I had just come in from replacing some burned out Christmas bulbs on our front porch when I received a call from a Home Dog Training client of ours in Buford. We had trained him and Dolly, his Labrador Retriever, last spring. At last check, they had been doing great. He had brought Dolly into their family last February as a puppy and she is now turning one year old and about to experience her first Christmas Holiday. Having two boys and one girl between the ages of four and nine, Dolly has had constant human companionship and has always participated in all the family activities. My client had already read some of my earlier articles on preparing for Thanksgiving, Christmas guests, Christmas presents for your dog, etc. He was now wondering how Dolly should be involved now that Santa is about to come down the chimney and there will be a lot of new things and excitement in the family.
I usually tell my clients that it is not the best idea to have your dog “in the mix of things” while the family is opening Christmas presents around the Christmas tree. The reason is that everyone is excited and focused on what Santa brought them. This means that they are not watching their dog to see how he is reacting to what is going on. There are normally kids (and adults) energetically getting under the tree, grabbing presents, and ripping off the paper to see what is inside. This can easily send the same signal to your dog and your dog can end up running around the room with your new, expensive, and breakable present in their mouth. Your dog might not be the most coordinated dog in the world and he may cause the tree to tip over or things to knock off tables. It could end up like a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
At this point, some clients will think about it and decide that they love their dog, but think it would be best to allow their dog to enjoy the moment somewhere else. When this happens, I suggest that, if possible, they allow the dog to play outside. I suggest that family members take turns to be with him and engage in playful and attention drawing activities such as fetch or hide and seek. If you have purchased some Christmas presents for your dog, you can give them to him at this time. They may be part of the “hide and seek” game.
If it is too cold or there is inclement weather, find a room that is out of sight and earshot of the “Christmas activities”. Again, have family members take turns being with the dog. All they may have to do is to sit on the sofa with him and watch TV. Keeping him calm and focused are the best things they should try to accomplish at this time.
Now, let’s say that you really want to have your dog to be a part of the Christmas tree/opening Christmas presents experience. This can be done if you remember that whatever rules you normally enforce with your dog during the rest of the year must be maintained during this time. Those rules normally focus around not being destructive or demanding in the house. They probably also include rules like not stealing, not jumping, not barking in your face, no crazy running, etc. These can all be accomplished if you take charge and proactively prepare to maintain those rules if he starts to get out of hand. Here are some tips we often provide this time of year:
- Try to drain as much of your dog’s adrenaline out of him before “Santa time” begins. Get him outside for thirty minutes of crazy and full speed play. If he is a very active dog, elongate that time. You can also take him on a long walk, run, or bike ride.
- Feed him as early as you can beforehand and only give him a half portion. Make sure you get him out for potty before you gather around the tree. You don’t want an accident to appear as presents are being opened.
- Bring him into the room on a leash while the rest of the family are sitting down and as calm as they can be. (I know, it is hard to stay calm when you know all your presents are only a few feet away under the tree!)
- Always have a family member in charge of your dog. Switch off so that everyone can have both dog time and present time.
- Make sure that Santa has brought your dog some really great and engaging presents. General chew toys like deer antlers can keep your dog calmly engaged for hours. Food toys made by Kong are also great. Many of them have small compartments where you can put some of your dog’s food or treats that will require his focus and engaged energy to retrieve.
- Give him some “smelly presents”. By this, I don’t mean stinky. These are presents that he can easily determine are his by the scent. This will help him clearly understand that those are his presents and he has been given the opportunity and permission to open and play/chew/eat them.
- If he starts to get a little too excited, have the family member in charge of him stand up, tug slightly on the leash, and direct him away from the crowd for a moment. Continue to move away until he is calm once again. Praise him and slowly return to the group and continue with his presents.
- Do not allow him to wander under the tree. Even if you are holding the leash, this is a very, very bad idea. He may have appeared calm as he walked up to the tree, but the new smells and perspective could get him excited and create a bad situation. Sitting slightly away from the tree next to you on the sofa is just fine.
In just a few days it will have been thirty years since Robin and I spent Christmas Day with Bob. Bob was a precocious Springier Spaniel and the first dog we brought into our family. Back then it was just Robin, Bob, and myself. Sharing Christmas with him was a wonderful experience. We hope only the best and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.
If you have any questions, we will be more than happy to answer them during the Holidays. Please give us a call at (770) 718-7704 or go to our web site at Your Local Buford Dog Trainers and send us a message.