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The tree is up, the stockings are hung, and the countdown to Christmas has begun. The holidays are an exciting time of year not just for us, but for our puppies, too. And is there anything more precious than a puppy’s first Christmas?
In addition to more people, there’s more food, more fun things to play with—more of everything. There are also a variety of opportunities for things to go very wrong! Luckily, a little preparation can go a long way towards keeping your puppy out of trouble.
Our tips on welcoming guests, dealing with treats, and gift-giving will help assure that your puppy’s first Christmas is memorable— in a good way.
Guests. Whether your puppy loves them or hates them, they can cause additional anxiety about keeping your fur baby on their best behavior during the holidays.
How to Help a Friendly Puppy Greet Guests
- Let your guests know ahead of time that you’ll be leaving the door unlocked, and to wait until they hear you call “Come in!” before entering.
- Leash your puppy before guests arrive.
- Tuck the leash end under their harness or collar so it’s not dragging on the floor.
- When the doorbell rings, untuck the leash and hang on.
- Stand far from the door, while maintaining a view of it, while your guest enters.
- Begin to approach.
- If your puppy pulls too much towards or bounces around, back up a couple of steps, wait until they are relaxed, then begin again.
- Repeat until your puppy arrives calmly at the feet of your guest.
Once your pup has greeted and your guest has a chance to settle in, tuck their leash again and set them free.
How to Help An Anxious Puppy With Guests
If your puppy is nervous around new guests, interacting immediately upon their walking through the door is not likely to be regarded as a reward.
In fact, a nervous dog may bark and lunge at a guest because they feel threatened. The key, then, to helping an anxious dog be comfortable with guests is making sure they feel safe and secure.
Keeping your anxious pup on a leash when guests arrive may actually make the situation worse. Instead, help your nervous puppy be more comfortable:
- Set up a cozy, dog-safe space in another room
- Add white noise or classical music
- Provide a well-stuffed puzzle toy or chewie
Some dogs will do better if able to see people arriving at a safe distance (i.e., being able to see through a baby gate blocking off another area of the house). You can decide which is a better fit.
Once all your guests have arrived and your dog is calm, allow them to join you if they want. Never force your nervous dog to join the party!
Instruct guests to, at least initially, remain seated and not make eye contact or reach out to your dog. When your dog has had the chance to check out your guests, you can have them toss treats to your pup.
One of the surest ways to put a damper on your holiday is an emergency trip to the vet. Here’s how to avoid that!
A vet recently told me that, around the holidays, they frequently see dogs suffering from illness related to eating oniony/garlicky scraps offered from the dinner table.
Both onions and garlic—along with chocolate, raisins and grapes, macadamia nuts, avocados, poultry and fish bones, alcohol, and caffeine—are toxic to dogs and can cause a range of problems from tummy aches to ruptured red blood cells to organ damage. (To check on other common foods to see if they’re safe for your puppy, check out the Can My Dog Eat series.)
Bloat is another common holiday doggy illness that stems from overindulgence. Bloat, a condition where the stomach twists and fills with gas, can cause breathing problems and/or the possibility of a ruptured stomach or spleen.
It’s most common after a dog has drunk or eaten excessively and then engaged in a high-energy activity. Large breed adult dogs are most susceptible to bloat, but it can affect a pup of any size or age.
Stick to Routine
While it’s challenging not to give your puppy a little something extra during the holidays, sticking to their normal meal routine is the best way to keep them safe.
If you can’t say no, stick to small pieces of boneless meat and simply-cooked potatoes or green vegetables, as long as they have not been prepared with garlic or onions.
Because your guests will find it impossible to ignore your puppy’s wide-eyed begging, be sure to let them know that your puppy isn’t allowed to have human food. (Giving them approved treats to feed your pup should help everyone feel good about the interaction.)
Take Advantage of Training
Despite your best intentions, it’s almost inevitable (especially if you have a large breed) that your pup will be unable to resist the forbidden fruit (or pie) left out on a table or kitchen counter.
Scolding your dog with the word “No!” when they head towards a plate may get them to think twice, but it doesn’t communicate what you would prefer as an alternative—turning away from the food, altogether.
Your “leave it!” cue, however, informs your dog in no uncertain terms that you’d like them to leave the food alone. Haven’t yet taught your dog to “leave it”? There’s still enough time to introduce them to this crucial holiday cue. Check out our guide here.
Make Dog-Friendly Treats
One way to give your puppy some holiday indulgence? Make your own dog-safe treats at home. We have a ton of healthy, dog-friendly recipes for the holidays and beyond at Kiki’s Canine Kitchen.
Gifts are an important part of the holiday season and in the presence of all of those nicely wrapped goodies, it’s a toss-up whether your puppy’s instincts call for them to be naughty or nice.
Opening gifts, especially if there are children in the home, poses the biggest challenge. Expensive, thoughtfully chosen presents—especially if they have small pieces—are like kryptonite for pups who are likely to think that anything placed on the floor really belongs to them. Their thinking isn’t misguided.
Most things left in the middle of the floor thus far in their lives probably do belong to them (toys, chewies, balls, etc.). But this month, things left on the floor during gift opening may not only pose a choking hazard but may result in some serious tears!
And it’s not just the gifts, themselves, that can be problematic—wrapping, anything from sparkly paper to ribbons and bows—can be dangerous if your pup attempts to swallow them.
Tips for Opening Gifts with Your Pup
So, how to get the most fun out of unwrapping gifts without putting your puppy in danger?
- Bring the gifts to a table or counter to open them.
- Tether your pup. (Leashing them to yourself or to a nearby couch or table leg.)
You can help your puppy be happier about tethering if you give them a couple of gifts of their own. Rover’s gift guide can help you select some fantastic choices—but one of your pup’s favorite gifts is likely to be any clean, unembellished wrapping paper!
Take off any tape or glittery bits (even better, choose a simple, pretty paper gift wrap that won’t hurt your dog if they happen to swallow some) and let your pup tear their way through the drifts of paper.
Now that we’ve covered how to keep your puppy safe, let’s go over some fun ideas to make your puppy’s first Christmas special for both of you.
Take Photos With Santa
There’s nothing like the cuteness of a Santa photo with a wiggly, puppy that can’t wait to kiss dear old Saint Nick. Many pet stores and animal rescues have a day where you can bring your pup in to get a photo and some holiday cheer.
Get a Cute Christmas Sweater
If you’re the type of person that feels a dog wearing clothes is the epitome of cute, have you ever seen a puppy wearing a festive sweater? Be sure to measure your puppy before buying, and then take a look at what’s out there. (There are even owner and pup matching options.)
Buy a Puppy’s First Christmas Ornament
Not only will it look good on your tree, but it’ll also be a keepsake for the many years to come for you and your dog.
Hang the stockings with care
You have a stocking, why not get one for your puppy? Not only are there stockings made for dogs and all the fun goodies you want to put in them, but there are combination stockings already stuffed with toys for dog parents that don’t want to deal with having to store a stocking year-round.
Visit Dog-Friendly Holiday Attractions
Take a look at your town’s Chamber of Commerce or Parks Department website to see if there are any dog-friendly activities celebrating the holiday season.
Many parks decorate with lights, and other cities have parades and open-air markets you can visit with your pup.
No matter how you choose to celebrate the season with your puppy, it’s the memories you make that will be the best gift of all.