Whether it’s Christmas, Diwali or you’re just having a dinner party, everyone loves a good celebration. But loud noises, crowds and unfamiliar situations can be worrying for pets who aren’t used to them, so here are a few tips to help you and your pet enjoy party season.
Hosting a party
There are plenty of things you can do to make party life as comfortable as possible for your dog, both before and during the celebrations.
Make sure he has somewhere familiar and quiet to escape to.
Not all dogs enjoy company or crowds, even if they are well socialised. So make sure his participation is up to him. Prepare a quiet room in a different part of the house full of his favourite toys and bedding. A couple of weeks before, try to help him get used to this place and make sure he’s comfortable there by playing with him and rewarding him when he reacts positively. If he has a safe refuge, he will be less stressed.
Tire him out.
Go for a good long walk before celebrations start and make sure he’s relieved himself.
Consider how well socialised your dog is.
It’s important for all dogs to be socialised when they’re young, especially so if you’re a sociable person yourself. A well-socialised dog can happily be a part of your celebrations and may well enjoy the excitement of a crowd of people in his house as much as you. If that’s the case, simply introduce your dog to your friends when they arrive, as you’d usually do. If you’re not confident about how your dog will behave, don’t take any chances at a party. You don’t want him either becoming scared and running away, or becoming over-excited and jumping all over people. Plan well in advance the best solution for you and your dog. To avoid anxiety and unnecessary stress you might need to consider dog sitting as an option.
Many party decorations, especially at Christmas and Halloween, can be quite hazardous. Long trails of fairy lights can be a tempting target to chew, chocolate tree decorations intended for human consumption are poisonous for dogs, and even the Christmas tree itself is mildly toxic, as are many Christmas favourites such as holly and mistletoe. Get your dog used to ignoring decorations by playing with him and his favourite toys and games around the tree, keeping his attention on safe, tested and familiar objects. Keep decorations high and out of reach, avoid using potentially hazardous materials (like glass decorations that could break into dangerous shards), tape wires down or keep them behind furniture and make sure he knows the tree is off-limits. Candles are another one to watch out for. He will probably steer clear of fire, but a wagging tail can present a hazard, so keep a look out to make sure your dog doesn’t get too close.
Most dogs will be delighted at the sudden influx of new people willing to treat them with tidbits of party food, but in reality it may not be much of a treat. An over-supply of rich human food and leftovers can cause vomiting or diarrhoea, bones can be a choking hazard and chocolate intended for human consumption is poisonous and will require an emergency vet visit. The most sensible option is to ask your guests not to give in to his big, puppy-dog eyes, no matter how cute he looks! Let them know in advance your dog has his own meal times, treats and specific food, although he is charming and knows how to beg for something different from time to time.
Some of your party guests will almost certainly make a fuss of him, which can be fantastic if he’s a dog who loves attention, but keep an eye on him while you’re busy playing the perfect host and make sure it’s not all becoming a bit too much and he becomes over-excited. If necessary, you may want to give him half an hour in the quiet room you prepared to calm him down or ask an enthusiastic guest, a closer friend or member of the family to take him out for a quick walk.
Most dogs are excited by the constant paper-ripping and appearance of new things at birthdays or Christmas, so be mindful of what you’ve just wrapped or unwrapped in case it suddenly acquires a few unwanted teeth marks! A great tactic during this time is to give him a present of his own; perhaps a delicious chew that will keep him busy while you unwrap your own treats.
Fireworks parties present issues all of their own. Loud, sporadic noises that don’t have an obvious source can be frightening and confusing for your dog. Here are some additional tips that will help your Fireworks Night, Diwali or New Year’s Eve celebration go more smoothly.
Acclimatise him to noises.
If your dog is easily spooked by loud noises, ask your vet if they can recommend a pet behaviourist. Training and acclimatisation, especially when young, can teach dogs that bangs and rumbles are nothing to worry about. You can also buy CDs designed to get your dog used to loud noises.
Keep him in after nightfall.
Walk your dog during daylight hours and keep him inside after nightfall. Even if you’re not having a fireworks party yourself, your neighbours might be, and panicking animals can easily run away and get lost or injured, so it’s also a good idea to make sure he’s microchipped.
Speak to your vet.
If your dog’s behaviour doesn’t change, let your vet know that he’s still showing signs of anxiety when noise is very loud. There are a number of different commercial solutions available, such as pheromone sprays, that your vet can advise you about.
Be calm and reassuring.
Perhaps the most important cue for your dog’s behaviour is your own. Stay relaxed and calm and do not make more of a fuss of him than normal, even if he acts distressed. Try to reassure him that everything is OK and carry on as though everything is normal and he will soon start to follow your lead.
Keep curtains drawn and windows closed to quieten fireworks outside. Play music or turn on the TV to provide a constant, identifiable noise to mask infrequent, random bangs.
Provide canine company.
A problem shared is a problem halved. If your friends have dogs with whom your dog gets along, especially if they aren’t fazed by loud noises, ask them to visit.
It’s not a great idea to take your dog to an outdoor festival or firework display unless you are completely confident in his ability to stay focused on you and your commands. He needs to be able to take unexpected noises and crowds in his stride so, if you have any doubts at all, play it safe and leave him at home.
Reward for good behaviour
If your dog behaves well at your party, walks to heel well while you’re outside, or even lies quietly in another part of the house while your guests are having fun, it’s important to let him know what a good boy he’s been. Treat him and lavish him with praise and, if he’s in another room, drop in from time to time so that he doesn’t feel abandoned. Of course, the biggest treat for him will be your company. You’re having a party, so it’s only fair you give him the quality time he needs to enjoy himself too!