From trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving to the colourful kaleidoscope of fireworks that light up the sky on Bonfire Day, autumn is truly a festive time of year. Such traditions help us cope with the incoming cold weather and shorter days. They also prepare us for the Christmas season around the corner.
Although everything feels very different this year due to Covid-19, there’s no doubt that there’s no change for many pet dogs. For them as usual, they will not find the holiday season as exciting as you do. Holiday celebrations and the fanfare that comes with them often cause distress for puppies, elderly dogs, and those who have previously suffered a bad experience.
Wondering how to keep your dog calm during fireworks, Halloween celebrations, and other autumn festivities? Read on to discover three ways to tell if your dog is stressed and three tips for keeping your dog safe and sound.
3 ways to tell if your dog is stressed
Aside from obvious signs, like shaking, pacing, whining, and hiding, dogs show distress in other, subtler ways. It’s important to note that the following signals are just a few indicators of fear and unease in dogs. You know your dog best, so keep an eye on them and pay attention to any unusual behaviours.
#1. Notice changes in the eyes, ears, and mouth.
There are a few tell-tale signs of stress you’ll want to watch out for, starting with the facial features. As the old saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul. The same is just as true for dogs as it is for humans. Dilated eyes with the whites showing are a sure sign of fright.
Other indications of stress in the eyes, ears, and mouth include:
- Panting and/or drooling
- Excessive blinking
- Flattened ears
#2. Mind the legs and the tail.
A dog whose tail is between their legs or wagging low to the ground is obviously unhappy, but did you know that their paws and legs can also indicate distress? If your dog raises one of their paws during the festivities, they may be trying to signal their fear to you.
Another inconspicuous sign is how they carry their body weight. Dogs will move their weight away from the stimulus, which may cause them to sit strangely or go rigid. Take note of any changes in posture.
#3. Watch for distraction and destructive behaviours.
Stressed dogs in crowded environments often sniff at the ground to distract themselves. If your pup is sniffing everything in sight, they may feel trapped or scared.
Some dogs show fear in more destructive ways, such as snapping, scratching, and chewing furniture or their own paws.
These expressions of fear are heart-breaking to witness and bring with them a feeling of human helplessness.
3 tips for keeping your dog safe and sound this holiday season
Many dog owners are (understandably) tempted to dress up their dogs and take them out trick-or-treating. Sure, it would make for some adorable photos, but unfortunately, most dogs aren’t keen on wearing costumes and even less keen on navigating an outside, noisy environment.
It’s best to arrange for someone to be with your dog whilst you go trick-or-treating. You don’t want to leave your dog home alone, as they may panic and injure themselves.
You should never take your dog to a fireworks display, even if they do well in crowds. Remember, their sense of hearing is four times more sensitive than your own. It also goes without saying that your pup should avoid candle-lit carved pumpkins, bonfires, and similar hazards.
Here are three more ways you can keep your dog feeling safe and happy, whether you’re hosting a party in your own home or waiting for the Bonfire Day fireworks show to start.
Tip #1: Create a safe space for your dog.
Before the festivities begin, set up a safe space in one of your dog’s favourite areas of the home. Make it as appealing and comfortable as possible, with all their favourite toys and soft bedding. You may want to consider turning on the radio or TV to create a distraction. Be sure to draw the blinds as well.
Having a cosy space to retreat to when the celebration starts may prevent your dog from hiding, but not always. If they do hide, don’t try to coax them out or punish them, as this will only worsen their stress. Sometimes, dogs knows best.
Tip #2. Mind your own body language.
Dogs are expert empaths. They pick up on your own mood and body language, so if you seem overly excited or anxious, they may emulate that behaviour. It’s only natural to want to cuddle your pup when they’re scared. If your dog comes to you seeking comfort, don’t deny them.
It can feel like a difficult balance, just don’t go overboard and try to interfere if your dog seems to be in a dilemma and doesn’t seek out your attention in the usual way.
Tip #3. Make sure all your dog’s basic needs are met.
Reviewing the day-to-day routine is one of the best ideas to ensure your dog has all their daily needs met. This may be on a different schedule to usual during festivities.
A tired dog with a full belly will usually feel a little more relaxed so consider when to feed and walk your dog beforehand. Consider giving your pup a snack that’s rich in carbs, like plain, cooked white rice, as this can help them sleep. You may also want to provide enrichment and activities so that when there’s a lot going on, they can feel satisfied that they’ve had plenty of attention.
Depending on your dog’s mood and behaviour, you may be able to distract them by brushing up on their obedience training. Grab some of their favourite treats and run through their commands.
Having a safe place that your dog can retreat to is also something to plan ahead and if they’re hiding somewhere, don’t disturb them as it may create unnecessary stress.
Remember the best way to keep your dog cool and collected this holiday season is to plan ahead and pay attention to their mood and body language. From there, you can work out how best to lend a paw.
If you’re worried about keeping your dog calm during the festivities, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the training process, you can prepare now with this Sounds Sensitivity Course, created by Eryn Martyn-Godfrey at I Believe in Magic Dog Training.
Bobs Broadbent is the founder of Dogknows. For more information about Dogknows dog walking, training and dog care services (and daily dose of cute pup pics), check our customer services website or Facebook and Instagram.