Footy Finals and your Dog

So firstly, I need to tell you a couple of things about me.

I grew up in Braybrook, deep in the heart of Melbourne’s Western Suburbs. I was raised as the youngest of three, what in Melbourne in the 70s and 80s would be considered a culturally diverse household. By that I mean Dad was an Essendon Supporter, Mum was a Collingwood Supporter, my eldest Brother and I Carlton supporters and my Sister, who was somewhat indifferent but probably leant towards Collingwood in solidarity with Mum.

You see in Melbourne, Australian Rules Football has been, is and always be, a borderline religion.

My Brother was a Carlton tragic and I instinctively followed. Every winter through my teen years and early 20s, every Saturday I used to get on the bus into the City, then on a Tram or train to either the old defunct suburban grounds like Princes Park, Western Oval, Windy Hill, VFL Park or the hallowed world-famous MCG to watch my beloved Blues. I’d ride every bump, cheer every goal, boo every umpiring decision I disagreed with, and hopefully, sing the beautiful club theme song after the final siren signalled that my on-field Idols had chalked up another magnificent victory. I’d come home, with either tales of glory, or bemoaning the injustice that every loss seemed to represent.

Almost without fail, my voice would be horse for the next few days. Going to the football for me, and thousands of other Melburnians like me, represented an escape. A sanctuary where the troubles and stresses of day to day life can be left behind. A place where you can verbally release your life’s frustrations before they slowly build up again the following week.

Nowadays, that I’m, ahem, somewhat older, my body makes physically attending the football logistically out of my reach. However my passion has not diminished in any way – I still religiously watch Carlton every week, along with as many other games I can tune in to. I watch panel shows through the week, and read as many football news articles on line as I can get my hands on. I regularly chat on-line to friends that I’ve have for over twenty years, our whole friendship founded on our shared love of football and the Carlton Football Club.

This leads me to the second thing I need to tell you about me, and this one is more of an admission – I’m a Television Yeller.
That’s right – every Carlton game I watch, I still ride every bump and boo the umpires, cheer every goal and display my verbal disapproval when things go wrong. I know – the umpires can’t hear me, nor can the players, I’m not adding to the atmosphere, I’m just sitting in a house in North Western Sydney looking at a box of electrical equipment used for displaying transmitted visual images with sound on a screen. I know how dumb it must look and sound, but I just can’t help it – it’s part of me, part of who I am.

So, to get to the point. Our Dog, Roxy, doesn’t understand any of that. All she knows, is that there’s times when, for some reason, Dad seems mad and is yelling.

Now, with Footy Finals about to start, and Carlton about to embark on their first finals campaign for over ten years, I know I’ll be in fine form as a Telly Yeller. There’ll also be countless other households, with either Telly Yellers like me, or those that invite friends and family over to make an event of it, with a household potentially full of Telly Yellers. Whether you’re alone yelling at the telly, or having a party, it’s important to be aware of your dog’s comfort levels.

So with all that in mind, here are some strategies to help you set the canine members of your household up to get through Footy Finals Fever.

Create a Safe Space. By that I mean a separate area, or room that your dog can be in where they won’t be disturbed. If you don’t have a spare room, you can be creative – using a baby gate or stair gate to section off an area, or a puppy pen or a crate. Depending on the dog, sometimes this can be the better option as the dog won’t feel excluded and can see what’s happening. However some dogs benefit from being separated and may be less stressed if they can’t see the goings on. It’s a matter of horses for courses.

The best option is to make a safe space in a room that your dog already is comfortable in. If this isn’t an option you may need to help your dog create one.

Don’t just put them in the space and leave – spend some time to help the dog get used to love being in the space. Initially, if possible, sit with them in the space. Spend some time there with them while they play with a favourite toy. Toys that distribute treats are ideal for this. Make this a gradual process, at their own pace. It will take a few goes, but stick with it.
Secondly, you need to ensure the safe space is just that – an absolute safe space. If you have people over make sure they understand that they cannot wander into that area – especially unattended children.

If you’re a Telly Yeller and are home alone, keep an eye out for any appeasement/displacement behaviours. Things such as the below can indicate that a dog is uncomfortable or stressed. When you see any of these signs it may be time to get your dog to the safe space that you’ve previously established.

-Turning away
-Licking lips
-Showing whites of eyes
-Shake off
-Pursing lips
-Body tension
-Low sweeping or high tight tail wags

So – with finals about a week away, it might be a great time to start working on that safe space, and helping your household’s Telly Yeller to look for those signs that your dog is feeling a little uncomfortable or stressed. This way, if your dog isn’t coping with the situation, whether it’s one person or many, you’ll be ready to be able to advocate for your dog and set them up so they don’t need to be social if they don’t feel like it.

Remember every dog is different. Keep an eye out for signals, create a safe space, and advocate for your dog if you do have people over.

May your team (as long as it’s Carlton) win this September. Go Blues!

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