Robin and I were at a Home Dog Training session in Suwanee last Thursday with a new client and his eight month old Jack Russell named Dynamite. Like all Jack Russells, Dynamite was a little crazy and didn’t want to listen to anyone in the family. He also liked to steal stuff like the Roku TV remote, cell phones, shoes, ham sandwiches, and other “around the house” items. Robin and I quickly saw that Dynamite was not a bad puppy, just high energy with the natural inclination to get into trouble. After teaching our clients how to get his attention and properly direct him, all was fine. They were very happy with their new knowledge and saw that Dynamite seemed happier too. As we were ending for the day, they asked about Christmas. This would be Dynamite’s first Christmas with them and they wanted to make sure he would be happy and be a part of the festivities. They asked if we had any suggestions.
I started off my reminding my client that Christmas day is very different than any other day of the year. Several days during the year can be unique for one or two individuals in the family, but Christmas is unique for everyone. Activities for some special days may start later in the day or the evening. Christmas starts the moment the first family member opens their eyes. Some days can be unique in one manner or another, but Christmas can be a highly energized, exciting event with different things happening all the time.
Our dogs have a hard time coping with unique and unplanned events. They feel most comfortable when they have memorized and mastered a specific pattern of events, smells, emotions, and sounds. 6:15 in the morning is normally a quiet time when either Mommy or Daddy get up to let the dogs out. On Christmas, it turns into a time with all the kids screaming and running down the stairs into the living room to see what Santa has brought.
This unusual situation will cause issues with our dogs. Unfortunately, we are not focused on our dogs at that moment. We are trying to get to the Christmas tree to make sure our kids open the right presents.
Things that our dogs will experience on this special day range from the kids’ excitement in opening presents under the tree, food left around where it normally is not, lack of attention to get outside and potty, doors left open when they are normally closed, etc. These are all things that we normally address but, on Christmas Day, they fall down to the bottom of our list of “things to do”.
Just as we do all we can to make the Christmas Season and, especially Christmas Day, a wonderful and memorable time for our children and other family members, we must not forget our dogs and puppies. We need to be sure that we are addressing their continual needs and to include them in the daily events to strengthen our bond of trust, safety, friendship, and respect. So, how do we accomplish this on such a hectic day?
We need to make sure we are meeting their normal needs and also include them in our special events. I provided our client with some suggestions:
- When the family first gets up, keep your dog on his normal schedule. Most of the time this includes potty time, breakfast, and an “after breakfast” potty time. Have one family member focus on that while the other family member deals with the kids.
- Try and get the kids to have breakfast while your dog is engaged in his potty/breakfast/potty time. You may tell them to pick one present and bring it into the breakfast room. Allow them to play with the present while breakfast is going on. This will allow for some of the initial adrenaline to drain from the kids and will get them and your dog on a relatively level playing field.
- After the kids are done with breakfast and your dog is back from his “after breakfast potty”, take them all to the Christmas tree.
- Have your dog on a leash so that you can direct him away from any inappropriate actions.
- Let me step back for a second and remind you about the presents under the tree. You probably did a very good job in getting an “over the top” amount of presents for your kids and other family members. Did you get some presents for your dog? We always suggest getting him chew bones, deer antlers, and toys. You can even get him a doggy bowl, but put a goodie in the bowl. Make sure that his presents smell like the doggie toys he already has. This will allow him to identify them when he starts to search. Wrap your dog’s presents.
- Have one person assigned to your dog. As the kids are opening their presents, this person can guide your dog around the present pile, pointing out his presents. If needed, start to open them with your dog so he can see what is inside. Allow him to do as much as the “ripping and tearing” as possible. This will allow him to engage in the same activity as the kids and let him see that this is his time too.
- As he opens one present, let him engage it for a few moments. Now move him around in search of the next. This is where the leash can become very handy.
- Just as we “pile up our bootie” as we open our presents, pile up your dog’s toys in one place away from everybody else’s piles. When the opening is done, take him to his pile and engage him with his new toys. This will help enforce the fact that those are his.
- Oh, one more thing… Trade off who is in charge of your dog during “present time” so that everyone can enjoy the moment.
Now that “Christmas Tree Time”, is done, don’t drop the ball and ignore your dog.
- Have him on the leash and have him with you as you are watching the parades or early games on TV.
- Take him for a walk around the neighborhood to check out what Santa left the neighbors.
- Make sure you are maintaining his potty schedule.
- Keep an eye on him to assure he won’t get into trouble.
One big mistake that we often commit during the Christmas Season is leaving food down all over the place. For the rest of the year we normally only have food out when we have it in our hands or in our immediate vicinity. Christmas is a time of candy bowls, dip, beautiful spreads of ham, beef, chicken, and cheese from Costco, chips, and many other goodies. They are very inviting to our dogs and they will get into them if we are not around or carefully watching.
I don’t suggest picking up all the wonderful goodies. I suggest keeping your dog on a leash and in your sight. If he starts to go after some goodies, step on the leash and guide him back to you. Make sure that he has some of his new toys to play with and to keep his attention. If he is playing with a new bone or deer antler, sprinkle come low sodium chicken broth on it to make it even more enticing.
And one last thing. I know that many people think that this is really cute. Do not dress your dog up in a Christmas costume. They don’t like this. If it is cold, you can put a sweater on him. Just don’t dress him up as Santa or an elf or a reindeer.
So there you go. Have a great Christmas Day with your family and your doggie. As long as you make sure that everyone has stuff to do that engages the entire group, everyone will have a great and wonderful time.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fourteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.