How to Train Your Dog to Stay Away from a Christmas Tree

Medium
3-4 Days
Behavior

Introduction

O Christmas tree,  O Christmas tree, so lovely, so tempting, so dangerous for your dog. Christmas trees present a whole host of problems when you have a dog in the house, especially a young dog that may become fascinated with your tree and see it as a source of endless amusement, a great place to lift his leg and relieve himself, or a potential food source. 

Besides being a major pain, if your dog is constantly interfering with your tree and knocking off breakable ornaments, stepping on presents, or even peeing on your tree, there are several serious safety issues that Christmas trees present. A tree with electric lights presents a hazard of electric shock if a dog chews on the wires. Also, dogs may decide that the balls on your Christmas tree look an awful lot like the ball he likes to play fetch with. If breakable, not only may you have damaged decorations but your dog’s mouth or paws could be injured from broken glass and sharp edges. Another issue occurs when dogs ingest Christmas tree needles, which can have toxic substances on them or natural oils from the tree, which can make your dog sick. Tree parts can also cause damage to your dog's digestive system from punctures or by causing obstructions in the digestive tract. Some dogs like to drink tree water, which may contain chemical additives to preserve your tree, which can be toxic to your dog. Presents also can be a hazard; chocolates or other food substances can be wrapped as gifts under the tree and become an irresistible temptation to most dogs. I once came home to find my dog Taffy, who was a committed garbage hound, had unwrapped and consumed an entire box of chocolate liqueurs.  Taffy ran up and down the hallway, bouncing off walls for about 2 hours. Fortunately, he was OK. In short, there are a lot of risks that a tree with gifts can present if your dog does not learn the tree is not his plaything, food or toilet!

Defining Tasks

Your dog needs to learn to respect the Christmas tree, decorations, and associated presents under the tree as your property, not his. You can try making it difficult or impossible for your dog to approach the tree, with children's gates, by elevating the tree, or by keeping it in a different room with the door shut. For a household with a young dogs or puppies, keeping the tree out of reach may be a quicker solution than training, but this is not always practical, or possible. If you have a more mature dog, you will want to solve the problem on an ongoing basis so you don't have to face the issue every December. You can teach your dog to stay away from the tree with a little bit of supervision and training. Your dog should give the tree a berth of a few feet, and ignore the tree, presents, and decor. As an added bonus, when you teach your dog to stay away from the tree you can transfer this behavior to other things in the home that you want to be off limits, like garbage, furniture, or designated areas. Teaching your dog to stay away from the tree is important to keep him safe, and your Christmas Merry!

Getting Started

You can use treats to train your dog to stay away from and leave the tree alone and reinforce the behavior. Other methods involve creating a negative association with the tree, using a barrier your dog will not like to walk on, such as aluminum foil, can be used, or products available from a pet store. In addition, you may use a noise maker to create a negative association. You will need to temporarily block the tree off during training if you can not always be present to supervise, so that your dog does not become injured during the training period or inadvertently receive positive reinforcement from food items or playthings he finds. Supervision, vigilance, and consistency during training will be important to achieve success.

The Target and Distract Method

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Step
1
Target 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.
Step
2
Distract
Your dog will go get the treat. Now provide an alternate behavior, play, or let your dog outside to distract the dog from the tree.
Step
3
Repeat
Repeat whenever the dog approaches the tree, for a couple of days, saying "away" and tossing a treat away from the tree.
Step
4
Reward away from tree
When your dog has learned to move away from the tree for a treat, provide the away command without tossing a treat. When your dog moves away, give him a treat out of your hand. Alternate providing treats with just giving praise.
Step
5
Repeat and distract
Continue to distract with another choice when dog moves away from the tree, like a chew toy, play time, or outside.
Step
6
Remove reward
Start commanding your dog “away” when he approaches the tree and just giving verbal praise with no treat.
Recommend training method?

