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Christmas is probably the best time of the year. Giving gifts to family and friends, cooking scrumptious family meals, lighting the lights on a winking, twinkling Christmas tree...these are things we 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 to 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 young pup might show too much interest in his first 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 puppy knocks the tree off its stand. At best, a huge mess to clean up. At its worst, dangerous broken ornaments and exposed wiring.
Having a young dog doesn't mean that you can't enjoy having a beautiful indoor Christmas tree, but training your dog to look and not touch is definitely the best way to avoid holiday disaster and to give you peace of mind all season long.
If your pup has never seen a Christmas tree before, you might want to consider putting up the tree and leaving it bare for a few days before decorating it with lights and ornaments. This way you can start training your dog to avoid the tree in a lower-risk environment. Hopefully by the time you do decorate the tree, Fido will have lost interest in it.
You will need:
- A tree skirt
- A tree stand
- Electrical tape
- Citrus or bitter apple spray
- A short (approximately 6 ft) leash
The 'Ah-Ah' Method
Choose your command
It is very likely that you have already developed a vocabulary with your puppy to communicate that he is doing something he shouldn't be. Rather than 'no,' a simple 'tsk' or 'ah-ah' can be used to let your puppy know that he should not repeat a behavior. Keep your command soft and simple;don't yell and keep your reprimand verbal only.
Start right away
It is likely that your pup will want to examine the new Christmas tree as soon as it goes up. Set a boundary right away--a good one might be the edge of the tree mat or skirt. As soon as your dog approaches that boundary, give your 'ah-ah' command. This should get his attention and cause him to pause.
Replace your dog's behavior
Before giving your dog the chance to turn back to the tree, give him another command, for a behavior he already knows, such as 'sit' or 'lie down.' Treat him immediately if he performs the behavior instead of fixating on the tree.
Be vigilant when the tree first goes up. If your dog approaches beyond the barrier you've established, be sure to intervene with your 'ah-ah' command and ask him to perform another rewarded behavior instead of touching the tree.
With repeated verbal commands and replacement behaviors, your dog should come to know to sit or lie down close to the tree, but not approach beyond the barrier you've established. Now he can enjoy the tree the way it was meant to be enjoyed--by looking and not touching. Training him to sit by the tree will also make for some adorable holiday photos!
The Dog-Proof Tree Method
Opt for fake
Another way to keep your dog away from the Christmas tree is to make it as unappealing as possible. Real trees are beautiful, but the smell of fresh pine and other outdoor scents will be more tempting to your dog than a fake tree. At least for puppy's first Christmas, training with a fake tree might be easiest.
Choose a stable stand
Regardless of whether your tree is real or fake, make sure that it is firmly rooted in a wide, stable tree stand.
Keep valuables up-high
When decorating your tree, make sure to keep your most valued and breakable ornaments in the higher branches. In fact, if your puppy is easily tempted by bobbles, you may want to consider leaving the branches within his reach bare.
Cover all cords
If your tree has electric lights, make sure that all cords are safely hidden from sight and inaccessible as chew toys, or tape over cords with secure electrical tape. Battery-operated lights are another option, to forego cords completely.
Use scents to your advantage
Consider spraying your tree with a scent that will make your dog turn his nose up at the thought of playing in or chewing on its branches. Some home-made options include: lemon-water (or other citrus) sprays and cotton balls dipped in Vick's VapoRub (stuck in the tree's lower branches). Bitter apple spray is another spray that can be purchased at any pet store and that coats potential chew toys in a bitter taste.
The Short Leash Method
Put your dog on a short leash
This method works best when you are able to spend time with your dog in the same space as your Christmas tree. Attach one end of a short leash that gives your dog some room to move around, but that ultimately keeps him close to you (in this case, about 6 feet) to your dog's collar and the other end to your belt or another point on your body.
Go about your business
Go about your business in the same room as the tree, preferably doing something that allows your dog to sit or lie down, rather than keeping him running after you (i.e. watching television or reading a book).
Keep a tight leash
If your dog approaches the Christmas tree, pull on the lead to stop him from reaching it, and to encourage him to come back toward you.
Treat, treat, treat
Reward your dog's shortstop and retreat with words of praise and a treat.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repeat every time your dog makes toward the tree. When he loses interest and settles for a prolonged period by you, you can remove the leash. If he makes for the tree again, start over until he learns that staying away from the tree is good behavior that will be rewarded.
By Michelle Anne Olsen
Published: 01/19/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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