Christmas is almost upon us, and while we’re wrapped in our holiday festivities, it’s easy to overlook the special challenges of the season for our furry friends. This is our first Christmas with Joe Pugga, our foster fail, and I have no idea what to expect, though I anticipate snoring. Ralph doesn’t let us forget he’s around, but there are more docile pups that will try and stay away from the fray. (For those of you who have one, please fill me in on what that’s like sometime!)
Whether you have the calm-and-cool or the fast-and-furious in your home, we have suggestions to keep the holidays safe for your four-legged loved ones.
1. Don’t fill the stockings until Christmas Eve
While we hang them by the chimney with care, some of our dogs don’t, and those stockings are targets. They are often loaded with small goodies our dogs crave. Chocolate is an obvious no-no, though peppermint is okay on small amounts. (Not that I’ll just hand Joe Pugga a candy cane and let him go to town, but there’s no need to freak out if they get a nibble.) Add other candies, small toys, and other common stuffers and you may wonder — chimney or not — what do we do to keep snouts away?
We keep them empty until the night before or morning of, and we hand our kids their filled stockings on Christmas morning. Whatever measures you prefer, keep those stocking out of harm’s way.
We also enjoy making stockings specifically for them, an easy distraction from those for the humans. Grab some dog-friendly stuffers such as carob, peanut butter and meat-based treats with scents they know and enjoy. They’ll think they have the same as you and get to take part in the family fun!
2. Keep the tree decorations out of temptation’s reach
Many dogs adore trees, and few appreciate this indoor holiday exception. They see something bright and shiny near the top and can’t fight the urge to explore. Some simply need to relieve themselves, which obviously you need to avoid.
For us, Ralph is oblivious to it all while Joe barks until he gives up on a reaction. Dairy doesn’t notice the tree but Pixie chases every light she sees. It’s a concern but we can avoid it becoming a problem.
Place the tree where dog temptation can be avoided. Use furniture to limit access (or, if you have aerial specialists, keep furniture a safe distance away), place ornaments above snout level, and be persistent in policing the area. Keep the tree away from high-traffic areas so it’s not a persistent attraction. If you have a live tree, keep the dogs away from the water, the trunk and the sap, all dangerous attractions for a pup.
We opt for a fake tree, but dangers persist. We have a couple of bent branches — I’m sure Ralph and Joe have no idea how that happened — but ornaments are out of reach, and fragile ornaments are placed towards the back (just in case of a fall). More importantly, all power is off and unconnected when no one is there to protect the tree. Our crew, like most, will explore. Discourage this as you can, but accept their undying fascination and take those extra steps to protect against those moments.
3. Keep Christmas lights to a minimum
How tempting are small, twinkling light cords for little paws? Chewing, tugging, playing, and running are all attached to the temptation of the lights, and all can cause chaos in the Christmas home.
Consider cord concealers, as you may have seen in offices to hide computer cords, a cheap and convenient solution for longer exposed cords in the home. If this isn’t a viable option, consider going high with your cords via hooks and other items to secure the chords out of a dog’s reach. Again, consider tree placement and use the room and your furniture to keep dogs away from those chords on the tree.
This year, our family opted for an easy solution: no lights anywhere except the tree. We have a humble set of lights tucked well inside the limbs. Pix will obsess herself into an early grave staring at the lights on the ceiling if we go high, and they seem to be an undeniable temptation for the others, no matter where the lights hang. This way, we limit the police activity to the tree and limit the dangers for our little ones to this one location.
4. Keep toxic plants off your list
A quick note of caution concerning those unique flowers and plants we often see during the holidays: poinsettias, mistletoe and holly can be toxic for dogs. If you must have them, keep them well out of reach, but please consider going without.
Think of all the silly things your dogs have eaten. Joe Pugga and Ralph would split a slab of drywall if the wind was blowing just right. These plants can tempt with color, smell and curiosity. Keep them away to stay safe!
5. Wrap the presents at the last minute
Wrapping paper might be Public Enemy No. 1 in the home of a dog owner. It’s shiny, it conceals fantastic smells, and it’s a TON of fun to tear off!
Don’t put wrapped gifts under the tree unless you want to have to wrap them again. Take measures to keep the dogs away. If you must have presents under the tree, consider anything with a scent (not just food, but also clothes, perfumes, candles, shoes, or anything that might tempt a pup) and exclude it from the public pile.
Our family wraps on Christmas Eve, a decision agreed upon after the “I found all these cool presents, I want to open them now” debacle of 2001 … a lesson you need to learn ONCE. We were lucky the dogs didn’t swallow anything dangerous, and we’ve built a new family tradition as a result!
6. Beware the onslaught of cheap dog toys
During the holidays our budgets get stretched to the max, and companies target families stretching the dollar with cheap alternatives for the dogs. Many prove dangerous.
Last year we found several toys in the sale bin were nothing more than thick socks filled with sawdust, a choking hazard for the dogs and a horrendous mess for the owners. It took Dairy and Pix less than five minutes to show us the error of our decision.
7. Keep Santa’s snacks out of your dog’s reach
If your human kids are leaving out milk and cookies for Santa, don’t forget to put those up high. Yes, it does happen. You have a furkid who has no idea they are intended for a fake fat man … and you end up with rumbling, aching tummies on Christmas.
Ralph is prone to eating garbage, crayons and bags of flour, and he keeps on ticking. He’ll never turn down anything that looks, smells or tastes anything like food! For dogs that don’t have a cast-iron stomach, watch those gifts for Santa and make sure they reach their intended target.
Those are a few of the common challenges loving dog owners will overcome with proper planning during the holidays. Make sure your visiting family, who may not be accustomed to life with four-leggers, is on board with the plan and aware of these concerns. In the end, the owner who truly invites his dog to be part of the family will recognize all of these issues and more, and will make sure we all have a very Merry Christmas. Happy holidays!
About the author: Heather lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters, and a number of four-leggers depending on how many fosters are residing in the house. She’s primarily a full-time volunteer where her services are needed the most.