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 pet this year, get ready for a fun, festive and utterly adorable holiday. Just keep in mind that your puppy is going to be intrigued by all the new stuff around at Christmastime, everything from your puppy’s first Christmas ornament, to the tree it hangs on, and the presents beneath it—which can make pet proofing your home extra-challenging. But all you need to make the most of your dog’s first Christmas is a little preparation, some safety know-how, and of course, your new bestie by your side.
We spoke with pet health and training experts to learn about the potential dangers and what you can do about them. Follow their tips to celebrate while keeping your puppy safe this holiday season.
1 Decorate With Care
One of our favorite ways to get into the holiday spirit is to decorate for the season! But holiday home décor can present a hazard to curious puppies, including:
- String lights. They can be dangerous if your dog chews on the wires.
- Tree ornaments. Many are fragile and breakable, and might look like just the thing for a fun game of fetch.
- Christmas tree needles. These could lead to an obstruction if ingested, and the tree’s natural oils can make your dog sick.
- Candles. Open flames pose a threat to wagging tails.
- Tinsel and ribbons. If eaten, these linear foreign bodies can get caught in the intestines requiring emergency surgery.
- Snow globes. They may contain antifreeze to keep them from freezing and can be dangerous if your pet knocks one over, breaks it and licks up the liquid.
- Certain holiday plants. Some popular plants, like poinsettias and mistletoe, are toxic to pets. Learn more here.
Pet experts recommend placing these items out of reach or skipping them completely (especially the tinsel and ribbons.) Cover wires from lights with cord protectors, and opt for faux candles. “It might just be easiest to put a puppy gate around your tree,” says certified professional dog trainer Sarah Westcott. Your puppy still tries to get into something they shouldn't? Encouraging an alternate behavior with a pet-safe puzzle or toy.
2 Make Puppy-Proofing a Priority
To the puppy brain just about everything from cords and ribbons to branches and packages is a toy. To ensure your puppy’s first Christmas is a safe one, puppy-proofing is essential. Dr. Heather B. Loenser, DVM, chief veterinary officer with Rarebreed Veterinary Partners, advises the following:
- Look at every package and person that comes into the house as a possible hazard.
- Keep electrical cords unplugged when you’re not home.
- Blow out candles.
- Place gifts out of reach of the puppy, or if presents are under the tree, be sure there’s adult supervision.
Pay particular mind to presents. Not only can the wrapping paper and toppers like ribbons be problem, but the presents themselves can also spell trouble, especially if they are small and delicate, contain lots of pieces, or if they have food inside. When you’re ready to open presents:
- Bring the gifts to a table or counter to open them.
- Keep your puppy on a leash if they’re in the room.
- Have your puppy go their crate or a separate space.
3 Always Be Supervising
Even with puppy-proofing, accidents can happen. Puppies are like curious toddlers; they don’t exactly know what’s good for them. That means they should either be supervised, safely crated, or kept in a secure spot so they can’t get into mischief around all the enticing home décor.
Learning to go to their crate is probably the most important skill for puppies during the holidays, Westcott says. “If your puppy is happy in her crate, then she always has a safe place to relax,” she explains. This especially comes in handy during holiday parties or when wrapping gifts. Read more about how to make crate training easy for your pet—and you.
Another strategy is to keep your puppy safely confined in a non-decorated room supplied with essentials like food, water, favorite toys and soft bed.
4 Don'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.
Remember, if your pet gets used to having constant access to you during the holidays, when things return to normal, they could end up with separation anxiety, characterized by destructive chewing, clawing, potty accidents, whining and howling. That’s why, Westcott says, “even if you’re home from work, you still need to keep your puppy on a schedule that will prepare them for January.”
5 Prepare Your Pup for Guests—and Vice Versa
The adventure of meeting new people can alter your pup’s conduct, so start etiquette training several weeks before your dog’s first Christmas, and enforce your rules the moment a guest walks in, Westcott says.
“Teaching door manners and polite greetings are important,” Westcott says. “Then when people visit, the puppy will have practiced and won’t jump on them.”
