Hopefully a time of warmth and good company, and thankfully, it usually is.

What it certainly is: a time when everything is “different than usual.” We cook and eat other things than usual, get visitors, and/or go on visits.  Routines change. Sometimes, we visit people who are not used to dogs, or they come to us.

That means stress buckets can be full faster than usual for our dog and us. And when our stress bucket fills up, it also impacts the dog. This isn’t all “bad” stress: the stress meter can also go up by positive stress, by things we, or the dog, like.

Our nervous system consists of the activating part (the sympathetic half) and the calming part (the parasympathetic half). For us to feel good, these two parts must be balanced. The sympathetic nervous system is also activated by positive things. Things that might make us happy, but stress hormones in the body go up, and our resilience decreases.

Therefore, there are some things that we need to consider during the Christmas season in order for our dogs to stay safe and (more or less) balanced.


I mentioned cooking and eating differently than usual. Preparing things that are usually not on the menu can also be very interesting for your dog. Especially if there are more people than normal in the house. Or if you go visiting family or friends, and your dog comes along,  there might be an extra risk that your dog gets into something that is not good for him.

Especially if small children are present, it is often essential to be extra vigilant. Trash buckets that are usually inaccessible can possibly be less securely closed, to name just one example, and your dog might take advantage of the opportunity.

What kinds of things could be dangerous? Cooked bones are a significant risk. Whereas most dogs can digest raw bones relatively well, bones that are in some way heated or prepared pose a high risk of splintering. As a result, there can be severe damage to the gastrointestinal tract when these are eaten, which can even be fatal.

But satay sticks are also a known risk. They can still smell quite tasty to the dog and sometimes get swallowed whole. That, too, can cause damage to the body and cause nasty infections. Skewers can “wander” through the body, damaging various organs in their path.

An extra warning should be made for the use of gingerbread. Here in The Netherlands, this is often given if there is a suspicion that the dog has eaten something sharp. Please check the label of 0% sugar gingerbread:  here, xylitol is usually used as a sweetener, which is highly toxic to dogs. Even a tiny dose can lead to coma, and even if the dog survives, there is still a chance of severe liver failure. Another word for xylitol is the oh-so-innocent-sounding birch sugar. Yet another designation is E967.

And, of course, chocolate is toxic to dogs. Chocolate contains theobromine, which humans have no problems with,  but most dogs cannot process it well. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is for dogs. White chocolate does not contain theobromine and, therefore, is not harmful in that respect.

If you suspect your dog has ingested any of the above, it is vital to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.


If at all possible, your dog must be given the opportunity for the parasympathetic nervous system to do its proper calming work and unwind.

The dog didn’t choose Christmas; we do. We can consciously accept that we will be stressed for a few days and say, “We’ll recover later.” We know why we do it and know it will last only a few days. The dog doesn’t know that. He cannot predict for how long life will be this way. That is why it is all the more important for the dog to have the opportunity to chill and relax. It is, therefore, wise to think about this in advance: are there ways you can achieve this for your dog?

Is there a place in the house where your dog can be alone for a while? A separate room or an area sectioned off with puppy gates or another barrier? It should be a place where visitors are not allowed, an absolute peace and safety zone for the dog. Young children should not be permitted there – the dog must be sure that he is safe and can relax and sleep.

Even though the dog may seem to insist he wants to be in on all the fun (food motivated especially can have major FOMO 😉), we often see that once the door closes, there is peace, and the dog will sleep and rest. Then, the batteries can be recharged.

Make sure the chill-out room is safe:

Take care there are no things that can be demolished and/or eaten, no houseplants that can be pulled out of pots, and no expensive stuff that shouldn’t break. No things the dog can hurt himself on.

Put your dog away with something nice, like a stuffed kong. Licking and chewing are calming and cause adrenaline drops; then there can be rest. Any treats given should also be safe: give chews only under supervision.

Nowadays, there are a lot of mobile cameras, including baby monitors with cameras. So, if you like to keep an eye on things without disturbing your dog, that’s another option. That way, you can watch from time to time without the dog noticing.

These are things that are sometimes less easy to arrange when you’re visiting. In that case, is it really best for the dog to come along, or could he stay home? Our dog is part of the family, so we would like to involve him in everything – but are you really doing him a favor?  Sometimes, it can be a relief for your dog to quietly stay at home, with or without a – trusted – babysitter.

(Note: this applies only to dogs that can be alone for a few hours. If your dog has any form of separation anxiety, these tips do not apply. That is a situation that is too complex to discuss in this blog.)

Wishing you a wonderful and relaxing Christmas season!