You need to think about your Covid dog this Christmas because many pups acquired during lockdown will never have been accustomed to having visitors to their home during the important socialisation period. This means these dogs are at increased risk of displaying territorial aggression and, since this is the first Christmas that has not been locked down since the pandemic, they are very unlikely to be prepared for a traditional houseful indoors. If you don’t know for sure that your dog loves to have guests at home, don’t assume they will just because you do. Even before Covid, many people traditionally get attacked by dogs when visiting family, some cases extremely seriously, or even fatal. Please don’t assume your dog will be fine.
I think my dog will be OK because we had guests this summer.
Your dog might be alright, but we need to realise that we often overlook subtle signals from younger dogs showing they are, in fact, nervous. As they mature, their puppy avoidance turns into something much more aggressive looking. Also, you probably used an outdoor space as well so your dog could keep themselves out of the way. Mostly people will be indoors over Christmas. So don’t assume your dog will still be alright several months later because they may have discovered their adult tool kit by now: TEETH!
Is it too late to prepare my Covid lockdown dog for visitors this Christmas?
Yes, it is very likely too late as it can take a while for a dog to learn to cope with a big gathering in their home if they are not accustomed to visitors. But here are suggestions to consider to make things easier and safer.
What can I do at this late stage?
For dogs that can cope alone
Start to create a safe space for your dog in a room that visitors will not be allowed to visit or walk past. If you can introduce your dog to this space now and they find it enjoyable, they will be less stressed to use it when your visitors start to arrive.
Create enrichment activities for them in this safe haven so they can have fun in this space. This Facebook group has a wonderful selection of ideas, and this article also has some great suggestions.
Whilst your dog is in this space and relaxing, start to play a recording of your doorbell very quietly. As long as your dog doesn’t react to this sound, over the days ahead continue to increase the volume. Place a blue tooth speaker near the doorbell speaker so that it sounds like the real thing and increase the volume over the days to be similar to the real doorbell. Your dog should start to get accustomed to this sound without reacting to it. Ensure your dog uses this space on their own for increasing durations every single day before you expect visitors. But do make sure they are happy in that space alone or you could create a different problem. On the big day, make sure you show your dog into their safe haven before the first visitor arrives.
For dogs with separation related distress
You should still create a safe haven as described above but unless a family member your dog trusts is able to sit with them during the festivities, this might be difficult for a dog unaccustomed to visitors and suffering from separation distress. It may be worth suggesting a shorter visit or having no visitors this year. If this isn’t possible you should discuss the situation with your vet. It might be appropriate for just one day to consider mild sedation. If you do take this option, please ensure no strangers go into the room where your dog stays because sometimes medications can lead to disinhibition, that could result in a nasty incident with a fearful dog. Your dog should be left peacefully sleeping in a safe space but it’s better if a trusted family member can spend time with your dog so they aren't all alone and worried. This approach is only suitable in emergencies and for short periods so is not suitable if you have family staying over the whole Christmas period.
Christmas should be a time of celebration. Please don’t take risks. Plan ahead to ensure visitors are safe and your dog feels comfortable. We have never experienced a period in which so many dogs were unable to be properly socialised and we simply cannot accurately predict how they may behave in such exceptional circumstances.