Dogs And Holidays

The holidays bring with them a lot of new temptations for dogs. Should your dog decide to get into trouble with these seasonal and tempting items, the results can range from frustration to a trip to the animal hospital. On the "what dogs should avoid" list, we have chocolate, tree water and treats sweetened with Xylitol (artificial sweetener). Should your dog decide to eat tinsel, long ribbons or ornaments, they could very well end up with an intestinal blockage. Even if they simply tear open all the gifts under the tree but don't eat any of the bows or boxes, they undoubtedly move from your nice to naughty list.

So where you can, keep the toxic items out of reach. Additionally, it's a good idea to practice some dog training techniques with your dog to teach him to avoid hazardous areas, such as the tree, and eliminate danger and frustration all together. 

A Holiday Wrapping Exercise

As tempted as I am to bust into a yo yo yo ho ho beat box scat, that's not what I mean by a holiday wrapping exercise. Wrapping presents to most people is not the most fun part of the gift giving process, so I advise singing (or rapping) to make the experience more enjoyable. Additionally, check out my holiday wrapping exercise below to put a typical holiday chore to good dog training use.

  • The next time you find yourself embarking on a holiday wrapping extravaganza, try this dog training exercise. Lay out all your wrapping paper, ribbons, boxes and bows on the floor and then bring your dog, on leash if need be, into the wrapping room. Put him in a down-stay in the corner of your room and then start wrapping. (If you're dealing with a puppy or beginner, you might try tethering him or giving him a toy to keep occupied.) What you will likely find is your dog will start to go nuts and either hit fight or flight mode when the paper starts to crinkle and the curly ribbons starts flying. That's ok. That's actually good. If it was easy, we wouldn't be having this conversation. When your dog acts up, it gives you an opportunity to teach him what is and is not acceptable behavior. So, you're wrapping away and your dog tries to break his down-stay.  First, try to put him back down with a verbal command. If the verbal command is not enough, walk him back to the same spot and use whatever training skills you've learned or are comfortable with to enforce the down. Important note...in this situation, don't give him a treat to put him back down. You'd only be rewarding him for breaking his down-stay.  You may find yourself having to get up a lot at first but the idea is eventually he will learn that you mean business and "down" means "down".  Yes, it will most likely take you a while longer to complete this wrapping project, but in the end, if you can find the patience, you will desensitize your dog to these presents whose next stop will be sitting under your tree for a while. You will also build his down-stay skills and condition him to not get over stimulated by new, crazy-looking things that come in the house once a year. Remember to reward your dog well during this exercise and be sure to release him to freedom once the wrapping is all done (or sooner according to the level of your dog's training).  It's a good idea to build the time as you go. Maybe the first exercise requires a 3 minute solid down-stay... maybe expect 5 minutes the next time around, and so on. It is always great when you can reinforce your dog's impulse control. Know your dog, work within his limits and practice often. Practice often enough and you'll have a dog who isn't aroused at all when you are wrapping and less curious about all those presents under the tree. Wouldn't that be nice?

Presents and Decorations and Trees

  • When your dogs are in the house and your tree or holiday decorations are up, build an invisible threshold around these areas and train your dog to respect these new boundaries. For instance, whenever your dog curiously starts to approach the tree, give him a verbal uh uh or no or leave it until he backs away. Depending on how well trained your dog is with leave it, as well as how mischevious your dog is in general, you may need some additional assistance. If the verbal command isn't enough, consider pairing your verbal no with a squirt from a water bottle or try standing between the dog and the tree using strong body language to move him back away from the tree. (As The Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan would say..."claim the tree, tsss"). If you're feeling particularly advanced, try putting your dog in a down-stay near the tree (just beyond the invisible boundary) and then reward and release him without letting him inch his way toward the dangling ornaments. Be consistent. Don't let him near the tree on Wednesday and then correct him for going near it on Friday. What you'll have in the end is a dog who won't destroy your wrapped presents, choke on an ornament or pee on the tree. 

Your dog wants to please you just as much as you want him to be well behaved. But these lessons require practice, so use these rare opportunities to build your dog's skills. The results you will get are directly related to the time you put in.

Be safe and happy holidays.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2013