Just like that, the festive season is upon us once again. First, Halloween, followed up Guy Fawkes, Christmas Day and the big NYE. Not to mention all the parties, summer barbeques and socialising to be had in between. It can be a lot for our furry friends to deal with, so we’ve rounded up the DFNZ team’s top tips for keeping your dog calm, happy and relaxed as we see out 2021.
KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED
You may not even be aware that the party season has an effect on your dog. It’s a high energy time of year for humans and our emotions rub off on our canine counterparts a lot more than you may realise. Between end-of-year fatigue, a high level of house visitors, childrens’ excitement and our own stress levels heightened, your dog is picking up on all sorts of new signals and emotions from your home. The way they react to this could be obvious or expressed in the most subtle of ways. Keep an eye out for signs of canine anxiety – including wide eyes, whining, flattened ears and excessive yawning or panting.
EXERCISE, BUT DO IT SMARTLY
Before heading off on a walk with your dog, check for any local firework displays or public parties and festivals so you can avoid them. If they are within earshot of your house, make sure your dog has had their walk before they get started – especially as loud noises can scare pets into bolting if they’re outside. You will want to exercise your dog well enough that they are more relaxed once the festivities begin, so if you don’t allow your dog off lead consider a “sniffari” instead. Sniffaris are a long lead exercise where your dog chooses the path you take, determined by their nose. Nosework can calm and relax a dog while burning excess energy and letting them learn all about the world around them, in their own language. Think of it as your dog reading the daily canine news!
STOCK UP ON INTERACTIVE TOYS
We swear by interactive toys for our dogs! Nina Ottosson puzzles are fantastic for keeping a dog’s mind busy, so they have less time to think about being anxious or stressed! Using their nose and paws, your dog needs to move parts of the puzzle around in order to reach the treats inside. Not only is it a great distraction, but it will help strengthen your dog’s memory and problem-solving skills. If your dog is the easily frustrated type, give a lick mat a go! Spread the mat with your dog’s favourite wet food or treat such as a pet-safe peanut butter, and let them lick it off the textured surface. You may not know that the act of licking actually releases endorphins in your dog, which in turn will create a calm, less anxious dog.
STAY SAFE INSIDE
It might sound obvious but anxious dogs are best kept inside with the doors firmly shut if there are fireworks going off or loud parties happening outside. Remember to close curtains or blinds to try and muffle as much noise and bright lights as possible. Not only is it quieter indoors, but this means there’s no chance for them to panic and run away. Being confined to one room can make worried dogs even more distressed, so make sure they’re free to move around the house, but set up “safe spaces” in quiet areas of the room for them to retreat to if need be. Remember to bring cats inside as well and set up a litter box in a private corner.
CREATE A SAFE HAVEN
Having a few safe spots to hide in can help relax your pooch. This might mean making their favourite spot or crate even more comfortable with extra blankets and some of your clothes – your smell can help calm your dog. If you are holding a party in your home, make sure you set up their spot/s far away from where the party is taking place. Cover the crate or hiding spot if you can, to replicate a canine’s natural habitat – their den. Check back on them frequently and remember to reward with healthy treats for calm behaviour!
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STAY CALM AND SPEAK SOFTLY
Try not to alarm your dog further by using baby talk, making a fuss or become stressed and anxious yourself. It’s best to speak in a low, calm voice and rest a reassuring hand on them. Think of yourself as the heroic leader – the one your dog can look to when they’re feeling a little less than brave.
PLAY MUSIC OR TELEVISION
A 2002 study conducted by animal behaviourist Dr. Deborah Wells shows that classical music helps dogs relax. The dogs rested more, spent more of their time being quiet, and spent less time standing than when exposed to stimulation like conversation or other music genres such as pop or rock. We’ve taken the liberty of putting together a Dog Friendly New Zealand playlist on Spotify, so give it a whirl and see if your dog responds – it’s designed for human ears too! If music’s not your dog’s thing, try Disney movies – our own team has had great success calming their own dogs with the soothing music and voices of our classic childhood favourites.
SUPPLEMENTS AND NATURAL AIDS
Vets can prescribe calming medication if your pet is extra anxious, but there are some natural alternatives you may like to try first. Adaptil plugins and collars release synthetic appeasing pheromones, which can make your cat or dog less anxious. More affordable herbal remedies such as Bach Flower or Rescue Remedy Pet also come highly recommended by pet owners around the globe for use in calming both dogs and cats.
If you already know that fireworks or loud parties make your furry friend anxious, you can gradually get them used to the sounds beforehand by playing sound effects. This will take a lot of patience and time and involves gradually increasing the sound until your pet’s familiar with it. Be careful not to go too quickly however and always reduce the noise if your pet starts showing signs of anxiety.
UPDATE YOUR DETAILS
Last but certainly not least – check on the NZ Animal Register that all your contact details are up to date. This is extremely important for cats or Houdini dogs. If your pet escapes your property when fearful or anxious, they may get lost and disorientated. Ensuring your details are correct against your pet’s microchip means you have every chance of being reunited with your beloved friend. Remember – this is something that should be checked whenever you move house or change phone numbers!
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