Now let me start this off by saying I am not a Christmas Grinch. Bless him, the poor Grinch was massively misunderstood anyway. He loved Christmas really but his poor little heart was many times too small.
Seriously, two sentences in and I am already distracted. Probably a record. I am a huge fan of Christmas - the lights, the jumpers, the food, the ridiculous movies on repeat all month. I love all of it. But what I don’t love, is seeing photo after photo of dogs being forced to get photos taken with Santa aka Santa Paws.
Let’s be honest, our dogs getting photos with Santa Paws is a purely selfish activity. Given the choice, I’m sure most dogs would prefer to do something else. There are of course some dogs who are extremely optimistic and confident with novelty who enjoy all the fuss and the treats they get when they go to get a photo, but for many dogs, it is a really scary experience. They are in a new environment with music, lots of decorations, lots of people, and then a lovely, but albeit, strange man in a costume. That’s a lot for one dog to take in! For many dogs it is simply too much to take in and it isn’t an enjoyable experience - no thanks, I'd prefer not, let's go somewhere else. While for others it is fear-inducing - holy moly, hard pass, definitely not, this is way too scary. No matter the level of 'no' they are giving, it is still a 'no'. So I ask, why are you forcing your dog into a scary situation for your own enjoyment?
Our dogs have many ways of communicating that they aren’t comfortable. Ask yourself - is your dog slowly creeping towards him? Are they lip licking or yawning? Maybe their ears are down and back? Their tail low? Or maybe they are frozen and barking at him? These are an escalating range of ways your dog can communicate that they aren’t comfortable and this isn’t the right situation for them right now.
Ultimately if you dog is doing anything but walking straight up to Santa Paws of their own choice, they aren’t giving you consent and you are forcing them into a situation they don’t want to be in. Not only are you forcing them to endure an emotionally traumatic situation, but you are also damaging your relationship with them, one that is built on trust, and for what? A cute photo of your dog looking uncomfortable? So I ask again, is a ‘cute’ photo of your dog worth putting them through an emotionally traumatic experience?
If we think about what this is teaching them, it is teaching them that when they politely communicate that they aren’t happy - lip lick, yawn, tail position, shift their weight, move away - it doesn’t work. They don’t get listened to and they are forced to move closer to the scary person or situation. So when they are faced with future scary situations, they are more likely to escalate the way they communicate their emotions. This can look like barking, lunging, snapping or biting. Instantly the dog can be labelled as ‘unpredictable’, ‘reactive’, ‘aggressive’ etc., when in reality, they have learned that they have to shout to be heard because their whispers don’t get listened to. Put yourself into a similar situation, you would react the same way. You would be polite in the beginning, but if you weren’t listened to, you would also escalate they way you communicate how you are feeling. Yes it would generally all be verbal and not physical, but our dogs don’t have that option.
The festive season is meant to be full of joy, and I’m not here to rain on your parade. But as always, I am here to make you stop and think about the choices you are making on your dog’s behalf. Maybe having you in the photo between them and Santa Paws gives them the comfort they need? Or a little bit of distance helps? Or maybe they simply aren’t ready to meet Santa Paws this year, that’s ok. It’s information and it gives you something to build on during the year to try again next year. It’s not uncommon for children to also be scared of Santa, but do we force them to get closer? Watch them cry and scream while they’re held by a scary stranger? No, we don’t (well actually yes some parents do). But why? It's for totally selfish reasons and absolutely no benefit to them. Just photoshop them in!
Enjoy this holiday season and as always, enjoy the journey of becoming a mindful pet owner.
Clearly sleeping and snuggling is a big theme for us at Christmas. Betty loves putting on clothes - you pull something out and she runs to put her head through the hole. Pickle hates all coats so she is always au naturale.