The Leave It Method

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Step
1
Present treat in hand
Teach your dog the 'leave it' command by presenting him with a treat in your closed hand.
Step
2
Say "leave it"
When your dog tries to reach the treat, say “leave it”.
Step
3
Reward 'leave it'
When your dog stops trying to reach the treat, say good and provide the treat. Repeat until established.
Step
4
Apply 'leave it' to the tree
Supervise your dog around the Christmas tree. When your dog approaches the tree, say "leave it".
Step
5
Reward hesitation and distract
When your dog hesitates in his approach, call him away from the tree and reward him.
Step
6
Practice '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.
Recommend training method?

The Negative Association Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Create a boundary
Create a boundary around your tree with aluminum foil, tacky mats that are used for keeping carpet from slipping, double-sided tape products available at pet stores, or a hard plastic mat with a nubby surface, also available from pet stores.
Step
2
Supervise and catch
Supervise your dog around the tree. When your dog approaches the tree he will have to come into contact with the barrier. Most dogs find the above surfaces unpleasant to walk on.
Step
3
Make noise
When your dog reaches the barrier, say “no” or “away” and make a loud noise with a bell or can filled with beads or rocks.
Step
4
Stop noise
When the dog backs off from the tree, stop making noise.
Step
5
Reward 'away' behavior
Give your dog lots of attention and rewards for staying away from the tree.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Cooper
cockapoo
9 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Cooper
cockapoo
9 Months

He won’t come back to his name
How do we get him not to go near the Christmas decorations

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
227 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Here are instructions for teaching recall. Recall: STAGE ONE – 'Catching' or Charging Up the 'Come' Cue Start in a distraction free environment so that your dog can focus only on you. Whenever your puppy or dog is coming to you on his own, wait until he is a couple of feet from you and then say his name and the word 'come.' When he gets to you, make a big fuss. With this exercise, your dog will learn that coming to you is a really good thing. After a while, you can lengthen the distance between you and start using the word when he is coming to you from a greater distance. Coming to you should always be rewarded, whatever the circumstance and no matter how long it took your dog to respond. Motivate your dog to come by being exciting, running away from him, waving a toy, or having delicious food for him when he gets to you. This will show him that coming back to you the best thing he can do. STAGE TWO – Solidifying the Cue Through Play Make sure you play the Back and Forth game with another person that your dog is comfortable with. Start the game in a quiet environment so it is easy for your dog to focus on you. Hold your dog back while the other person calls him excitedly. Try not to use his name or the cue word but talk excitedly to ‘gee’ him up. Do not release him until the person calls his name followed by the cue word “come.” When the cue word is given, release your dog and let him go running to the person calling. As soon as he reaches them they should praise and reward him with a game of tug or a food reward. When your dog has had his reward, have the other person hold him back as you call him and release as you say his name followed by the cue word. When he comes to you reward him with another game of tug or food reward. Repeat this game back and forth but only do a few repetitions so your dog does not get bored or too tired. Keeping it fresh means the game is always fun to play. STAGE THREE – Adding Vocal Cue With Hand Signal Inside Now your dog knows what the word “come” means you can use the cue word to call him to you while adding a hand signal to the word. Hand signals are always good to build with vocal cues so that even if your dog cannot hear you he will understand what the hand signal means. This is good if your dog is a distance away from you. Start in a quiet environment. Walk away from your dog and call his name followed by the cue word and a hand signal. Praise and reward him when he comes to you. Start increasing the distance you call him from and praise for his compliance. If he does not respond, go back to the previous distance and repeat. Only practice this cue for a few minutes so your dog does not get bored. The secret to success is to always keep it fun, exciting and fresh. When your dog recognizes the hand signal, try calling his name and using the hand signal by itself without the vocal cue. You will then be able to use a combination of vocal cue only, hand signal only and the two together. Now your dog knows what the cue word means you can start to call him from different rooms or from areas where he cannot see you. This will encourage him to respond even when you are out of sight. STAGE FOUR – Adding Vocal Cue With Hand Signal Outside Now your dog is consistently coming to you in a distraction free environment you can proof your recall cue by taking it outside. Practice the recall in your yard and then gradually build up to the point where you can use it in the park or similar environment. The ultimate test is to use the recall when your dog is engaged in a different activity. Wait for a lull in that activity and then call your dog to you. Praise his decision to comply.

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