Pets get just as excited about Christmas as we do, and it can be difficult to keep them away from things like the sparkly Christmas tree in the corner. While everyone hears stories about cats wreaking havoc amid the decorations, your new puppy can be just as curious and destructive.
Owning pets doesn’t mean you can’t decorate a Christmas tree, though. You can teach your dog to stay away from the tree with dedicated obedience training. Keeping them safe by using pet-friendly decorations and anchoring the tree can also work, as can placing the tree in a room that you can restrict access to.
The following list of tips will help you keep your tree and your dog safe this Christmas.
How to Dog-Proof a Christmas Tree
1. Anchor Your Tree
Christmas trees are heavy and bulky and can be tall and unstable. With pets involved, they’re an even bigger risk to members of the family, both the two-legged and four-legged kinds. Whether you have an artificial tree or a real one, you should make sure it’s properly secured.
You need a base that’s sturdy enough to hold the weight of the tree and the decorations that you put on it. If you have heavy decorations, keep them close to the floor or leave them off the tree altogether, just in case.
Also, consider keeping the tree against a wall or in a corner. The walls will give it more stability and enable you to wrap fishing lines around the trunk to fasten to the wall if desired.
2. Avoid Candles and Toxic Decorations
With the tree secure, the next risk is the decorations that you use. Many Christmas tree decorations can be dangerous for dogs. Glass baubles, metal hooks, candles, and tinsel are all decorations that you should avoid or find safe, dog-friendly alternatives for.
If your dog chews on everything, metal hooks and tinsel can cause blockages in their digestive system. Glass baubles are easily broken and will leave shards of glass everywhere. Use plastic ornaments with plastic hooks or twist ties instead.
Candles can also pose a risk, especially when lit. While they can give your décor an extra Christmassy feel, an open flame around a curious puppy can cause a few problems. If you do want to light candles, keep them well out of your dog’s reach and away from the tree. Never leave lit candles unsupervised.
3. Begin with a Bare Tree
Desensitization is one of the most effective ways to encourage your dog to ignore something. While it’s exciting to put up a Christmas tree and add the decorations right away, leave the tree bare for a few days before you start decorating. Your dog might be curious about the new piece of furniture, but without the flashy decorations, they’ll eventually lose interest. That’s when you can add the decorations.
While your dog might show curiosity about the new additions to the tree, they’re more likely to ignore the decorations along with the tree that they’ve already investigated. Remember to give them a chance to sniff around the newly decorated tree to let them get their curiosity out of their system.
4. Clean Up Pine Needles
Real or fake, Christmas trees always drop a few pine needles. This can occur anytime during the decorating process or when you reach around the tree to turn the lights on. While you might not think that the pine needles are dangerous, they can pose a risk for curious puppies that pick up the fallen needles to chew on.
Fallen needles can cut your dog’s mouth or cause damage to their digestive system if ingested. Artificial trees are less likely to drop pine needles frequently, but they can still scatter a few stray strands now and then. Keep an eye on the floor around your tree so you can clean up regularly.
5. Hide Presents Until Christmas Day
Even with all the decorations, Christmas trees never look complete unless they have a pile of presents tucked underneath the boughs. If you have a puppy that eats everything that they see, though, hiding the presents until Christmas day—or the night before if you can keep the dog out of the room—is the best idea. Also, someone might have wrapped up a fruitcake or another baked good as a gift, and your dog might be tempted to investigate.
Your Christmas tree might look a bit sad, but doing this will protect the presents from inquisitive canine noses or destructive chewing. It’ll also prevent your puppy from ingesting wrapping paper, ribbons, and the tape that you used to wrap the presents with, not to mention the contents of the present itself.
6. Keep Fragile Decorations Out of Reach
Where pets are concerned, the more fragile decorations should be avoided. But if you do have a delicate decoration that you love too much to leave off your tree, place it on the higher branches. It might sound counterintuitive, but it will keep the decoration and your dog much safer. Use reliable plastic or twist ties to make sure it’s secure.
Provided that you secure the tree properly and that you don’t have a cat that will climb the tree and knock them flying, the fragile decorations will be safe out of your dog’s reach, both from being chewed or just knocked off while your dog is playing.
