When it comes to the cutest ways to spend the holiday season, it’s hard to beat celebrating your puppy’s first Christmas. If you’re one of the thousands of pet parents who adopted a puppy this year, get ready for a fun, festive and utterly adorable holiday. There are so many ways to mark the occasion, from toy-stuffed stockings to dressing up in holiday sweaters for some seasonal selfies. All you need to make the most of your puppy’s first Christmas is a little preparation, some safety know-how, and of course, your new bestie by your side.
Follow these tips to celebrate while keeping your puppy safe this holiday season.
1Decorate With Care
From your tree to the presents beneath it and beyond, your puppy is going to be intrigued by all the new stuff around the house at Christmastime. That can make pet proofing your home extra-challenging, but it’s crucial to ensure a safe first Christmas with your puppy.
“Some holiday ornaments and decorations look just like a fun toy for your puppy. Place these items out of puppy’s reach,” says certified professional dog trainer Sarah Westcott. “It might be easiest to place a puppy gate around your Christmas tree.”
In addition, avoid trimming your tree with tinsel and ribbons, says Dr. Heather B. Loenser, DVM, veterinary advisor with the American Animal Hospital Association. If eaten, these linear foreign bodies can get caught in the intestines and require complex, emergency abdominal surgery, she says. Snow globe-type decorations should also be kept out of your puppy’s reach due to the risk of poisoning, she adds—they may contain antifreeze to keep them from cracking.
Lastly, never let your puppy drink water from the Christmas tree’s stand. Standing water in any form can contain bacteria that can harm your puppy. And because the temptation to drink from the tree stand can be pretty strong for pups, remember to use nontoxic, pet-safe additives, or “tree food,” if you plan to spike the tree water with substances to help it stay green longer. Some tree food can contain chemicals that can harm your puppy, so double-check anything you add to the water to ensure it’s safe, even if you plan to keep your pup away from the tree. Using nontoxic additives might make the difference between a simple reprimand and an emergency visit to the vet if you catch them in the act.
2Always Be Supervising
Puppy-proofing is essential, but it’s only the first step in ensuring your puppy’s first Christmas is a safe one. Puppies are babies, and like their curious human counterparts, they don’t always know what’s good for them. That means they should be supervised at all times, or safely crated so they can’t access potentially dangerous items or environments.
“Crate training is probably the most important skill for puppies during the holiday season,” Westcott says. “If your puppy is happy in her crate, then she has a safe place to relax when owners can’t supervise her. This is helpful during parties, gift wrapping and other festivities.” Another strategy is to keep your puppy safely confined in a non-decorated room when you’re unable to supervise them.
When you’re spending time with your puppy outside of their crate or room, keep their curiosity in mind.
“Look at every package and person that comes into the house as a possible hazard. Keep electrical cords unplugged when you’re not home. Be sure to blow out any candles,” Dr. Loenser says. “Don’t put gifts under the tree unless the tree is supervised by an adult or out of reach of the puppy.” Remember, to the puppy brain, just about everything from cords to ribbons to branches to packages is a potential toy.
3Don't Forget Your Routine
Tired puppies are always good puppies, so a good game of tug or a romp in the park before your cocktail party will do a world of good.
Some puppy parents are prone to err in the other direction, taking advantage of their time off to spend every moment with their dog. While we completely understand that impulse, keeping your puppy by your side 24/7 can set them up for stress and anxiety later, when you return to spending more time outside the home.
If your pet gets used to having constant access to you during the holidays, they could end up with a nasty case of separation anxiety when your routine returns to normal, Westcott says. Characterized by destructive chewing and clawing, potty accidents, whining and howling, separation anxiety can be miserable for both pet and parent. That’s why, Westcott says, “Even if the puppy parent is home from work for the holidays, she still needs to keep her puppy on a schedule that will prepare her for January.”
4Prepare Your Pup for Guests—and Vice Versa
Even if you’re keeping gatherings small this year, the excitement of new people can alter your pup’s behavior—which isn’t always a good thing. So start etiquette training at least a few weeks before your puppy’s first Christmas, and enforce your house rules from the moment a guest walks through the door, Westcott says.
“Door manners and polite greetings are all-important,” Westcott says. “That way when guests visit, the puppy will have practiced polite door manners and will not jump on them.”
Keep your puppy away from the front door when guests come and go, and be prepared to reward good behavior, like sitting down before approaching guests to say hi, with dog treats. This will create a smoother experience for your guests, but more importantly, it will help keep your puppy safe. Each time your front door opens, it’s an opportunity for your pup to bolt out the door and get lost or hurt—unless, of course, they’ve been trained not to escape. Even if your puppy is well-trained, make sure they’re microchipped and always wearing updated ID tags, just in case.
Your puppy’s good behavior should continue after your guests walk through the door, too. Teaching your puppy to positively and appropriately engage with guests will make time spent together more enjoyable. Westcott recommends rewarding your puppy for behaviors that you want to encourage, like sitting when greeting guests, going to their bed when the doorbell rings, or napping in a crate with a safe chew toy during dinner. These behaviors can take some time to learn, so you’ll want to start training well before your holiday gathering.
It’s equally important to ask your guests to not reinforce or encourage less-than-desirable behavior from your puppy. That means no rewarding begging at the table, jumping or barking with attention or, even worse, table scraps that can potentially upset your pup’s stomach.
Encourage visitors to keep their belongings away from your puppy, too. “Puppies are very curious of new people and what they bring into the house, like luggage,” Dr. Loenser says. Not only will your guests likely not enjoy finding their luggage chewed up, but that luggage may contain medications like ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin, sleep aids and antidepressants that are especially dangerous for dogs. If you suspect your puppy has ingested any of these substances, call your vet or an animal poison control hotline, like the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control center (888-426-4435) or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661).
If you’re going to be on the road for your puppy’s first Christmas, plan ahead to make sure the holiday adventure will be fun and safe. Don’t forget to pack dog toys, treats and your puppy’s crate, Dr. Loenser and Westcott say—that’ll help them be a good guest over the holidays and can provide a positive distraction from holiday treats and decor.
In addition, make sure you bring your vet’s phone number in case you need advice, and look up find the closest veterinary hospital to where you’ll be staying, Dr. Loenser says. That way, in the event of an emergency, you’ll know who to call right away.
6Mind the Menu
For humans, Christmas is full of delicious treats. But for dogs, it’s best to avoid most holiday goodies, which can cause anything from stomach upset to poisoning. Be sure to keep your puppy away from these common holiday foods, which can cause serious medical issues, Dr. Loenser says:
- Sugar-free candy
- Peanut butter containing Xylitol
- Raw bread dough
- Bones of any kind
Rich, fatty foods like gravy, casseroles, meat fat or trimming should also be avoided, she adds, because they can upset your dog’s stomach. Again, remind your guests not to feed your puppy anything off of their plates.
7Enjoy the Festivities Together
Christmas is full of festive activities you can share with your dog. Consider these fun options to make memories to last a lifetime:
- A holiday photo shoot in cute matching sweaters—perfect for turning into Christmas cards!
- Driving to see a holiday light show
- Bake a seasonal DIY dog treat
- Take a walk around your neighborhood to see your neighbors’ decorations
- Play together with a festive holiday toy
Here are our product picks to make your puppy's first Christmas extra memorable: