5 Ways to Give Your Dog the Best Holiday Season Ever

PIC_0525 (2)Here are my top five tips for ensuring that your dog has a wonderful holiday season - and please note, I do NOT suggest dressing your pup in swanky holiday outfits like these ones. No, that's usually just for my enjoyment, and I know I can only get away with this for about 5 minutes at a time before Tango (the white dog in the picture who is clearly not impressed), has had enough. (Sparky is her little brother, who has since passed away but who was much more willing to pose for treats than Tango). Anyways, I hope you enjoy these tips and that you have a wonderful holiday with your pups!

5 Ways to Give Your Dog the Best Holiday Season Ever!

11090-234941. Make your pup his very own stocking - complete with secret, wrapped surprises!

One of the things I love to do for my Tango each Christmas is to wrap 5-7 of her very favorite treats of all time individually, and then place them into her very own stocking. She loves to sniff and scratch and dig and explore as she tugs each little treasure out of her stocking, then lays down with her legs splayed on the carpet, holding her gift in her paws, as she delights in ripping the wrapping off of each one in shreds, and burying her nose into the delicious-smelling reward. Few things make me happier than watching her munch away on her special treat, joining in the holiday fun with the rest of the family.

Just a couple words of warning: If your dog isn't a picky eater and will happily swallow paper and/or tape as a snack if given the opportunity, a great trick is to place each treat into an empty paper lunch bag and then roll it up or twist it shut, and/or use an empty paper towel roll with the treat inside, folding over each end to secure the treat. Using paper bags ensures that your dog does not ingest the artificial colors and dies in most Christmas wrapping paper.

IMG_28542. Prepare his very own doggy holiday dinner.

And I don't mean fatty turkey skin or chocolate, both of which can be dangerous for dogs! Holiday meals are delicious for us, and because we love our pets, we want to share all of the goodies with them as well. But many foods can make Christmas a nightmare for your pets, so be sure to keep your dog away from the following: avocado, bread dough, any kind of alcohol, macadamia nuts, grapes or raisins, onions or garlic, or chocolate (as previously mentioned). For a more complete listing and for more information about how these foods can harm your pets, check out the SPCA's website by clicking here.

Instead, to make the holidays a wonderful experience for your dog, give him or her a serving (ok, maybe two!) of some chicken breast, a little piece of steak, and/or a little bit of pork chop with the fat cut off and a few carrots or other veggies (if they will eat them - I've never been able to convince Tango to eat her vegetables). Your dog will likely gobble up this special treat AND will stay happy, healthy and safe during the holiday!

madison-wrapping-paper3. Let him re-use your wrapping paper (before you re-cycle it)!

One of Tango's favorite games has always been to play "Let's shred the wrapping paper!" This game is very, very complicated, as you can imagine. Here's how to do it. After you unwrap each gift and revel in the beauty and gratitude of the moment, simply dangle the used piece of paper above your dog's head. I almost guarantee you, this game is instinctual for most dogs. They seem to be born having read and comprehended detailed instructions on what to do next: Wag tail furiously, pounce into thin air, clamp down on dangling paper and shake head like mad. Once said-paper is firmly on the ground, pounce on it and shred it to smithereens. Yes, it's a little messy with clean-up, but free and fantastic entertainment for the entire family, and likely will remind you yet once again why having a dog is so much fun.

Again, just a word of warning - make sure you supervise your dog to ensure that he's not ingesting heaps of dyed paper. If you notice him actually eating the paper, stop the game and give him a goodie to chew on instead - he might just be hungry. :-) Tango would never dream of eating paper; there are just too many other delicious things around that she would rather munch on!

IMG_10554. Give your dog a safe space to retreat to during this busy season.

Although it can be fun for your dog to play and visit with the many guests you may have coming and going from your home, it's important to remember that dogs have unique personalities, just like humans do, and that some dogs are more out-going and extroverted than other dogs. Tango will happily mingle and soak up attention from anyone and everyone who is willing to admire her for the first 45 minutes of any party, but then she seems to wilt and look up to me for help in finding a retreat. Sparky, on the other hand, was much more wary of new people and would want to escape to his secret hiding place the moment guests arrived, and would then gingerly peek his head out about mid-way through the evening, and only if he smelled food. Tango's favorite place to retreat to would be under the Christmas tree in the warmth and the protection of the lights, while Sparky preferred to escape to the depths of his kennel with a good treat to munch on to soothe his sensitive nerves. Large crowds and noises can be challenging for even the most out-going dogs to handle, so it's important to have a couple of safe-retreat options available for your pets at all times. Can you spot Tango resting under the tree in this picture?

DSC_92805. Remember that your love and attention is the very best gift you can give your dog.

During the holidays, we often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that our dogs end up being left alone for long hours as their humans attend parties and race around fighting the crowds at busy malls. Do your best to take a little time each day, both for you and for your dog, to play, to rest, and to let him know how much you love him. One of the ways I do this with my Tango is to tell her, each and every day, the Love Pledge that I've taught the many children who have participated in my program, How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom, to do with their own pets. You can modify this Love Pledge based on your own relationship with your dog. Here is what I tell my Tango each morning as she wakes up, and each night before I go to sleep. While stroking her softly, I say:

Tango, how did I get this lucky to have you for my dog?

You are so special.

You are so smart.

And I love you.

Then I place a kiss on her sweet little nose, and I go to sleep knowing that she knows how well-loved she really is. (And this is a wonderful way to then begin your own love pledge for your children, if you have them). I wish you and your family, both human and non-human, all the love in the world during this holiday season!