7. Don’t Use Food Decorations
If there’s one thing that’s sure to get your dog’s attention, it’s food. Even if you don’t cover the tree with your dog’s favorite treats, the smell of human food—like strings of popcorn or chocolate decorations—is bound to get their noses twitching. Festive treats might give your Christmas tree that extra holiday flair, but they’re also likely to cause your dog issues if they let their noses rule their stomach.
While chocolate is a big no-no for dogs all year round due to its toxicity, the string holding the popcorn garland together has its downsides too. Once ingested, it can get tangled up inside your dog and cause digestive issues. It might even require surgery to remove.
8. Do Obedience Training
Although it’s more time-consuming than just closing a door to keep your dog out of the room, obedience training can ensure that your dog knows how to interact with new objects around the house, like the Christmas tree. You can also use obedience commands to teach them to be well-behaved around guests.
Dogs are curious by nature, and you should let them explore the tree to satiate their initial curiosity. If they get too close or too excited or start trying to play with the baubles, obedience commands can be an effective way to direct their attention elsewhere. Telling your dog to “leave” or directing them to settle on their bed will show them how they’re supposed to react to the new tree.
Training your dog is an ongoing process, which makes this one of the more difficult but rewarding tips on this list.
9. Provide Distractions
You shouldn’t leave your dog unattended with the Christmas tree, especially if they’re overly interested in the decorations. However, you don’t have to keep pulling your dog away from the tree either. Instead, provide other, more interesting things for your dog to pay attention to while they’re in the same room as the tree.
A puzzle toy filled with treats or a tough chew will keep your dog’s mind occupied and away from the sparkle of Christmas tree decorations. As a bonus, the more times that you distract your dog from the tree, the more likely they are to learn to ignore the tree altogether.
10. Restrict Access
When all else fails, stopping your dog from getting to the Christmas tree altogether is the tried-and-true method of dog-proofing anything. If you can close the door to the room that the tree is in, keep the door shut whenever the tree is unattended, whether you’re in another room or out of the house.
If you have an open-plan home or don’t have enough room to put a Christmas tree in, use a dog gate or fence to cordon off the corner where the Christmas tree is. Make sure the gate is sturdy and tall enough that your dog can’t knock it over or jump it.
11. Secure Electrical Cords
Puppies are renowned for chewing everything that they can get their paws on. Unfortunately, this includes electrical cables. Chewing on cables isn’t just dangerous for your dog, though; it can also increase the risk of fires if the uncovered cable gets too hot.
Make sure you unplug the Christmas tree whenever you’re not using the lights or in the room with the tree. Also, ensure that the cable isn’t hanging loose. Even if your dog doesn’t try to eat it, they might trip on the trailing wire and accidentally pull the tree over if it’s not properly secured.
Keep the cable secured to the floor with tape, or make sure the free end is out of the way while the tree is unplugged.
12. Use an Artificial Tree
An artificial tree won’t fill your house with that fresh pine smell, but it’s generally a much safer option for your Christmas décor. This way, you don’t have to worry about watering them throughout the month or risk your dog getting into the tree water. Also, most artificial trees are made with fire-retardant material.
Artificial trees are less likely to drop pine needles, though you might see a few scattered around as you decorate the tree. In comparison, a real tree will drop many more pine needles that your dog can eat and that are more of a hassle to clean up.
13. Use Twine
Most Christmas decorations come with thin cotton ties or cheap string that doesn’t last long. Unfortunately, these weak fastenings only need to be tugged at by your dog to break, and your pretty glass bauble might end up shattered on the floor for your dog to step on.
Replace the provided string with stronger material, like twine or plastic twist ties. While it might be more difficult to get the thick twine through small hanging loops on the decorations, it’ll provide a much sturdier way to fasten them to the tree. The string will also be less likely to snap under the weight of the ornament or break if your dog does try to pull the bauble off the tree.
Many people forget that dogs will be curious about a new Christmas tree and the decorations put on it. To keep them safe, use pet-friendly decorations and keep food off your tree. Training your dog to stay away from the tree might be more time-consuming than shutting them out of the room, but it’s also an effective method of teaching them how to behave properly in general.
We hope that these tips help you keep your dog and decorations safe this Christmas.