As you think back over Thanksgiving and the embarrassment caused by dog behavior, that sinking feeling of “what am I going to do about Fido at Christmas, floats across your brain.
With one holiday down and the big one, Christmas right around the corner, you’re now regretting putting off that much needed dog training.
Dogs that are on their best dog behavior at Thanksgiving and Christmas have owners who have already trained their dog to understand “the ground rules”. This means they work on training year round with their dog so that they leave things alone – like presents! Do not open til Christmas!
How do you get your best dog behavior at Christmas? You work throughout the year on Ground Rules and respecting boundaries on a daily basis. You use birthday parties and other holidays for practice so that, when the big event arrives, your dog will “shine for Santa!”
Wait—I know what you’re going to say
“But wait! I haven’t had my dog all year and I’ve got a young puppy that’s into everything!” Well, it’s not too late to begin training your dog to be a good dog this Christmas and in the years to come.
Here’s what I’d do so grab a pencil and some paper and take some notes.
Better yet, just print this article out for yourself and if you know of anyone else with similar doggie concerns, simply re-gift this article to them by paying forwarding the link!
So, Shall We Begin?
Remember, insufficient stimulation can cause or exacerbate a number of behavior problems in your dog including hyperactivity and destructive chewing. As you approach the Christmas holidays, be certain you have three basic bases covered:
1. Make sure your dog has plenty of daily exercise in the form of long walks. You will appreciate the phrase “a tired dog is a good dog” much, much more.
2. If your dog is a high energy dog, then consider a program of feeding half his meals in a doggie food dispensing toy. Get one that you can adjust the rate of flow to make it more challenging as he begins to figure out the system.
3. Have a safe alternative place for your dog to go during the festivities if necessary. This safe place could be a crate or another room as long as he is used to it and can feel safe away from all the activity.
The Christmas Tree
For those of you that have the traditional Christmas tree on the floor, buy it early and put it up for a few days to a week but without the ornaments. This way you can begin your dog obedience training with your puppy or dog.
With your tree up early with no ornaments it will give you a chance to “pre-check” your dog’s interest in the tree. What’s worked for me in the past is to set physical boundaries early that you can remove after you’ve added the decorations and presents.
Add your boundaries
For hardwood floors and tile I use painter’s tape to set a visual boundary around the tree. It’s low tack and won’t damage your floors. For carpet I typically will use a rope in a color that will contrast with your carpet color so that is it easily seen.
Begin your training
Here are your training steps:
1. Make sure your dog is out of the tree room before you start.
2. Begin by putting some distractions under your bare tree like shoes and magazines (shiny covers will resemble wrapped presents with your scent). Don’t forget to remove them when you are finished dog training.
3. Bring your dog in the room on a leash to begin your practice. My rule is to hold on to the leash if needed otherwise let him drag the leash. Make sure you have plenty high value treats to reward acceptable behavior like staying away from the tree and close to you.
4. Should he venture over to the tree close to the boundary, simply say, “Leave it!” and redirect his focus to something appropriate like a stuffed Kong, chew bone or doggie food dispensing toy. This step is very important. You should get in as many approaches to the boundary as possible to give him a chance to respect it and find something else to do on his own. As he does, praise and treat him.
5. Once he gets used to the bare tree, then decorate the tree. You could do this a stage every day or two. Stage one could be lights and stage two could be ornaments. I would test him at each stage of the game and I would add more distractions to get as much obedience training in before you replace the distractions with presents.
6. Now that your dog knows the boundary, remove the visual boundary and begin to work your dog around the invisible boundary. He should now have a clear approximation of the boundary in his mind.
Some dogs will take longer than others. You know your dog. Usually the bossier dogs are more apt to challenge your newly set boundaries especially if you’ve never set any boundaries before.
Additional Tree Tips
- If you use a watering stand for your tree keep it covered as pine sap and water is toxic to dogs. As the pine needles dry and drop on the floor, keep them cleaned up and away from your dog as they can cause gastric irritation and sometimes vomiting.
- For safety’s sake, you could tie the tree to the wall with thin wire or string to keep it vertical.
- Tinsel can harm your dog if swallowed. I’d say keep it high on the tree along with the glass ornaments or don’t use tinsel this year until you are certain your dog is trained.
- Save the unbreakable ornaments for the bottom of the tree.
- Unplug the tree lights when you are not able to supervise your dog and when you leave the house. Be careful not to string the tree lights too low.
- You are asking for trouble if you put edible presents under the tree. Keep them up and away from your dog. Someone slipped Jalapeno beef jerky under our tree one year without us knowing and that caused a quick call to the vet!
- Make sure you train this year for next year and for the years to come. Plan on using birthdays, parties and holidays throughout the year to train your dog to be a good dog “holiday veteran” and make you proud!
I hope these holiday tips helped you find answers and hope for helping your dog or puppy navigate the holidays. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. If you’ve found some great ways to help your dog succeed at Christmas please share with everyone below in the comment section.
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.