I was replacing three or four Christmas bulbs that had burned out on the roof line above our garage about a week and a half ago when I received a call from a Home Dog Training client of ours in Suwanee.  We had trained him and Maggy, his Labrador Retriever, in the late summer of this year. We had kept in touch and at last check everything was going great.  They got Maggy last February as a puppy from a local rescue group. She is now just turning one year old and is about to go through her first Christmas. 

How can I have my dog with me under the tree opening presents?

With two boys and one girl between the ages of four and nine in the family, Maggy has had constant human companionship and has always been part of all the family activities.  My client told me that he had been reading my earlier blogs regarding the proper preparation for Thanksgiving, dealing with Christmas guests, giving your dog Christmas presents, etc. Christmas Day was almost here, and he was wondering if Maggy should be involved with the actual day and events.

I passed on my advice that it is not the best idea to have your dog “in the center of things” while everyone is opening Christmas presents under the Christmas tree. This is because everyone gets excited and become focused on what “Santa brought them”.  They are not watching Maggy to see how she is reacting to what is going on.  The “Christmas Day present activity” normally includes kids (and adults) scooting under the tree, reaching for presents, and tearing off the wrapping to see what they got.  This can easily send the same signal to Maggy, and she will probably become crazy, grab some of the opened or unopened presents, and run around the room with them in her mouth.  It could end up like a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

With this scenario in mind, we may often think about having our dog somewhere else when the presents are being opened and we (humans) are being a little crazy.  This means that Maggy might be “invited” to play outside.  If this takes place, I strongly suggest that responsible family members take turns to be with Maggy and engage in playful and attention-getting activities such as fetch or hide and seek.  If Maggy has received some Christmas presents of her own, this would be a great time to introduce those presents to her and play with them. One suggestion would be to hide the presents and then engage in a game of “hide and seek” for the presents.

If it is just too cold outside or the weather is really bad, go to a room that is out of sight and earshot of the “Christmas activities”.  Have responsible family members take turns staying and engaging with Maggy.  All they will have to do is to sit on the sofa with her and watch TV.  This will keep her calm and not focusing on the crazy things that may be going on in the rest of the house.

On the other hand, let’s say that you would love to have your dog as a part of the Christmas tree/opening Christmas presents experience.  You can do this if you remember that whatever rules you normally enforce with your dog during the rest of the year are also in force now. Those rules would normally relate to not being destructive or crazy in the house. As a rule of thumb, I would include things like not stealing, not jumping, not barking in your face, no crazy running, etc.  You can be successful in this endeavor if you are ready to correct and direct your dog to the right decision in the same manner that you have done for the rest of the year.  To make sure you can be successful, I would like to share some things you should consider:

  • Get rid of as much of your dog’s adrenaline before the crazy time of Christmas Day Presents starts. Get him outside for thirty to forty-five minutes of excitement and full speed play.  If he is a very active dog, you will probably need more time.  You can also take him on a long, brisk walk.
  • Adjust his mealtime to at least two or three hours before the crazy Christmas stuff starts.  Only feed him half his normal portion. Take him out for his potty break before you gather around the tree.  The excitement he will experience around the tree will enhance his need to potty. You want to get all of “that” out of him so that he is “empty”.
  • Calmly walk him into the room on a leash while everybody is sitting down and as quiet as they can be.  (I know, it is really, really difficult to stay calm when you know all your goodies are only a few feet away under the Christmas tree!)
  • Assign a responsible family member to be your dog’s “Christmas buddy”.  Trade off “Christmas buddies” so that everyone can have both dog time and present time.
  • Make sure that Santa has brought your dog some great doggie presents.  General chew toys like deer antlers can keep your dog focused, safe, and calm for hours. We have found that almost all dogs love the Kong food toys. Many of them are designed with small compartments that can store your dog’s food or treats. This will then direct his attention to the toy in search of the goodies inside.
  • I know it is kind of “icky” but get your dog some “smelly presents”.  By this, I don’t mean stinky.  These are presents that he can easily identify as his by the smell.  He will clearly understand that those are his presents and helps him focus on “his stuff”.
  • If he starts to get a little too adrenalized, have his Christmas buddy calmly stand up, firmly tug on the leash, and coolly direct him away from the crowd for a moment. You should walk him far enough away so that he loses focus on the “crazy stuff” and is focused on the calm Christmas buddy.  Once that takes place, place him in a sit for a minute or two to continue to observe that he is relaxed.  Once this has happened, slowly walk him back to the festivities.
  • Never let him wander under the tree.  This is a bad idea even if you are holding the leash. You may think he was being calm as he walked up to the tree, but the new smells and proximity to the presents could quickly get him excited.  Things could easily escalate into a bad situation.

Exactly thirty-two years ago Robin and I spent Christmas Day with Bob.  Bob was a wonderful Springer Spaniel and the first dog we brought into our family.  Back then it was just Robin, Bob, and me.  Sharing Christmas with him was a wonderful experience.  We hope only the best and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.

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 sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.