in. Make sure this is a room that visitors will not need to enter. Your dog should have learned to feel safe and comfortable in this space for an hour or so before you have your visitors. To help with this, make sure this space has his favorite toys, and especially food activity toys so they have a pleasant activity to do in this space. If you start now, by Christmas, your dog should be comfortable to spend some time in this space, if necessary, whilst you have visitors.

If you are taking your dog away with you, get a fabric kennel in advance (now) and let him learn to settle in this space. Pack the kennel with fun stuff and food activity toys so that he learns it is a safe and enjoyable space. The kennel can become a portable safe space for him that can be used whilst you are visiting. Discuss in advance what space will be available for your dog and plan where you are going to let your dog rest in his kennel if he needs to.

If you know that your dog does not like children or other dogs and you will expect him to come with you to a place where there are children and other dogs (or you will have visitors with children and dogs coming to stay), please re-think. If your dog doesn’t like kids or dogs, then perhaps think a bit more about whether this will be safe. Dogs can bite when frightened or stressed; please don’t put them in a position where this is the only option for them. You may need to make different plans, even consider letting your dog stay somewhere else that might feel safer for him during this time.

If you are not sure how your dog feels, then please make yourself familiar with the signs of fear in dogs. Please print off this useful poster and make sure you can recognise these signs in your dog.

I hope this helps you to prepare for a safe and enjoyable family Christmas!

Denise Nuttall B.Sc (Hons) Applied Animal Behaviour, M.Res (dist).

Dog Behaviour Expert, BBC Radio Solent
Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)
Full Member The Canine Training and Behaviour Society (TCBTS)

Member U.K. Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDTUK) 00963.
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Animal Training Instructor
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist http://www.pawsinhand.co.uk
www.fish4dogs.com #DogsLoveFish #SwitchToFish

Fish4Dogs is happy to share content from our selected supporters and ambassadors but please note that the above opinions and views are that of the contributor and not that of Fish4Dogs itself.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.