Dogs must wonder what on earth is happening when Christmas time arrives.
Their usual routine and everyday potterings are turned upside down with the sudden appearance of a Christmas tree, decorations from loft-scented boxes, and presents arriving along with visitors.
A real tree, brought indoors, is known for its familiar scent. What must the dog think when this happens? Even an artificial one is a large intrusion, with sparkly, interesting items dangling from it. A tree that cannot be used as a pee post? Chocolate-scented goodies well within reach? Don’t be surprised when your dog (and cat) shows huge interest in it. How would you explain such a thing to your pet? Perhaps we can give them credit for metaphorically shrugging their shoulders at just another one of the weird things humans get up to.
Do dogs have the ability to smell ‘last year’? We will never know, but I wonder what they must be able to tell from the memories that for us are visual. Do they recognise the toilet-roll Santa filled with pasta shells from my child’s reception class that has to come out every single year (much to her embarrassment)? Try shatterproof ornaments, keep tinsel well out of range, and think about putting the tree up on a coffee table or even behind a fire guard as one owner has chosen to do!
Crinkly paper, smelling of other people’s houses and perhaps, their pets too, as well as the contents. These are so tempting for a dog. Nobody taught the dog that it will spoil a surprise to have these opened before the day. My colleague Rosie, an esteemed behaviourist, still loves to tell us of the day her dog sneaked away from the celebrations only for them all to hear a loud hissing noise. When the dog came back he smelled strongly of a well-known men’s deodorant. Did he think the parcel was for him, or did he think the girls would be impressed with his new aroma? Ask givers if the gifts contain anything edible and again, don’t be afraid to put them up on a table out of reach to prevent any spoilers.
Christmas is a time for feasting. For a dog, used to kibble each day, the smell of roast meat or mince pies will be a powerful temptation. It is easier for a dog to access these things whilst we are busy. Just a warning; onions, stuffing (contains onions and garlic), chocolate (theobromine), mince pies and Christmas pudding (raisins) are extremely harmful to dogs. Watch out for the turkey carcass, or any bones, as these can perforate internal organs. Sudden changes in a dog’s diet can also cause a stomach upset, so stick to his normal food wherever you can. Keep all foods well out of reach to avoid any emergency trips to the Vet, and warn your visitors who may not be used to lifting plates up out of the way.
No matter how tempting, don’t allow your dog to drink any alcohol, nor to help themselves from a carelessly placed glass. You can get special ‘dog drinks’ such as dog ‘beer’ (not real beer) but the results on the dog were not favourable and resulted in many trips to the dog toilet (and some where the dog did not quite make it in time). You have been warned!
Have a happy, safe Christmas for all dogs and their human families who are kind enough to read this column!