Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress
Author, Jan Casey

Well, here it is again - "that" time of the year. For our dogs, there are some significant
changes which affect them: the weather, the number of hours we engage them in
outside activities, their feeding schedules, their sleeping schedules, our energy
and tolerance levels, perhaps even our demeanor toward them.

With the holidays looming, there may even be more changes for our dogs to
contend with - the invasion of strangers into "their" homes, foods
prepared that they may not share, normally quiet times shattered by raucous
cheers from fans gathered around the television as the favorite teams play
football. Our homes may be invaded by
small aliens - children. From a dog's point of view, we humans start to behave
in a way that can only be described as full-blown insanity.

While we can poke fun at our dogs' bewilderment of our changes in daily
life, what isn't so funny is the fact that the number of dog bites increases at
this time of the year. The stresses we
feel may transfer directly to our dogs.
Routines are interrupted, our dogs are treated differently, and we may
entertain people who are not dog-savvy.
If children are invited to a normally childless household, the
ingredients for disaster have been gathered.

To prevent the occurrence of an incident which will ruin the holidays and
could potentially cause a life to be lost, it's important to know the signs of
stress in your dog. Far too many people seem completely oblivious to the
signals their dogs are sending out fast and furiously. Panting when it is not hot and whining are two obvious signals of distress. Lip licking (also called tongue flicks) and
whale eye (whites of the dog's eye showing as a half moon) while little Johnny
gives McKinley a hug is the way a dog screams he is uncomfortable. The vast majority of dogs do not like to be hugged nor ridden like a horse, especially not by the small intruders. Unless you have spent many hours socializing your dog with children and know, without a doubt, that your dog is child-friendly, there is a risk when they are
together. If you think your dog will be just fine with the kids, please Google "child killed by family dog." The number of times parents report "the dog seemed friendly," or "the dog never showed aggression before" may astound you.
I can guarantee the dogs had been sending out stress signals for a long
time, but they went unheeded. Supervision and separation will be the keys to

The tail - a wag is not necessarily a sign of happiness. Wags convey many messages: large, circular wags or slow, sweeping wags may indicate happiness and comfort with a
situation; stiff, upright, tight wags may indicate discomfort with a situation,
a discomfort that can lead to a bite; fast, small wags at a very low elevation
or between the legs may indicate fear, another signal that a bite may be

Dogs are such unique individuals, it's important that you learn to read
your dog and know the signals she sends when she is stressed. Look for wrinkly foreheads, the corners of her mouth pulled back tight, listen for growls (growling dogs mean business), ears plastered flat against the back of the neck, raised lips, yawning,
"shaking it off," scratching, sniffing, pilo-erection (hackles up),
and turning away. While any of these could be normal daily behaviors, when put in the context of stressful situations, recognition of these stress signs can prevent a bite.

While most of us will not change our plans for the holidays just to avoid
stressing our dogs, we can take steps to help the dogs cope with our madness.
Dogs should be given their own places to feel safe, away from all
visitors. A quiet room with a little soft music to dampen the other noises will help. Add a frozen stuffed Kong to the picture and perhaps spray the area with Comfort Zone (DAP). If there is any chance your guests may intrude on the dog's space
accidentally (or on purpose if you are lucky enough to have one of
"those" relatives or friends), then be sure your dog is safely locked
in a crate.

Try to make extra time available to exercise your dog thoroughly on the day
of the festivities. Feed him on schedule, if at all possible, and take him out for a good bathroom break before guests arrive. Ever suffered from a dry mouth during a stressful
situation? Consider your dog may also get dry mouth and leave a bowl of water within easy access as dogs may drink more when stressed as well.

If your dog is highly fearful and/or reactive, you may wish to talk with
your vet about medications to help calm her anxiety during the holidays. While some dogs may do fine with the changes you make to accommodate them, there are some who will be so seriously stressed, they may need extra help from a prescription drug.

Do your best to keep to a routine during the coming holiday months. Daily exercise, staying on a schedule, and sticking to a healthy diet will benefit the dog - and you!

Jan Casey is a reward-based trainer in Florida at Courteous Canine, Inc. and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs. Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.
Mrs. Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet Pages and Kid's Korner . This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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