Being Holiday Ready with Your Dog
Updated: Aug 28
The holidays can be a stressful time for all of us!
We have parties to attend, gifts to wrap and give, dinners to plan, and so many other things on our plate as this time of year goes into full swing. That's why it's so important that we don't forget about the four legged friends living in our houses this time of year as well. When we get busy, it can be easy to put some things on hold. Your dog should not be one of these things. They are living, breathing animals that need our help to stay healthy and happy. The more effort you spend on your dog now, the less stressful you'll be at the Christmas party.
Here are some things to keep in mind as the holidays approach:
Christmas Trees Are Not For Dogs
Christmas trees come in two varieties, real or fake. Both options are harmful to dogs in a few ways.
If you're using a real tree you have to keep in mind that some species of pines are toxic to dogs. Also keep in mind that a lot of real trees are sprayed with fire retardants and green dyes. These chemicals are also not good for dogs to consume.
Fake trees aren't much better as they are made of plastic and metals. They too have fire retardants and dyes sprayed on them. None of this would make for a safe chew toy.
All trees will have ornaments and lights and other fun things put on them. It can be enticing for your dog to try and play with these ornaments which are typically made of glass or plastic. These objects are not only choking hazards but potentially deadly in other ways too.
Don't worry though, it is possible to still have that beautiful tree and keep your dog safe!
If your dog is completely entranced by the tree and you just can't seem to keep her away from it, the safest thing to do it to put a baby gate around the tree. This is a great management technique that doesn't allow the dog to continually reward themselves and allows for successful training of leaving the tree alone.
If your dog is only somewhat interested in the tree, reminding them with a "leave it" or similar cue can be enough to let them know that the tree isn't for them.
*NOTE* I teach "leave it" to mean that you should not touch, bite, play with, or even look at the object in question. You never want to use "leave it" for something the dog does sometimes get, such as a treat.
Parties Can Be Overwhelming For Our Dogs
Do you have a social butterfly or a more keeps-to-themselves dog? Either way, the large gathering of people can be too much for your dog over time. All dogs, just like people, have thresholds. At some point your dog is going to need a break from the party to decompress. It's up to you to know when that is to keep them and your party goers safe.
It can be your dog going to their crate to take a nap, it can be them sneaking into a bedroom, it can be them simply laying down in the middle of the room. Do your best to recognize when your dog is saying they've had enough. Once you do, it is crucial you tell everyone, especially any children, to leave your dog alone for the time being.
If your dog is not fond of people and you think having a lot of people over would only harm your training in getting them to like people better, then the best thing to do would be to take them to a sitter's home. Note, I wouldn't take them to a day care if they are especially nervous. There are plenty of pet sitters that work out of their homes that can keep your dog feeling safe.
If you decide to keep your dog at the party, it can be best to keep your dog on leash and attached to you. This way, you can control how people interact with your dog and make sure they don't ruin any training you've done or feed your dog any harmful food. If you struggle telling your family "no" to petting you dog or picking your dog up, read my previous blog on why saying "no" is so important.
Holiday Food is Not For The Dogs
There are so many foods that come around only during the holidays. There are plenty of ingredients in these foods that are harmful to our pets.
Onions, grapes, garlic, xylitol (an ingredient found in candies or gums to make them sweet), chocolate, salt, and so many others pose risks to our dog's health.
The best thing to do when everyone is eating is to instruct your dog to go to their bed or crate. This way, they aren't around others when they are eating meaning people won't feed your dog and she won't be scavenging the floor for droppings. Even if your dog is in their place when the food is out, it is best to instruct others to not feed your dog for safe measure.
If you have a dog that guards foods, people or not, then it is extremely important that they be separated from the family when eating takes place. You can manage the environment by designating eating to one area of the home and then blocking your dog's access to this area. You can also keep your dog attached to you with their leash like mentioned above (this is something I like to do), or keep them in another room away from the people altogether if they are extreme guarders.
The Gifts Are For You Not Your Dog
Opening presents is a lot of fun and happens during holiday parties. Obviously our furry friends will want in on the fun too. Lots of presents can be small, choking hazards, made of harmful materials, and more. The wrapping paper can also be dangerous if your dog decides to eat it. It's best to keep your dog away from the presents if they aren't yet trained well, or if they are trained, asking for a "leave it" so they understand it's not for them.
Once again it's your job to keep your dog safe during these busy yet fun times. Don't just let your dog run around the house during the party if you don't trust them. Management methods like gates around trees and keeping them on leash during meal time can work wonders for your training.
Start Training Now Not The Day Before
As stated before, this time of year is busy for all of us! It can seem like a hassle to train your dog when you have gift shopping to do. However you need to think long term. Is a ten minute training session now worth your dog not jumping on and knocking over your grandmother? These are the things you need to be thinking about and not brushing under the rug.
A few training sessions each day, working on the behaviors and cues you want to see during the gatherings, will yield much better results than starting the day before (or worse, just winging it and seeing how it goes). If you know your dog is a jumper, and you know your grandma is coming over, work on these things now. You owe it to your dog, because they are the ones that get blamed for their bad behaviors. Yet they can't do what they haven't been taught.
My goal for you is that your dog is a welcomed addition to the party and that your dog is kept safe during the holiday season. A little work now will pay off a lot, and even more so as the years go on and more holidays happen. If at any point you feel overwhelmed or aren't sure how to get a particular behavior you want, contact a certified and force-free trainer to assist you. The investment in training your dog right will pay off for you in no time!