By Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin
Holidays Are Stressful for Dogs
The holidays are especially stressful for dogs due to changes in routine and the comings and going of visitors. Many dog bites happen at this time of year.
When visiting a house with a dog, children should be taught not to approach the dog (even if the dog has been friendly on other occasions). If the dog comes to them they should stand still like a tree and let the dog sniff. Only if the dog is wagging and panting and coming to them for attention, and parent and dog owners are supervising and have given permission, should a child touch the dog. Dog owners should gauge their dog’s reaction to visitors. If the dog is overly excited, barking or growling, cowering away, trying to hide or otherwise showing signs of anxiety or aggression, the dog should be kept separate from visiting children for the ENTIRE DURATION of the child’s visit. The dog should have its own place in a crate or another room with toys, a chew toy stuffed with goodies on and its special bed or blanket so that it can be happy and comfortable and away from guests. Even dogs who seem happy with visitors should never be alone in the room with visiting children. No preschooler, toddler or baby should be allowed to be near your dog unless you personally also have your hands on the dog and can prevent face to face contact between child and dog and can prevent the child from hugging or otherwise bothering the dog.
Greeting People at the Door
Dogs should not be allowed to greet visitors at the door. This is for the safety of the dog and the visitors. Keep the dogs in separate room or crate until the visitors are settled and then allow the dog to say hello if appropriate. If you are not sure about your dog, then leave him confined or keep him on a leash. Make sure that the dog associates visitors with something good for the dog, such as special treats or a stuffed chew toy.
Not the Time to Train the Dog
If you do perceive a problem between your dog and visiting children – THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO WORK ON IT. It is not reasonable to use visiting children to help train your dog. Take preventative measures to ensure that your dog doesn’t have the opportunity to bite and once the holiday season is over seek the help of a dog behaviour specialist who uses positive reinforcement methods to solve the dog’s problem.
Family gatherings at a relative’s house are the source of fond memories for many. The relative’s dog may not enjoy these events as much as the rest of the family. Noise, confusion and changes in routine are stressful for dogs. Even a normally calm and docile pet may become agitated enough to bite under the extreme circumstances of a boisterous family celebration. Supervision may be lax if each adult thinks that another is watching the children. Children are the most likely victims of dog bites in this situation. Doggone Crazy offers the following tips:
- Put the dog in his crate with a bone or favourite chew toy, at least during the most hectic times – guests arriving and leaving as well as dinner preparation and serving.
- Assign one adult to be in charge of the dog, to watch for signs of stress and protect from unwanted attention from children.
- Signs of stress include: The dog yawns or licks his chops. The dog shows the white part of his eye in a half moon shape.
- If the dog shows any of these signs, then he is worried and wants to be left alone. Put the dog in his crate or in a room away from the guests with a favourite chew toy or bone.
- If the dog licks his chops, yawns or shows the half moon eye when a child approaches or is petting him, intervene immediately and ensure that the child can’t access the dog.
- Don’t allow visiting children to hug the dog. Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses. Even if the dog tolerates this under normal circumstances he may not tolerate this from strangers or in a high stress situation with lots of noise and people.
- Other signs that the dog does not welcome attention from children (or adult) guests include the following:
The dog turns his head away, walks away or tries to hide under furniture.
The dog freezes and becomes very still, with his mouth closed. He may be staring intensely at the person who is bothering him and may growl. This dog is a few seconds away from a bite.
The dog growls or raises the fur along his back.
- Assign one adult to supervise each baby or toddler with no other tasks expected.
- If you have multiple dogs, consider kenneling them, crating them or keeping them in another room during large gatherings.
- Supervise at all times.
More Information About How to Be Dog Aware
Visit Family Paws for tips and information from baby/toddler and dog relationship expert and dog behavior consultant Jennifer Shryock.