I don’t know a single dog that hasn’t, at one point or another, gotten into ribbon, presents, the tree, or dinner.
Holidays are a very difficult time for dog training, but not because there are so many temptations around. Imagine, for a moment, our family and our typical holiday season. We have friends and family over multiple times, we’re all distracted buying, wrapping, and gloating about gifts (there’s a lot of gloating in my family — “I got you the best present! Hee hee hee!”), and no one is paying attention to the dogs. To top it off, we’ve brought all this new, exciting stuff into the house, and put it on the floor. Where do the dogs toys go? On the floor. Where do our “toys” typical go? Not on the floor. It’s no wonder our dogs get confused!
As the holiday season nears, there is one all-important thing you can do: wrap things you don’t care about, decorate them with ribbon, toss them on the floor, and tell your dogs to leave them alone! They need supervised practice so that when you’re distracted, they’ll leave the real presents alone. I’d recommend a squirt bottle, or whatever else you typical use to let your dog know something isn’t appropriate.
When you put the tree up and your dog, wondering why you’re playing with this pointy green thing, goes to sniff, do the same thing. Sniffing is a precursor to close examination, and close examination is a precursor to grabbing ornaments or knocking the tree over. It’s better to let them know right off the bat they shouldn’t go near it.
Finally, decide among your family what to do with the dogs while there are guests around. Leave them out, and keep half an eye on them? Great! Put them in a room where they don’t have to worry about people? Great! Whatever you do, make sure everyone agrees and is on board. Also think about how your dogs might react: a fearful dog will probably be happier in a room away from the chaos, or on a leash tied to one person’s beltloop (my own personal preference for teaching puppies good behavior at a party!). It’s also a good idea to get them a special treat for when everyone is focused on gifts or food; bones, Nylabones, bully sticks or toys with hidden food are all good ideas.
Finally: don’t give into the temptation to play with the dog with ribbons or wrapping paper! Yes, it’s cute when they take the discarded paper and play, or when we put ribbon on their head (I’m that kind of mean owner!), but it’ll confuse them; if not for this year, next year. Dogs have much longer memories than we think!
If you have particular problems you’d like to see addressed, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via my website. In the meantime — happy holidays!