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Bark Bytes… The Holidays Are Coming…Remember Our Four Legged Canines

The holidays are a busy time for many households.  Friends and family come and go, deliveries are made to the door, delicious smells emanate from the kitchen, and a general happy hubbub means that something special is happening.  Among those affected by these changes is the family dog.

Holiday festivities can interrupt a dog’s routine and present a potentially unsafe situation.  But by following a few common-sense tips, the holidays can be cheery for everyone.

While one dog may revel in the change of pace, another may find it a confusing, stressful time.  Your normally placid dog may suddenly begin to exhibit unusual behaviors, such as stealing food, jumping up on people, or growling or snapping at visitors.  As pack leader, you need to communicate and demonstrate to your dog that while his world may be different, you will continue to keep him safe and secure.

You can help ensure that everyone—both two- and four-legged—has a fun and safe holiday season by considering the following:

  • Most dogs get very excited when guests arrive. To help your dog be calmer, exercise him prior to the festivities. After 30 minutes of walking or playtime, your dog will more likely be relaxed or want to nap.
  • As a general rule, don’t allow the family dog to greet guests since unusual activities and commotion can cause him extra stress.
  • Prior to people arriving, consider putting him in his crate or in a quiet room with his doggie bed and favorite toy. Allow him to rejoin the festivities after all guests have arrived and are settled.
  • Putting your dog on a leash when you bring him to greet the guests will help you maintain better control of him.
  • For safety reasons, no one should ever approach the dog. The dog needs to come to the person.
  • If your dog is the type that gets anxious when guests are over, consider leaving him in another part of the house or board him for the holiday. This will keep him safe and allow you to enjoy the holiday without worrying about your dog.

Dogs that live in a household with no children may not be comfortable when kids come to visit.

The chaos created by youngsters like grandchildren will inherently raise the energy level in the house, causing the dog to worry or stress.

  • Always supervise kids (especially very young children) and dogs when they are alone together. This is when most dog bites to children occur.
  • Parents must be vigilant and monitor their children’s interactions with all dogs.
  • Never allow a child to feed a dog.

Many holiday foods can be harmful to canines, causing symptoms as mild as an upset stomach or as severe as vomiting and diarrhea.

Avoid giving your dog fatty or spicy foods, bread dough, fresh herbs, alcohol beverages, caffeine and sweets of all kinds—especially those with chocolate or xylitol, an artificial sweetener.

  • Particularly dangerous are cooked poultry bones. Cooked bones easily splinter, and the bone shards can cause choking, get stuck in your dog’s gums or possibly damage his intestines. Instead, treat your dog to “dog bones” specifically designed for him to chew.
  • Be sensitive to where you place food or where it is served, so your dog can’t reach it.
  • Keep all trash out of the reach of your dog. Put it outside or in a secured area.

Those holiday decorations can be dangerous:

  • Keep your dog away from holiday plants, many of which are poisonous, such as holly, mistletoe, poinsettias and amaryllis (a type of lily). Also be sure all potpourri is out of your dog’s reach.
  • Snow globes may contain antifreeze, which is toxic to a dog. Whether in the garage or in a snow globe, keep antifreeze products away from your happy, tail-wagging dog. If there is an antifreeze spill, keep your dog out of the room while you clean up the liquid.  Dilute the spot with water and floor cleaner to ensure your dog does not lick the area later.
  • Keep electrical wires and batteries out of your dog’s reach. Chewing or biting anything electrical can cause him shock or burns.
  • Don’t leave lighted candles unattended. A lit candle knocked over by a swinging tail can burn your dog or cause a fire.

That Christmas Tree

  • Anchor the tree to the ceiling or wall to prevent it from tipping over.
  • Avoid putting tinsel on your tree. If ingested, tinsel can twist in your dog’s intestines and be deadly.
  • Hang non-breakable ornaments near the bottom of the tree.
  • Don’t let your dog drink the Christmas tree water. The water may contain preservative chemicals, which can trigger severe indigestion in dogs.
  • Regularly sweep up fallen pine needles, as they can puncture holes in a dog’s intestines if ingested.
  • For a rambunctious dog, consider putting some type of boundary around the tree.

Should you give the dog a present?  Absolutely, he is a member of the family.

  • Help your dog stay busy and out of the holiday trimmings by giving him fun, safe dog-appropriate gifts.
  • There are a variety of indestructible toys as well as puzzle toys that reward your dog with treats and keep him well entertained.

Finally…A puppy or dog should not be given as a surprise gift!

  • A cute puppy or dog might seem like the perfect gift choice, but many of these holiday presents end up at animal shelters or just abandoned. Owning a dog takes a genuine commitment of time and responsibility and the “new” owners must be prepared to take on that responsibility and role. So you really want to make sure the “surprise” gift of a puppy or dog is going to be a welcome addition and at the right time.

Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company.  For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit

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