Do you hang a stocking for your dog or wrap presents to put under the tree?
How can we use presents for our dogs to help create a Calm Christmas?
We know that most dogs have certain "loves" that also work to help them relax and reduce stress. While this varies from dog to dog there are some general things that apply to most dogs including chewing, licking, digging, and seeking (hunting). Stressed dogs will often do these things on their own perhaps chewing on the couch or raiding the trash while we are distracted in the other room. If we let our dogs find their own stress relief, it will likely add to our stress when they choose something we didn't approve of. But we can plan a few things to put in their stocking or under the tree to help them relieve stress. We want our stress relieving efforts to also be enriching for dogs so that it will help use up some mental energy. Check out my post on Understanding Enrichment to help determine what your dog might love for Christmas
Ways to invite our dog to do stress relieving behaviors in enriching ways.
Lickmats are a great way to provide a stress reliever in a well timed way. Search the Holiday Cookbook for ideas of foods to spread on your lickmat. Prepare a few mats ahead of time and pop them in the freezer. Then pull them out when you are doing something busy like wrapping/unwrapping presents with the family. You can have the dog go to their safe place (mat, crate, bedroom, where ever they are happy) and enjoy their treasure while you're distracted with holiday activities. If your dog doesn't like the frozen treat, you can pop in the microwave or pull it out 15 min before you are ready to give it to your dog. If you don't have a lickmat, the kids poppers that can be found at the dollar store work wonderfully. You can also use pretty much anything in your kitchen; the spare lids that no longer match any bowls, cups that are the right size for your dog's snout and tongue, the disposable containers microwave meals come in, etc. Anything with ridges or multiple textures will slow your dog down a bit.
Chews are super common and there is a ton of controversy over what is safe for your dog to chew on. Rawhides although very cheap and easy to find are filled with chemicals that I don't want my dogs chewing on. Cooked bones are also off the list of items I let my dogs chew on. My boys are getting some extra large knuckle bones for Christmas as their big chew. No matter what you pick to give your dog to chew, there are a few ways to use that chew to add Calm to your Christmas.
- If you are in a multi-dog household, keep chews up and out of the area while dogs are roaming to prevent any temptation to resource guard or fight over them.
- Have your dog lay on a mat, blanket, or towel to chew on the prize. This reinforces calm on the mat. When your dog gets off the mat, the chew is removed and put up unless the dog is called back to the mat to reset the situation.
- If I'm doing this with dogs that don't know the rules (stay on the mat) I will either place dogs in separate rooms with a door/gate barrier or use a human roadblock. For example, Azul knows the mat rule but puppy Finnegan, my son's dog, does not so I would place Azul's mat in a corner of the room and sit in front of him so I can stop the Finnegan invasion so Azul doesn't feel threatened. And most likely my son is going to be working on teaching Finnegan the mat rule too. If your not supervising inexperienced dogs closely, put them in separate rooms with a barrier between them.
Digging is a hard one for us to duplicate and often we have worked hard at stopping our dog's digging up the flowers so we may not want to encourage this one unless it's a real passion for dogs. For some dogs, digging up a blanket in the bed trying to get it just right so they can relax is very stress releasing. If your dog loves to do this nesting behavior, pull out the old blankets or towels and give them an extra fluffy place to lay. If you live in a snowy climate like me, you may be able to bury a few treasures in the snow for your dog to dig up. To start with buried treasure should stick out a little bit and over time you can bury it deeper. Cam who loves to chase his tennis balls was always losing them in the snow, while my son's previous dog, Isis was the one that loved digging down with her face in the snow to find the missing balls. Azul would much rather dig for moles in the field then balls or treats. Hanging out in the cold while our dogs dig is not one of our happiest moments during the day, but doing it will surely help our dogs settle more once we go back inside.
Seeking, searching, or hunting for treasures is often the enriching activity that will tire our dogs out the most, yet it takes a bit more time setting up. During the holidays we are all short on time! Things like snuffle boxes can be set up ahead of time where as Find It Games take more human interaction. If we have guests in our home, they can often be entertained with teaching them how to play Find It Games or Hide-n-Seek with our dogs which can be great if you need a few extra minutes in the kitchen and want your guest and dog to interact in a safe way.
But my all time favorite enrichment activity of the holiday season is unwrapping treasures! In this video, Azul and Cam are practicing with a high value treat wrapped loosely with a scrap of wrapping paper. We do this a few times before Christmas so they are familiar with the activity before Christmas morning when they unwrap their new treasures.
You can use wrapping paper, newspaper, cardboard boxes, shipping envelopes, or pretty much anything else your dog can shred or tear to hide treasures inside. We have a few balls made of webbing material that you can thread with scraps of old t-shirt or newspaper and hide kibble inside as well.
You can also lay out a blanket and sprinkle your dog's meal kibble and a few treats on top then roll the blanket up. Some dogs do get the bright idea to pick up the blanket and shake it so all the kibble falls to the floor so do this in an area where you don't mind if your dog eats off the floor.
When it comes to enrichment that will help reduce stress, you really need to know your dog; what they love to do and when they will want/need the enrichment activity the most. This is where I can help you set up ideas before the holiday. So if you need help, set up a 30 min Zoom session ASAP.
If you need help with setting up a plan for more then just enrichment ideas, you may want to schedule a 60 minute Zoom session.
These special rates are only good till Friday, December 23rd! After that, holiday rates will apply!
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