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Christmas is the best time of the year! Giving gifts to family and friends, cooking scrumptious family meals, and lighting the lights on a winking, twinkling Christmas tree are things many of us look forward to every year.
And with so many novel sights and smells--not to mention the occasional present under the tree--the holiday season can be a lot of fun for Fido too! Many families have developed traditions that include their pet in the festivities, such having as their own stocking or festive get-up. But some parts of the holidays are best observed rather than experienced hands-on. One of these is the indoor Christmas tree.
With a delicious smell and so many interesting lights and ornaments, it's no wonder that your dog might show too much interest in the Christmas tree. The last thing you want is to recreate a slapstick scene from a holiday movie and watch in horror as your over-excited pupper knocks the tree off its stand. At best, a huge mess to clean up. At its worst, dangerous broken ornaments and exposed wiring. But spending a little time training your dog to leave the tree alone can keep the holidays safe, and best of all, fun for everyone!
Having a dog doesn't mean that you can't enjoy having a beautiful indoor Christmas tree. Training your dog to look and not touch is definitely the best way to avoid holiday disaster and give you peace of mind all season long.
Whether you are dealing with a young puppy, an adult dog, or ever an elderly canine, using patient and compassionate training methods while reinforcing the training as needed will go a long way to saving the tree and keeping your pup away from harm.
Christmas trees present a number of dangers, including tree water that could contain toxic additives, pine needles that could damage your dog's mouth or digestive system if eaten, lights that could cause cause electrocution, or various kinds of ornaments that could look tasty. Not to mention any presents waiting under the tree that you probably don't want your dog to get into, or pee on!
You will want to teach your dog that the tree and surrounding area is off limits. This can be accomplished with deterrent barriers, training to obey verbal commands to avoid the tree, or directing your dog away from the tree. Remember to be consistent and patient with your dog while he is learning these new boundaries.
For the two methods below, you'll want to have a supply of treats. Using high value treats during training sessions is recommended, so aim for something your dog really loves but doesn't usually get, such as bits of chicken. You may also want to have their favorite toys nearby to use as distractions while training.
We'd all love to have unlimited time to spend teaching our dog, but the reality is that you can't have eyes on them every moment. So, while your dog is still learning how to leave the Christmas tree alone, it may be wise to have some kind of boundary or deterrent to keep them away from it until they know their boundaries. Items you can use around the tree include aluminum foil, tacky/sticky mats or tape available at pet stores or for holding carpet in place, a hard plastic mat with a nubby surface, or carpet runners with spikes turned up that can be found at hardware stores. You can also use a baby gate to keep your dog out of the room where the tree is located until you care able to supervise.
The Redirect From Tree Method
Redirect away from tree
Watch your dog carefully. When he approaches the tree, say "away" and toss a treat on the floor away from the tree.
Your dog will go get the treat. Now provide a toy, play with your dog, or let your dog outside to distract them from the tree.
Repeat whenever the dog approaches the tree for a couple of days, saying "away" and tossing a treat away from the tree.
Reward away from tree
When your dog has learned to move away from the tree for a treat, use the "away" command without tossing a treat. Then, when your dog moves away, give him a treat out of your hand. Alternate providing treats with just giving praise or playing with them.
Repeat and distract
Continue to provide the “away” command whenever your dog approaches the tree and give them verbal praise like “good”. Providing a chew toy away from the tree to distract your dog may continue to be beneficial.
Once your dog has the "away" command down, start using it when he approaches the tree and just giving verbal praise with no treat.
The Leave It Method
Present treat in hand
Hold your closed hand out to your dog with a treat wrapped in your hand.
Say "leave it"
When your dog nuzzles, licks or paws at your hand to reach the treat, say “Leave it”.
Reinforce "leave it"
When your dog stops trying to reach the treat, say “good” and provide a different treat from your other hand. Gradually start leaving treats on the ground and using the 'leave it' command. When your dog obeys, reward with a better treat. Repeat until the 'leave it' command is established.
Apply "leave it" to the tree
Supervise your dog around the Christmas tree. When your dog approaches the tree, say "leave it" making sure to give your dog a treat when they obey.
Reward hesitation and distract
When your dog hesitates in his approach, call him away from the tree and reward him.
Repeat "leave it" for tree
Repeat for several days, replacing treats with praise. Eventually, just command the dog to “leave it” when he approaches the tree.