Creating Safe Spaces for your Dog this Festive Season

The Christmas countdown has well and truly begun, with a lot of houses across the UK already proudly donning their lights.

Dog trainer and owner of Paw Skills, Rosie (@PawSkillsDogTraining and @wanderlustwoofs), is back to give us her top tips on keeping your dog calm and creating safe spaces this festive season...

When we've had a busy day or a long week at work we like to enjoy our downtime and our time to decompress. Whether that's watching the TV, sipping a glass of wine, listening to some music or reading our favourite book.

Dogs carry stress and have emotions so also need their downtime and time to decompress. Say for instance the neighbours cat was in the garden, there were squirrels along the garden fence, Amazon delivered a parcel and next door had some workmen in; that's an awful lot of excitement in one day for a dog!

Remember dogs sleep to heal, to grow and to recuperate, so like us they can feel the effects of tiredness.

Over the holidays we're going to be around more with more time on our hands. There's going to be more excitement, things will change in the house.

A tree will appear! There will be different smells, fun parcels that you're not allowed to touch, lots of extra deliveries, people will be wearing funny hats and there will be an air of excitement through the house. Depending on the lockdown rules we may even be allowed a visitor or two over the festive period!

As much as we understand that the holidays mean celebrations, dogs see it as an ordinary day. We can't turn round to them and explain today is the day Santa visited and we've got lots of presents to open!

Create a safe space for your dog

Creating a safe space

It's important to try and keep your dog dogs routine relatively similar to what they normally expect; make sure they've had an opportunity to have a walk or have the toilet opportunity in the morning before opening your presents and give them a safe space to go to.

When we have had a busy day with the kids or entertaining the in-laws we often feel exhausted. We may need a nap and sometimes we just want a bit of peace and quiet. Dogs feel the same so create that safe, quiet space for them.

A great idea is to create a lovely safe den in a different room separate to everybody else making sure that little hands don't go and disturb the dog. Use a crate with a blanket over if your dog is used to a crate or make an extra snuggly bed with lots of blankets.

Using gates

The use of baby gates works really well for this to ensure the dog has freeroaming space, a nice comfy bed some water and some things to keep them busy away from people in the house disturbing them.

Keep them entertained

A great long-lasting enrichment tool is a Kong.
Top trainer tip! Soak a couple of handfuls of Wilsons cold pressed in some warm water to create a nice smooth paste. Fill the Kong with this and it gives a long lasting nutritional way of feeding or an extra special snack! By putting it in the freezer you gain yourself a little extra time too as it's much harder for the dogs to work at and it's their version of an ice pop!

Give them space

Make sure you find time to give your dog some space during the day. Present opening can be a very exciting time for young people, and for us adults! We rip open boxes, we screech and squeal, we throw paper everywhere and we eat chocolate for breakfast so there are lots of hazards around and things for dogs to grab. Don’t forget dogs feed off our excitement and can act differently when we are excited. Why not combine present opening with breakfast time for your dog so that they can have their breakfast in peace whilst you make a huge mess in the living room.

Greet guests calmly to keep your dog calm

Calm greetings

Visitors to the home can be really exciting for dogs, especially because we've not experienced much of that this year so it's a great novelty for dogs to have someone come into the home. Make sure you give your dog a hand by not getting too overexcited when people come through the door; calmly greet them into your home, say your hellos as you walk through the house. If the door swings open and we do a big cheer hello our dogs are going to want to get involved with that too! They love a party and often think everyone who comes in the doors for them so make sure your visitors are prepped and ready!

Visitors can help with your training by entering calmly and greeting the dog down at their level quietly. Leave a pot of Wilson’s white fish skins by the door so as they come in they can give your dog a nice treat for a polite greeting and the fish skin cubes are lovely and crunchy to keep your dog busy.

Some dogs are nervous of visitors, some dogs haven't had a socialisation, haven't had a nice experience or may struggle with overwhelming situations. A nice quiet space like your den and gated off area in a quiet part of the house, where visitors won't intrude, means your dog can have some relaxing time alone. Don’t be afraid to tell visitors they can’t go and play with the dog.

Top trainer tip! Research has shown that Reggae provides a relaxing, rhythmic beat which helps calm dogs.

Prepare for fireworks

Don’t forget that New Year's Eve is coming up. There will likely be fireworks and late nights. for top tips on how to deal with this see our previous Wilsons blog on how to keep your dog safe during firework season.

Top trainer tip! Tell your dog when they get things right! Have pots of treats around the house and when they get something right mark it with a clicker or a ‘good girl/boy’ command and give them a treat. This helps them understand what they’ve done well.

Read more tips and advice here >