Today, I want to write a little about getting your dog ready for Christmas. In my house, we’ve got the Christmas tree, stockings hung by the chimney with care, and all sorts of other Christmas gear. My wife has a blog that a bunch of people read, and this year a company asked her if they could decorate our house for free if she wrote about it. So we’ve got some awesome decorations.
Every year around Christmas, people run into problems with their dogs. Stockings, packages, trees—they’re all an issue! Dogs will rip up the gifts, pee on the stockings, tear down the tree, and all other sorts of stuff. The solution to this is simple, because it doesn’t require a ton of effort to get your dog to behave. Unfortunately, a lot of people change the variables in their home and don’t think about their dogs.
Think about the scientific process for a minute. We start with a baseline. If we want to test something, we change a variable and watch how the baseline changes. Most people bring a lot of stuff into their house at Christmastime, which means they’ve changed several variables but haven’t put themselves in a position to observe the results. They go about their business without having set up any sort of scenarios to make sure that their dog interacts with their possessions in the proper way. That’s really what socialization is: influencing how our dogs respond to the environment. That environment might include other dogs, people, children, cars, shopping carts—or holiday decorations! Se need to look at this problem scientifically, change our variables, and look at the results.
My dog Honey is celebrating her thirteenth Christmas in our family. I know exactly what to expect from her. I’ve seen her response to decorations in the several homes we’ve lived in over the past thirteen years. Now, the first year I had her, I had to observe her quite a bit. She wanted to get into the packages, so I had to correct that. My other dog, Rocco, wanted to pee on the tree at first (he loved peeing on stuff—who doesn’t?) so I had to correct that. When the dogs respond appropriately, I observe and praise them. Simple as that!
With Honey, I don’t have to think about any of this at all. We put up decorations, she stays out all day—it’s no big deal. Now for Chocolate Chip, my rambunctious little Fila de San Miguel, this is Christmas Number 2. When the decorations come out, I need to supervise her. At any point in the rest of the year, I feel comfortable that if I take a shower or put the kids to bed, Chocolate Chip will be fine in my house. After changing the variable by putting up decorations, however, I can’t say that for sure. I haven’t observed her enough yet.
Next year will probably be different because she’s doing wonderfully right now. But last year, when she was nine months old, she tried to get into everything. So come Christmas, she was on the leash all the time. Tried to get into a package? A little correction. Tried to chew on the tree? A little correction. I corrected everything inappropriately and praised or let go of everything she did well. In year two, now that she has more experience in the home, I haven’t needed to worry about her as much. But I’m still observing and supervising, even though I can leave her unsupervised because I’ve changed the variables. Next year, I’ll probably be able to leave her for an hour or two. And so on.
This is an easy concept, yet people often put themselves in a position where they cannot observe the results of what they’ve done. They put out the tree, the tinsel, the garlands, and the packages, and don’t watch how their dog responds to it. They cannot tell their dog what they like and don’t like. It’s a simple as that: if you can’t observe it, don’t allow your dog to be around it! Use a crate, or keep your dog with you. Don’t set yourself up for failure this Christmas!