Managing the Holidays with Dogs

The holidays for me are a time to fight off the darkness of longer nights and colder temperatures with every available means.  I love to start with decorations and I don’t mean just hanging a wreath on the front door. Oh no, not me, I go totally overboard and decorate everything.  Every archway has it’s own special garland for the theme of the room, each room has a fully decorated tree with its own theme, the stairs have baskets of poinsettias, there are elves and snowmen, trains, villages and all sorts of scenes of every type and description. Santa can be found with his trusty Labrador by his side, bird watching or hunting or getting a bath. Hardly a space in the house is left without something to brighten it up.  When all is said and done, it is quite something to see. Many friends bring their children over to see it all, which makes all the effort more worthwhile.  While all this decorating really does help to boost my spirits, there is always this horrendous task of managing the dogs during this “delicate” time.  Anyone who has lived with a Labrador’s Otter tail can appreciate what I am saying; especially if you multiply the effect by 8 adult dogs and the 20 puppies we currently have running around this December.

Let’s make one thing clear; dogs do not care about your holiday decorations. That really cute stuffed Lab puppy under the tree in my office that has a little stocking in its mouth and moves back and forth like it is shaking it is just a chew toy as far as any of my pooches are concerned.  This sounds like an obvious statement but I still get calls from people asking what they should do to keep the dogs out of the decorations.  So here are my suggestions to help you get through your holidays and still keep a loving relationship with your dog.

  1. Buy lots of bones. Nothing beats boredom for a dog then a good fresh marrow bone from the butcher shop.  They will work on that bone for hours to get all the marrow out and be just as happy as can be. Not to mention they will stay occupied while you continue to decorate. Did I mention we have 7 full sized trees we put up every year?  I buy lots of bones.
  2. Get out and exercise your dogs more. I know it is cold outside, it might even being snowing, but if you want your dogs to sleep more you need to exercise them more, so get out there and work off a few extra calories from those delicious holiday cookies while you tire the pups out.
  3. Did I mention cookies? Try Baking your dogs their own Christmas cookies. Yes, you can do this. And guess what? If they turn out bad because you are not that great a cook I assure you your dogs will scarf up every crumb, tail wagging and will beg for more.

Here is a simple recipe for Pumpkin Peanut Butter Treats all dogs love:

Ingredients   2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour; 2 eggs; 1/2 cup canned pumpkin; 2 tablespoons peanut butter; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Whisk together the flour, eggs, pumpkin, peanut butter, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add water as needed to help make the dough workable, but the dough should be dry and stiff. Roll the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick roll. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.  Bake in preheated oven until hard, about 40 minutes.

While the cookies are baking play a puzzle game with your dogs to keep them occupied and make them feel like part of the holiday scene too.  Too often we get so caught up in doing everything for us we forget to include them or at least give them some special one on one time.  Let the cookies cool before offering to your dogs. Be sure to count your fingers, these are a favorite.

4. Use zone control. This is critical in certain areas of the house. We use gates to keep dogs in those areas they are allowed and out of those areas where the really delicate decorations are. The key here is to make sure the dog understands not to cross the gate and that everyone in the family knows you are going to tar and feather them if they forget and leave the gate open.

5. Buy lots of dog toys.  Dogs get excited to see all the things laid out around the house as you are decorating and have a hard time resisting the urge to explore all the goodies. Unless you give them something more fun to explore,  like a bunch of new toys of their own, they will give in to temptation and it won’t be pretty.

6. Get out and exercise your dog(s) more. That’s right once a week is not enough; try at least twice a day.

7. Fake it.  I use very well made silk poinsettias for example so none of the dogs are exposed to potentially poisonous plants.  In areas where the dogs are still traveling from the zone control I keep decorations higher. In the zone control areas they are lower and on the ground.  You really have to get creative when you have dogs with how you place things but think about where you put it from the dog’s eye view beforehand. One example of this is don’t hang bright red balls on the lowest branches of the tree if the dogs are allowed in that room. That looks too much like something to play with for most dogs and it is just not fair to tempt them like that.

person reading to puppies

What happened next?

In spite of all the hassles of the extra management precautions of keeping the dogs and the decorations away from each other I really do enjoy the holidays.  I thought it was a bit sad when Sam and I were in Florida recently when all the people we spoke to that live down there now, said they really missed the change of seasons we get up here in the Appalachian Mountains.  They went on to explain how it really does not seem like a holiday for them in Florida, no matter how much they decorate.  I kept telling people who told us that, come and visit us if you want to experience holiday joy and the meaning of the season. There can’t be anything better than lying under the Christmas tree with 20 puppies snuggled on your chest and in every available space near you while you read them a Christmas story.

Peace and Happiness to everyone, everywhere this holiday season