Keep your puppy away from the front door during arrivals and departures, and use treats to reward good behavior, like sitting down before approaching guests. (Learn more about how to train your dog to behave around guests.) And ask company not to encourage certain behaviors—jumping, barking or begging—with attention or table scraps (which can upset your pup’s stomach). This creates a smoother experience for everyone.
6Beware of Guests' Belongings
With the holidays comes guests. Encourage visitors to keep their belongings away from your puppy.
“Puppies are very curious of new people and of course, love to chew on things like luggage,” says Dr. Loenser.
And that luggage may contain medications that are especially dangerous for dogs.
If you suspect your puppy has ingested any medicines (whether over the counter or prescription), 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 dog’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 home décor.
In addition, make sure you bring your vet’s phone number in case you need advice, and look up 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.
8Mind the Menu
One of our favorite holiday traditions is eating all the delicious seasonal treats. But many of those goodies are off-limits for pups, because they 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 trimmings
Again, remind your guests not to feed your puppy anything off of their plates.
9Keep it Clean
Keeping things tidy will definitely help keep your pup safe. With that in mind remember to:
- Sweep tree needles daily. If eaten, they could irritate you puppy’s mouth and stomach, and can lead to an obstruction or stomach upset.
- Don’t leave food scraps, bowls of food, or candy lying around within reach of your pet.
- Pick up wrapping paper and gifts.
- Put away special home décor once the festivities end.
10Make it Memorable
Christmas is full of festive activities and holiday traditions you can share with your dog. And there are so many ways to mark the occasion, from your puppy’s first Christmas ornament and toy-stuffed stockings to dressing up in holiday sweaters for seasonal selfies. Consider these fun options to make your dog’s first Christmas memories last a lifetime:
- Do a holiday photo shoot in cute matching sweaters—perfect for turning into Christmas cards! You can take a photo with Santa to make it really special, since some stores allow you to bring your puppy in for a holiday shoot.
- Drive 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.
- Commemorate this first Christmas together with your puppy’s first Christmas ornament.
- Hang a stocking for your dog.
Puppy’s First Christmas FAQs
We spoke with our pet experts to answer all your frequently asked questions about your puppy’s first Christmas.
When do I start etiquette training?
Start December 1, or sooner. That way you have several weeks to practice with your puppy. With guests coming and going and all the holiday commotion, it’s a good idea to have dog treats on you at all times. Then you’ll always have a reward for your pup’s good behavior within reach.
How do I stop my pup from messing with the tree?
You can try making it difficult or impossible for your dog to approach the tree by using children's or dog gates, elevating the tree, or by keeping it in a room with the door shut. Use a short command, like “away,” or “leave it” whenever your dog approaches the tree, and always reward their good behavior.
How do I distract my puppy from a fun object or decoration they want to play with?
Start by asking your puppy to do a behavior, like sit. You can signal them by clapping, using a voice command, or even a clicker. When your puppy responds (either by sitting, turning toward you or outright stopping), reward them with a treat. Train them on an empty stomach, and make sure the treat is special and something of high value to your dog. Be sure to monitor your own emotional response. Exude calmness, confidence, and focus because your puppy will take their cues from you.
Is it safe to have holiday plants around?
Certain plants should be kept out of reach or avoided altogether. Festive plants such as mistletoe, holly berries and lilies, can cause stomach upset if ingested. And while poinsettias aren’t highly toxic, the sap can cause mild GI upset in your pup, so display them with caution. Check out these pet-safe holiday plants instead.
No matter what your holiday traditions consist of, Westcott recommends easing your pup into it ahead of time. Throwing your puppy into new and overwhelming situations can be stressful, causing them to act out or develop aversions that can be difficult to overcome later. Watch your puppy’s body language and behavior for signs of anxiety, such as a tucked tail, flattened ears, looking or running away, trembling, panting, or hiding their head. Be on the lookout for aggression signs too, such as lifting their lip, growing, or biting. If they look scared, it’s time to remove them from the situation.
Remember: You’re trying to create happy memories for your dog’s first Christmas. If that means lots of couch snuggles and romps in the backyard—well, that sounds just fine, and like a very merry holiday for you both!