There’s nothing better than celebrating your puppy’s first Christmas. From toy-stuffed stockings to pictures with Santa, there are plenty of ways to incorporate your new four-legged family member into your holidays, so long as you’re prepared.
Follow these tips to keep your puppy safe and teach them how to be a well-behaved and festive member of your family this holiday season.
Decorate With Care
Puppy proofing your home at Christmas can be challenging, but is crucial to ensure a safe holiday.
“Some holiday ornaments and decorations look just like a fun toy for your puppy. Place these items out of puppy’s reach,” says certified professional dog trainer Sarah Westcott. “It might be easiest to place a puppy gate around your Christmas tree.”
In addition, avoid trimming your tree with tinsel and ribbons, says Dr. Heather B. Loenser, veterinary advisor with the American Animal Hospital Association. If eaten, these linear foreign bodies can get caught in the intestines and require complex, emergency abdominal surgery, she says. Snow globe-type decorations may contain antifreeze to keep them from cracking, she adds, and should also be kept out of your puppy’s reach.
Lastly, don’t forget to use nontoxic additives, or “tree food,” when adding water to your Christmas tree’s stand.
Always Be Supervising
Your puppy’s first Christmas is an exciting time for them—you’re bringing a tree into the house, after all! Part of making your puppy’s first Christmas successful is making sure that they’re totally supervised or safely kept away from activities like tree set-up and other decorating. This is where crate training comes in handy.
“Crate training is probably the most important skill for puppies during the holiday season,” Westcott says. “If your puppy is happy in her crate, then she has a safe place to relax when owners can’t supervise her. This is helpful during parties, gift wrapping and other festivities.”
Another strategy is to keep your puppy leashed inside the house, which will prevent them from investigating the tree or decorations too closely. When you can’t supervise your puppy, make sure they are safely confined in a non-decorated room or crate, and ramp up your puppy proofing.
“Look at every package and person that comes into the house as a potential hazard. Keep electrical cords unplugged when you’re not home. Be sure to blow out any candles,” Loenser says. “Don’t put gifts under the tree unless the tree is supervised by an adult or out of reach of the puppy.”
Don’t Forget Your Routine
While it’s easy to get sucked into the chaos of the holiday season, for your puppy’s sake, it’s important to keep things as routine as possible. A common mistake new puppy parents make when they have time off is to spend every moment with their dog. Instead, it’s best to stick to a regular routine as much as possible, Westcott says.
“Even if the puppy owner is home from work, she still needs to keep her puppy on a schedule that will prepare her for January,” she says.
And sticking with your routine means remembering to carve out time in your plans for walks, as keeping your puppy happy and well behaved in the midst of the excitement is dependent upon them getting enough physical and mental exercise.
“Tired puppies are always good puppies, so a good game of tug or a romp in the park before your cocktail party will do a world of good,” Westcott says.
Door Manners Matter
Though it is difficult to do, try to keep your puppy away from the front door when guests come and go, and always be prepared with dog treats to reward appropriate greeting behavior, like sitting down before saying hello to guests.
“Door manners and polite greetings are all important,” Westcott says. “That way when guests visit, the puppy will have practiced polite door manners and will not jump on them.”
This will help keep your puppy safe, too. People coming and going is an easy time for a puppy to bolt out a door and get lost or hurt, so make sure your puppy is microchipped and always wearing updated tags. In addition, try to give them extra potty breaks throughout the course of the evening to help limit any accidents.
So Do Party Manners
Christmas is a fun time to connect with friends and family, but no one enjoys being bombarded by an out-of-control adolescent dog. Teaching your puppy to positively and appropriately engage with guests will make time spent together more enjoyable.
Westcott recommends practicing impulse control and appropriate interactions with people. This means rewarding your puppy for behaviors that you do want, like sitting when greeting guests, going to her bed when the doorbell rings, or napping in a crate with a safe chew during Christmas Eve dinner.
It’s equally important to ask your guests to not reinforce or encourage less-than-desirable behavior from your puppy like begging at the table, jumping or mouthing. And when visiting friends or family, remember not everyone is used to puppy proofing in the same ways that you are.
“Puppies are very curious of new people and what they bring into the house, like luggage,” Loenser says. “Not only will your guests likely not enjoy finding their luggage chewed up, many medications, like ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin, sleep aids and antidepressants, are especially dangerous for dogs and can lead to overdoses.”
Lastly, be sure to give your puppy plenty of quiet time away from loud parties and excitement. Large gatherings can be overwhelming to puppies, so you want to keep those engagements as positive as possible.
Make a Plan
If you’re going to be on the road with your puppy, plan ahead to make sure the holiday adventure will be fun and safe. Don’t forget to pack dog toys, treats and your puppy’s crate, Loenser and Westcott say—that’ll help them be a good guest over the holidays and can provide a positive distraction from holiday treats and decor.
In addition, make sure you know your vet’s hours in case you need help, or find the closest veterinary hospital to where you’ll be staying, Loenser says. If you have any concerns over something your puppy has ingested, take your puppy to an emergency hospital if she has continuous vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, limping or inappetence, she says. You can also call an animal poison control hotline, like the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control center (888-426-4435) or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661).
Mind the Menu
Christmas is full of delicious treats for people, but most holiday favorites are a no-no for puppies. Remind your guests not to feed your puppy anything off of their plates and be sure to steer clear of chocolate, sugar-free candy or peanut butter containing Xylitol, raw bread dough and bones of any kind, Loenser says. Rich, fatty foods like gravy, casseroles, meat fat or trimming should also be avoided, she adds.
Enjoy the Festivities Together
Christmas is full of festive activities you can share with your dog. Community centers and retailers usually offer the opportunity for dogs to meet Santa, sometimes for free or for a small donation to benefit a rescue group. This is a great opportunity to get an adorable picture for Instagram, or even for next year’s Christmas card, but it can be stressful your puppy.
If you decide to meet Santa, bring lots of treats or your puppy’s favorite toy, Westcott says, as the experience can be scary. If you know your puppy is uncomfortable or nervous around new people or in loud places, go early in the day, let your puppy get used to the environment and wait until they are happily playing and taking treats before making the introduction to Santa.
Use this routine if you want pictures of your puppy in Christmas antlers, too: lots of treats and praise and be sure to gauge her comfort level.
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Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author whose novels have been honored by organizations ranging from the Lambda Literary Foundation to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer living and writing in Brooklyn with a menagerie of dogs and cats.