I was at a Home Dog Training session in Lawrenceville last Wednesday with a new client and his one-year-old Brittany Spaniel named Dorothy. As is the case with many Brittanys, Dorothy was slightly high strung and wasn’t paying attention to anyone in the family.
She loved doing things such as stealing items like the TV remote, slippers, cell phones, grilled cheese sandwiches, and just about anything else she could “get her paws on” around the home. I quickly explained to my clients that Dorothy wasn’t a bad doggie, she simply possessed a high level of energy and had a natural tendency to get into trouble.
I quickly taught my clients how to naturally gain her attention and appropriately direct her. They were very happy with what they had learned and even noticed that Dorothy appeared happier too. As I was wrapping up the lesson, they had a question about Christmas Day. This would be Dorothy’s first Christmas with them. They wanted to assure that she would be happy and be a part of the festive activities. They asked me for suggestions.
I began my conversation by reminding my client that the activities, sights, smells, and sounds of Christmas Day are unique and 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.
Special activities for some “special days” such as birthdays or anniversaries may only take place for a portion of the day, but Christmas starts the moment the first family member opens their eyes. Some days can be distinctive in one manner or another, but Christmas Day is an extremely energized, stimulating event with different things constantly taking place.
Our dogs find it very difficult when it comes with coping with unique and unplanned events. They feel especially unsure when they have become accustomed to a specific pattern of events, smells, emotions, and sounds that, all of a sudden, don’t take place.
For example, 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 upheaval of normalcy can cause great issues with our dogs. Unfortunately, it is Christmas Day and we are not concentrating on our dogs at that moment. We are rounding up all the kids to get to the Christmas Tree while getting a cup of hot coffee.
Unique and distinctive experiences our dog may have on this day often include the kids’ high level of enthusiasm in opening presents under the tree, unattended food scattered about in strange places, lack of attention when they need to have us open the door and let them go potty, doors left open when they are normally closed, etc. These are all things that we normally address but, on Christmas Day, there are so many “other things to do”.
In the same way that we make the Christmas Season and, especially Christmas Day, a special and remarkable time for our entire “human family”, we mustn’t forget our dogs and puppies. We must focus on their repeated needs and incorporate them in the special daily activities to reinforce our bond of trust, safety, friendship, and respect. What must we do to accomplish this on such a chaotic day?
We must be acutely aware that we are meeting their regular requirements and include them in our special, Christmas Day events. I provided our client with some suggestions:
- As soon as you get up on Christmas Day, keep your dog on his normal schedule. Stick to his standard potty time, breakfast, and an “after breakfast” potty time. Have one family member focus on your dog’s schedule while another deals with the kids.
- Feed the kids breakfast during the time your dog is engaged in his “standard potty/breakfast/potty time”. If needed, have your kids bring one present to open during breakfast so that your dog has the time to “complete his standard stuff”. The kids can play while they eat (remember, this is OK because it is Christmas Day) so that they will get some of their “crazy” out before the family moves on to the tree.
- Once the kids are done with breakfast and your dog is done with his “after breakfast potty”, it is time to go to the Christmas tree.
- Make sure that your dog is on a leash so that you can keep him under manageable control.
- Before we proceed, I want to take a moment to discuss the “presents under the tree”. I am sure that you did an extraordinary job in purchasing an “over the top” amount of presents for all your kids and family members. In all the excitement of shopping, did you remember to buy stuff for your dog? The best dog toys are things like chew bones, deer antlers, and Kong toys. Be sure that the presents you are giving him smell like “the stuff” he currently plays with. This will help him to associate them as “his stuff”. I also suggest that you wrap his presents.
- Make sure that you have a family member “assigned” to your dog. While the children are ripping open their presents, this person will direct your dog around the mound of presents under the tree and point to your dog’s presents. If your dog is a little hesitant, you can start to open his present while he watches. He will quickly “catch on” and take over the opening of his present. This will permit him to take part in the identical activity as the kids and let him understand that this is his time too.
- Let him play with one present for a moment. After a minute or two, guide him around in search of additional “doggie gifts”.
- In the same way that you instruct your kids to “pile up their bootie” as they open their gifts, put your dog’s gifts in a single pile away from the others and the tree. When all the gifts have been claimed and open, guide him to his pile and play with him and his new toys. This will let him know that all that stuff is his.
- Oh, one more thing… Interchange who is taking care of your dog during “present time”. This will make sure that all “human family members” have an equal share of enjoying the Christmas tree moment.
Even though “Christmas Tree Time”, is done, it doesn’t mean that Christmas Day is over. You still need to give appropriate focus towards your dog.
- When the game is on and you are watching TV, have him on a leash by your side.
- Go for a dog walk around the neighborhood to see what Santa left the neighbors.
- Don’t forget to stick to his normal potty routine.
- As things start to calm down, it is fine to drop the leash and let him wander around. Just keep a watchful eye on him. If he starts to get into trouble, step on the leash and have him focus on you.
Let’s switch gears for a second and talk about food. For most of the year, we only have food out when we are having a meal or are snacking in front of the TV. The big thing is that the food is always with us.
When Christmas rolls around, there will be unattended candy bowls, dip, beautiful spreads of ham, beef, chicken, and cheese from Costco, chips, and many other goodies. They can be spread all over the house and can be a very inviting thing for our dogs. Since they are left alone and we are not paying attention to them, we are placing a “Take Me. Free Food” sign on them.
I know, it’s Christmas time and there will be food around the house. I simply suggest that you keep your dog on a leash and in your sight. If he starts to go after the food, step on the leash and direct him back to you. After you guide him back to you, give him some of his new toys to maintain his attention.
Finally, let me discuss one of my “pet peeves”. Too be fair, I completely understand that some people think that this is cute. Don’t dress your dog up in a Christmas costume. Trust me, they don’t like this. If it is cold, you can put a sweater on him. Just don’t dress him up as a snow man or one of Santa’s helpers.
With that, I think I have said enough. Robin and I wish all of you a great Christmas Day shared with your family and your doggie.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.