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How to Make the Holidays Fun for Your Dog at Any Age

What's the best way to celebrate the holidays with your dog? It depends on his age.

Audrey Pavia  |  Dec 9th 2015


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our December/January issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year made even more fun when you have a dog. Christmases celebrated with my Corgi, Nigel, were among the best I’ve ever had.

The way you celebrate the holidays with your dog depends on where he is in his life. Let’s face it — there’s a big difference between a puppy and a senior when it comes to emotional maturity and energy level.

Puppies

Puppies and the holidays go together — or so it would seem. Pups can get into a lot of trouble, so keep a close eye on your puppy as you celebrate with him. Watch out for these antics:

Chewing and swallowing. Young dogs have a strong need to gnaw on things, and stuff like presents, menorahs, poinsettias, and decorative Santas are ripe for the picking. (When he was a puppy, Nigel loved to get a hold of stuffed Christmas elves and rip their eyes off.)

Strings of lights and extension cords are prime targets and are about as dangerous as you can get. Some puppies just like to chew; others prefer to swallow — ribbons, tinsel, small ornaments, chocolate, you name it. Not only is this annoying, it’s potentially fatal to the puppy.

Whenever possible, block your pup from gifts and decorations. When Nigel was a puppy, I used a baby gate to keep him in one part of the house and away from the tree.

Accidents. Even a puppy who’s getting the hang of house-training can have more mistakes than usual thanks to all the distractions and changes in routine that happen around the holidays. Help your puppy stay true to his training by giving him more frequent bathroom breaks. Whenever you have company over, set a timer to remind yourself to take your puppy outside. Try to stay on top of things to help your youngster be on his best behavior.

Grownups

By the time your dog is an adult, he will have outgrown much of his puppy behaviors. He’s less likely to chew up your plastic Rudolph, swallow a dreidel, or lift his leg on the Christmas tree. Although you still need to keep an eye on him, you can also start to really enjoy new traditions with him.

Couple and their dog by Shutterstock

Couple and their dog by Shutterstock.

Nigel’s favorite thing in the world was getting a Christmas gift. It didn’t take long for him to learn that a gift bag or wrapped box had something special for him inside. When it was time to open presents on Christmas Day, he’d sit with the family, waiting not so patiently for his turn to tear open a gift. A squeaky toy was the ultimate present, and after snatching it out of the gift bag, he’d run off to the other room and shred it to pieces.

You can easily teach your dog what presents are all about. Just wrap a few for him, and call him over when everyone is ready to start opening gifts. Take turns opening packages for him while you encourage his help, and before long he’ll be tearing the paper and plunging into the gift bags without much encouragement. Just make sure he knows he is only allowed to open gifts when you tell him to do so. You don’t want him to think that everything under the tree belongs to him.

Dogs at Christmas by Shutterstock

Dogs at Christmas by Shutterstock

Here are some easy- to-wrap, well-appreciated gifts your adult dog will enjoy:

  • Tennis balls
  • Plush squeaky toys
  • Rope toys
  • Treat-dispensing toys
  • Dog cookies

Your dog will be overwhelmed if you give him too many gifts at once, so limit yourself to two or three. Dogs are like kids when it comes to opening presents. They quickly forget the one they just opened once they start on the next one!

Young at heart

Keep giving your older dog gifts well into his senior years. Nigel’s last Christmas, when he was 12 years old, was just as joyful as all the ones before it. He tore into his presents, decided which squeaky toy was best, and spent the rest of the day dismembering it.

If your senior dog has slowed down — or even if he hasn’t — consider giving yourself some gifts, too, on his behalf. The holidays are a great time to have your dog’s picture taken with Santa. Many grooming salons, pet supply stores, and even local animal shelters sponsor photography sessions with Santa for free or just a small fee. You’ll have a holiday keepsake of your dog that you can keep forever.

You can even go further than a photo with Santa. Many talented artists are in the business of painting pet portraits, and hiring one to create an oil, acrylic or watercolor painting of your dog gives you a way to always remember him. The good news is that most artists work off a photo, so your pooch won’t be expected to sit still for his portrait.

No matter what your dog’s age, the holidays are a great time to give thanks that you have a canine best friend in your life and to shower him with extra love and care.

Read more holiday stories on Dogster:

About the author: An award-winning professional writer and editor, Audrey Pavia is a former managing editor of DOG FANCY magazine and former senior editor of the AKC Gazette. She is the author of The Labrador Retriever Handbook (Barrons) and has also written extensively on horses as well as other pets. She shares her home in Norco, California, with a rescue dog named Candy.