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

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Medium
5-10 Days
Behavior

Introduction

When Bill's dad passed away his older farm dog, a Border Collie named Max, needed a home. Bill couldn't bear the thought of Max being put down or going to a home where he might not be treated well, so Bill decided to bring Max home to his house in the city, where Max was introduced to the wonderful world of the great indoors! Max had a lot to get used to being in the house, but a few weeks into December when Bill's wife put up the Christmas tree, things got really interesting! Max recognizes trees--they are for sleeping under, and peeing on, right? 

Problem! Bill’s family needs to teach Max that the Christmas tree is not like the trees outside at his former home on the farm. They need to teach Max to stay away from the tree. Teaching an old farm dog Christmas tree manners will take some time and patience but with consistency, Max will figure out that this tree is not like the trees back home!

Defining Tasks

Christmas trees present several problems for older dogs that have not been previously taught to stay away from them. You do not want your older dog peeing on, knocking over, or otherwise damaging gifts under the tree.  The tree itself can also present a threat to your older dog. Tree water can contain additives that are toxic to your dog, and pine needles ingested can damage your dog's digestive system. Decorations that are knocked off and played with can cut your dog's mouth or cause serious problems if accidentally swallowed. Decorative lights on trees also present a temptation for chewing, and an older dog that inadvertently chews on electrical light cords can be electrocuted and suffer burns to their mouth or worse, a fatal shock. 

You will want to teach your older 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 older dog and reinforcing moving away from your Christmas tree. Remember to be consistent and patient with your older dog while he is learning new boundaries.

Getting Started

You can use treats and toys to redirect your older dog away from your Christmas tree and teach him verbal commands to respect boundaries you set. In addition, you can use mats, aluminum foil, noisemakers, and any other creative deterrent you can devise to set up barriers around your tree until your older dog learns that the tree is not a good place to approach. Remember, rescue dogs or dogs coming from an environment where different boundaries were in place can be confused initially when new barriers are introduced. Be sure to use patience and avoid harsh punishments that will upset or confuse your older dog.  

The Redirect From Tree Method

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Step
1
Redirect from tree
Supervise your older dog around the Christmas tree. When your dog approaches the tree, say “away”, and toss a toy away from the tree for your dog.
Step
2
Reinforce with play
Your dog will go retrieve the toy. Call him over and go and play with him and the toy away from the tree.
Step
3
Use barriers
Continue to supervise around the tree and distract your dog with a toy, repeating the “away” command. When unable to supervise your dog, put temporary barriers around the Christmas tree.
Step
4
Use command solo
Gradually start proving the “away” command and not tossing a toy. Instead give praise for moving away from the tree.
Step
5
Reinforce and provide alternate activity
Provide the “away” command when your dog approaches the tree and provide verbal praise like “good”. Providing a chew toy away from the tree to distract your older dog may also be beneficial.
Recommend training method?

The Use Deterrents Method

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Step
1
Set up deterrents
Use 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 nubs turned upside down to create a barrier around your Christmas tree.
Step
2
Supervise
Watch as your older dog approaches the Christmas tree. Most dogs stepping on the deterrents will pause or retreat.
Step
3
Make nosie
When your dog approaches the tree, make a loud noise to startle your dog with a noise maker such a can filled with marbles or rocks or a loud bell.
Step
4
Add a command
Say “no” or “away” in a loud firm voice.
Step
5
Reinforce retreat
When the dog backs off from the tree, say “good”. Praise your dog.
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The Teach 'Leave It' Method

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Step
1
Present treat in hand
Hold your closed hand out to your dog with a treat wrapped in your hand.
Step
2
Add 'leave it' command
When your dog nuzzles, licks or paws at your hand to reach the treat, say “Leave it”.
Step
3
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.
Step
4
Use 'leave it' with tree
Monitor your older dog around the Christmas tree. When your dog approaches the tree, say “Leave it”.
Step
5
Reward compliance
When your older dog hesitates in his approach, call him away from the tree and reward him.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

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