No Kisses Under the Mistletoe: Shy dogs at Christmas

We all have an image of our dog at Christmas.  He is wearing a silly costume, going from guest to guest with a basket of cookies held in his mouth, impressing people left and right.  Perfect!

The fly in the Christmas ointment is that many dogs are shy.  They are a bit scared of new people, or new situations.  They may tolerate a busy Christmas, but they do not enjoy it.  Insisting our least-favourite in-laws will be comfortable on the lumpy pull-out bed is one thing.  Insisting our shy dog participate in an event that scares them or makes them wholly uncomfortable is entirely another. 

Luckily, we can protect our shy dogs with just a few arrangements during party nights so everyone can stay in the holiday mood. 

Do you have a shy guy?

How can you tell if your dog is feeling like a true social butterfly during your party?  Some dogs will put up with patting even if they are not really comfortable, and some dogs may be fine with two or three people, but a roomful is too much.  This can create situations that are both dangerous and sad - any dog can and will bite if scary things stack up one on top of another.  The easiest way to tell is to watch your dog's body language. 

 

I Love People! I'll Party!

  • Approaches your guests on his own steam, tail wagging.
  • Loosey goosey floppy movements.
  • Goes from person to person asking for patting (or... a bite of that delicious-looking baked stuffed squash).
  • Greets your guests like he greets you.

 

I am not a party animal.

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Simply put, if your dog doesn't approach your guests to greet them as a matter of course, he's telling you almost everything you need to know.  You may also see:

  • Tucked tail, hunched body.
  • Panting, even though it's not warm.
  • Lip licking, yawning out of context.
  • Glancing or looking away.
  • Hiding. 
  • Is different with guests than with you.

 

OK, I have a shy guy.  What can I do?

Your dog's (and your guests') safety is paramount.  Make sure your dog has a place away from the action where he can escape - upstairs, guest room, behind a gate - and mention to your guests that if your dog exits, he needs alone time.  If your dog is very shy, pack some delicious food into a few stuffable toys, tire him out before your guests arrive, and let him have some nice alone time safely behind a closed door.  "Listen" to your shy dog - if he approaches guests willingly, let him.  If he does not, protect him.  Watch out for well-meaning guests who might corner your dog by holding his collar or preventing escape - intervene swiftly, improvise an excuse, and whisk your dog away.

With a bit of effort and organization, you and your shy guy can have a wonderful, fun holiday season.  Enjoy!