Paws up if you love Christmas! Christmas can be a wonderful, special time for many people: a chance to enjoy good food, good company and lots of fun while making memories to last you into the New Year. If your dog is an important part of your family, it makes sense to include them in your holiday celebrations as much as possible.
Some Christmas activities can be easily adapted to include your family pet, while others may not be entirely dog-friendly. With a little prior thought and planning, you can make your dog’s Christmas just as wonderful as your own. Read on for seven awesome ways to enjoy Christmas with your dog, from super cute photo ops to dog-friendly decorations, winter festivities to enjoy with your dog and tips to find the paw-fect present for everyone.
So warm up your hot chocolate, curl up next to your pooch and read on to find out how to make Christmas special for the furriest members of your family.
Take A Walk
Ask any dog, and they’ll tell you: nothing beats a good walk with their favorite human. And while there are countless physical and psychological benefits of dog walking, there can be even more to enjoy on a good old-fashioned dog walk at Christmas time.
Some people go all out with their Christmas decorations (you probably already know which houses in your neighborhood boast the best displays) and these are usually best enjoyed in the evening when the twinkling lights are to full effect. Take your dog out for a special evening time walk and visit some of the best holiday lights displays in your neighborhood. While your dog will undoubtedly relish any opportunity for a walk, they’ll love the novelty of going out in the evening and changing up your normal walking route to swing by the best Christmas displays.
Some holiday decorations may be a little too much for your dog’s excitement levels, but they’re sure to enjoy all the fresh sights, sounds and smells at this time of year. Plus, you’ll both be getting some much-needed fresh air and exercise.
The Paw-fect Present
Shopping for gifts is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the holiday season, and there is no reason why you can’t include your dog on your holiday list. While it can be tempting to go overboard with presents for your dog, try to keep their interests in mind while shopping, rather than your own. This means that while you may think your dog looks super cute in a bumblebee costume, they’ll probably much prefer a new squeaky toy or comfy bed. Presents for your dog don’t have to be expensive, as they’ll most likely be just as excited to receive a new ball as they would the latest electronic pet contraption.
Loosely wrap up the present in wrapping paper using minimal tape and see if your dog is interested in helping you unwrap it. Some dogs can get pretty efficient at unwrapping presents using their paws and teeth. If you’re keen to help your dog learn how to unwrap a present, start with wrapping a toy that has an attractive smell or makes an exciting sound to get your dog excited to find out what’s inside.
Holiday gift giving doesn’t have to stop with you choosing a couple of new items for your dog. Why not whip up a batch of dog-friendly biscuits (there are plenty of recipes online that don’t include any harmful ingredients) and deliver them – with your dog in tow – to other dogs in your neighborhood. If you don’t know your neighbors that well, get some packages ready and take them to your nearest dog exercise hotspot like your local park or beach to give out to other pet lovers.
Decorate In A Dog-Friendly Way
Making holiday decorations dog-friendly is as simple as thinking ahead and avoiding any possible hazards. Some dogs like to chew on electrical cords, so keep this in mind when plugging in Christmas lights. Taping the cords to the floor or wall or hiding them under a rug can easily keep this problem at bay.
Edible Christmas decorations are an obvious no-no, and care must also be taken with living holiday plants. Mistletoe, lilies, and poinsettias can all be harmful to dogs, so keep any non-artificial plants well out of your dog’s reach.
Some Christmas trees – whether real or artificial – will have been treated with chemicals, so either choose your tree carefully or consider using a tree skirt so that your dog can’t reach the bottom part of the tree.
If you’re having guests over for a Christmas function, it is usually possible for your dog to be included in the festivities. As an important member of your family, guests to your home probably won’t be surprised to see your dog roaming around and enjoying the fun. If handled in the right way, having your dog present during a Christmas house party can be a delightful source of amusement for your guests. Snap a bow tie on your dog’s collar, and you can tell everyone you’ve hired wait staff for the event, and your guests will think that you have hosted the best Christmas party ever.
Many dogs enjoy watching presents being unwrapped (and some will even like to help in their own special way), and your party guests will get a kick out of watching your dog joyfully running through the pile of discarded wrapping paper.
For dogs that like to sing, a good old-fashioned Christmas carol singalong could have your guests laughing along as your dog does their best to keep up the tune. For bonus points, make up your own dog-friendly lyrics to some popular Christmas carols and hand out the updated words to your guests before the singalong begins.
Of course, the safety of your dog must always be paramount, so have a word to your guests beforehand to ensure that no one gives your dog any human food or drinks. Some people don’t understand just how toxic human food can be to a dog, so having a quiet word to all of your guests before the party starts should stop this problem before it begins.
Keep Food Dog-Friendly
Food is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable aspects of the holiday season for humans, but this is no time to break your rules and let your dog indulge in human food. While it may make you feel good to serve your dog the same meal that you’re enjoying, the health of your dog must always be your primary concern. Many human foods can be toxic to dogs, and these same foods are common ingredients in holiday food. Chocolate, raisins, grapes, nuts, and any food with the artificial sweetener xylitol can be potentially deadly for your dog, so skip the human food and stick to your dog’s normal diet regime.
Say Cheese For Santa
Shopping mall Santa are well equipped to handle any kind of child situation they may come across, but many of them may not have posed for a holiday photo with a dog before. While you may not be able to simply take your dog to your nearest shopping mall Santa, with a little online research you should be able to find a local Santa that is happy to pose for a photo with you and your dog, sometimes in exchange for a donation to a local dog shelter or charity.
While it’s not necessary to deck out your dog in a full Christmas-themed costume, some hair clips or a Christmas bow on their collar can be a lovely festive touch.
If meeting and taking a photo with a stranger in a bright red outfit and a fake beard is not likely to go well, stage your own holiday photos at home. The key is to stay relaxed and calm while trying to get the perfect holiday photo. If you find yourself losing your patience, either try again another day or skip the idea altogether. Nothing is worth getting annoyed with your dog because they won’t sit still while you put reindeer antlers on their head.
Keep Your Normal Routine
The holidays are certainly an exciting time, and there are plenty of ways that you can include your dog in all these new activities and traditions. A little bit of excitement is fine, but it’s also important to stick to your normal routine to whatever extent you can so that your dog doesn’t become anxious or stressed.
Try to keep mealtimes at their normal schedule and maintain your daily walking regime as much as possible. Your dog has grown to love your predictable routine together and could become anxious if they start missing out on activities they normally love, even if it’s as simple as curling up together on the couch to watch TV in the evening.
Also, keep in mind that dogs – especially puppies and senior dogs – need plenty of opportunities to rest throughout the day. Going from one exciting activity to the next could prove to be too much for your very junior or senior dog.
With a little bit of planning and some consideration towards your dog, your guests and yourself, it can be easy to find ways to enjoy Christmas with your dog that aren’t overwhelming or potentially dangerous. Our last – and perhaps most important – tip is to relax and take the time to enjoy every moment of the holiday season. Rather than rushing from one activity to the next, it’s okay to say no to some ideas to give you and your dog a chance to relax at home and get ready for the next fun activity.
James Woller is a long-time dog enthusiast and owner of Release the Hounds, a professional dog walking and boarding company in Vancouver, Canada. On his days off from running his company, he enjoys learning and writing about topics that are of interest to caring pet owners.