The Pet Pen: Keep Christmas Safe For Your Pets

Tegan and I have just finished a six-week course in dog “manners.” We worked on sit, down, stay and come, as well as “leave it.” Technically, “leave it” is supposed to be used to keep your dog from picking up, or eating, something that is forbidden. “Drop it” is the command if your dog is already holding something in his mouth and you want him to drop it.

I haven’t done much teaching Tegan to drop things, but I have been working daily on the “leave it” command. I like teaching Tegan things and he seems to enjoy learning.

This weekend, we put up and decorated our Christmas tree. In the process, I knocked a small round glass ball, about the size of a golf ball, off the tree. As I reached to pick it up, Tegan grabbed it in his mouth. Instantly, my adrenaline hit hysterical mode. I was terrified he’d bite down and he’d have a mouthful of glass shards. “Tegan, leave it! Leave it! Leave it” I screamed. Yes, I know screaming isn’t a good way to issue a command, nor should a command be repeated, but my darling puppy had a glass ball in his mouth.

And, Christmas miracle, Tegan dropped the ball and turned to me, anticipating his reward. I scooped up the ornament, told Tegan he was a good boy, and gave him several treats.

It’s possible that, since the ball had no flavor, Tegan would have dropped the ornament anyway, but this is a good example of why commands such as “leave it” and “drop it” are useful.

Another command I like is “wait.” Since “stay” is used to mean “remain in that position until I tell you it’s okay to move,” I use “wait” to temporarily halt forward movement. When I leave the house, before I open the door, I tell Tegan to wait. He’s used to that and knows it means he can’t go through the door with me. Many times, he is already turning away as I shut the door. If I told him to “stay” it would mean I expected to see him sitting there when I returned, which is not reasonable, as well as being unenforceable.

Aside from the terror of the small glass ornament, our tree decorating went without incident. Now that it’s decorated, Tegan seems to be ignoring it. He has sniffed at a couple of ornaments, but hasn’t shown any desire to play or bite any of them. Of course, our tree is tinsel-free again. With older dogs, we’d been able to put icicles on our tree for the last few years, but with a puppy, I’m not taking any chances. A swallowed icicle can cause serious problems that can require surgery, so, no tinsel of any kind.

Now that the tree is up, I’m focusing on wrapping packages, but where will I put them? Our practice has always been to put the gifts under the tree as they are wrapped. They’re colorful and I enjoy looking at them and wondering what each box contains. This year, I’m not sure they’ll be safe. Tegan loves to shred paper, so those presents may be too tempting for him to resist. I’ll try a couple and see what his reaction is. If he starts to nibble, the presents will just have to stay in a closet until Christmas morning. Even if he seems not to notice them, I won’t leave him unattended with them. If we go out, he’ll be crated. It’s not worth risking him swallowing ribbon or breaking an ornament as he scrambles under the tree.

Many Christmas decorations can be tempting to both cats and dogs, so think ahead to keep your pets safe. You may love the tradition of mistletoe, but if you have pets, think artificial rather than real, as the berries are poisonous. Poinsettias aren’t as dangerous, but their sap can still irritate skin, so keep them away from your furry pals. I love holly but it’s another plant that, while rarely fatal, can cause diarrhea and vomiting. You might be able to keep greens away from a dog by placing them out of reach, but cats can climb almost everywhere, so, play it safe and decorate with artificial plants.

Never leave burning candles where a pet might reach them and always put those candles on firm surfaces to help prevent them from being knocked over.

The holidays are meant to be joyful. Keep them that way by supervising your pets around decorations.