Solving Common Holiday Pet Problems

Dogs chewing the Christmas tree? We have solutions to this and other holiday pet behavior issues.

The holidays can be a stressful time for all of us, pets included, and everything from decorations to delicious meals to a slew of party guests can cause behavior issues to crop up that you don’t see the rest of the year. So we asked two pet experts to divulge their training secrets to keep the holidays merry, bright and behavior issue free!

The holiday season is filled with lots of extra visitors, sites and smells for your pet that may cause behavior issues to crop up that you don’t deal with any other time of the year. If you catch your cat climbing on the Christmas tree or your dog counter-grazing for turkey scraps, try our solutions for these and other common holiday pet behavior issues.

Holiday Pet Behavior Problems

Problem: My dog excitedly jumps on all of my holiday guests.

Solution: If your dog has a bad habit of jumping up to greet unfamiliar guests, there are a few things you can do. For understanding guests, ask them to turn their back to your dog and avoid giving him attention or saying hello until he is on all fours, suggests Shelby Semel, a New York City dog trainer. Another way to manage the situation, which is especially good if you have a large jumping dog, is to keep your dog on a leash until all of your party guests have arrived.

Problem: My dog can’t resist begging for turkey dinner.

Solution: Whether it’s the holidays or not, begging can be prevented by helping your dog learn a skill that competes with the problem, says New York City dog trainer and pet expert Andrea Arden. “If your dog is happily playing with a toy, he won’t have the time or inclination to beg,” she says. Fill a stuffable toy with treats or offer a bully stick in addition to feeding your dog at the same time everyone sits down to dinner. But during the holidays, the temptation of begging may be exacerbated by long, lingering meals and the fact that you’re more focused on socializing than disciplining your pet. “In this case, it’s best to provide your dog with a quiet and calm place to rest such as a crate or separate room, so he can avoid interactions which may lead to inappropriate behavior,” says Arden.

Problem: My cats won’t stop climbing the Christmas tree.

Solution: A tree with lots of sparkling ornaments adorning it may be too much for your cats to resist, but toppling the tree and the possibility of ingesting ornaments are real dangers to your pets, not just your holiday décor! Try to keep your cats away from the tree by enticing them to other parts of the home with strategically placed scratching posts. Or, Arden suggests spraying a citrus scent or orange peels on and around the tree because many cats will avoid these smells. And when you aren’t home it’s best to close the door to the room with the Christmas tree in it, or if that’s not possible, confine your cats to a safe area of your home.

Problem: My dog started growling around the holidays.

Solution: “The holidays can be very stressful for people, and likewise for our dogs,” says Arden. “People are often surprised when their otherwise friendly and happy dog growls at or even bits family or visitors when no obvious aggression issues have reared their ugly head in the past.” All of the decorations, visitors, boisterous human behavior and other changes during the holiday season, can stress pets beyond their tolerance. Think ahead and consider how challenging certain situations can be for your pet. If you’re throwing a party it may be best to have your pet go to a friends house for example. Or you may want to keep one area of the house, perhaps where your pet’s bed is, decoration free. And certainly, try not to mix up your pet’s routine too much or short him on exercise despite your busy holiday schedule.

Problem: My dog peed on the Christmas tree.

Solution: You let your dog mark trees outside, so it’s not uncommon for dogs to be confused by new rules surrounding indoor trees. An artificial tree may be the best choice in this case, but if you’re set on a real fir, introduce your pet to the tree carefully with Semel’s method . Keep your dog in another room during set up. Then, take your dog outside to empty his bladder. While still on the leash, bring him into the tree and let him sniff for a moment or two before leading him away and praising him. Allow him to sniff another spot, repeating the process several times, and then do it again once you put presents beneath the tree. “This will help your pup get comfortable with the tree and lower the chances of him deciding to mark it,” says Semel. If all else fails, you can place an exercise pen or two around the tree, says Arden. While not the prettiest solution, it also prevents your dog from drinking the water in the Christmas tree stand.