The holidays are about to begin and that means a lot of different things. We see our schedules ramp up with extra hours and lots of social opportunities or demands. We may find ourselves stressed and depressed by the season and changes in the weather. We might be headed out of town a few different times to visit family and celebrate with friends, or we might open up our own homes to gatherings and get together. We’ll definitely do a lot of shopping, gift buying or gift and food making.
It is estimated by the National Retail Federation that consumers are going to spend 4% more than they did last year and that means around $1,007 per person for the holidays. I know a lot of people who drop a lot more than that, and many who spend that on food and decorations alone! It means that more than $720 billion is going to be spent on the Christmas season this year.
And while this puts a toll on our wallets, our waistbands and our free time, it also interferes with our dogs’ lives. After all, if you revisit everything just outlined above, it will all have an impact on the dogs in our homes.
Dogs and the Holidays
So, the holidays can mean a lot of different things to dogs and to dog owners, and this means:
- You must remember that holiday foods are not often unsafe or unhealthy for your dogs
- You have to be vigilant about items (lights, tinsel, decorations, and so on) that dogs might eat and require medical care to alleviate
- You have to be mindful of the way your dog may respond to a lot of activity in the house or just at the front door
- You need to remember that dogs can respond to their human family’s stress level, and so you have to keep yourself in check to ensure your dog is not stressed out by you! The same goes for the blues or signs of depression.
- Though your schedule and routine may be different, you cannot ask a dog to change their habits, i.e. pooping and peeing MUST be allowed at the normal hours regardless of your schedule, the weather and so on. Eating has to happen at the same time, put lights on timers if you are going to be late, and consider how your schedule varies and impacts the dogs in your home.
- If you are going away, you need to consider more than feeding and walking. Who can give the dogs one-on-one time that helps to soothe them while you are gone? Can you do video chats to help alleviate some of the anxiety on the dogs? (I know, I see the eye rolling, but it is undeniable that dogs do better when they can hear and see their missing owners even for a few minutes at a time)
I know this is supposed to be an article about gifts, but we can’t go anywhere with the whole gift idea until we ensure that the place where those gifts are given or received is a safe haven for both people and pets. I’ve written extensively about unsafe foods and other household items that can be harmful to pets, situations in which dogs might be scared and bite, separation anxiety and more. All of these things can hit at the holidays, and even an attentive dog parent may not realize the stage is set for disaster.
So, before you bust out the wrapping paper or start writing your “to do” lists, be sure you understand what Christmas means to your dogs. Here’s a list of “danger zones” and tips for dealing with them.
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What to Be Aware of at the Holidays
1. The tree – From the bucket of water at the bottom of a cut tree to the miles of wires inside the strands of lights, Christmas trees can be both beautiful and hazardous. To avoid the worst issues, simply train your dogs to leave the tree alone. Make the skirt around the tree a no-go zone. Don’t use negative reinforcement.
Instead, if a dog approaches the tree (or the presents or other items you don’t want them to touch), simply toss a treat in the opposite direction of the tree and say “away”. The dog leaves the tree to get the treat, and you can then reinforce the behavior by playing or letting the dog out for a quick romp. Repeat this any time the dog nears the tree and they soon associate the word “away” with a positive. After a while, you can eliminate the reward and just say “away” and the dog will leave the tree area alone.
2. Your behavior – Whether you leave a box of candy or cookies in easy reach, put out a bunch of decorations without hanging them, or leave something out that you don’t want a dog to touch – it is YOUR fault if the dog chews, eats or destroys the item.
Curb your behaviors and pay close attention to what you are taking out and displaying or leaving out when not around. I know it is hard to be on the ball when the Christmas crush is on, but just think of the vet bills and the risks to your dogs.
I’ve known dogs to demolish a collection of papiermache snowmen, chew up irreplaceable strands of vintage lights (unplugged, thank heavens), demolish the cookie swap cookies in their paper bags, and so on. All of these things happened because dogs found the items appealing and/or irresistible, but more importantly, because people left these things in places they could be reached.
Also remember that you should not be comfortable lashing out at your nearest and dearest over your holiday stress, and that includes the dogs. I once related the tale of one Christmas when I was trying to just relax with a cup of hot chocolate (after having to rush the dogs to the vet because they’d eaten a strand of lights) and snapping when Janice came to me for comfort. She tried to lay on my lap and the hot chocolate ended up everywhere. I lashed out, shouted and terrified both dogs.
Ah, the warm holiday memories!
Stressing out, doing too much, and allowing the season to run your thoughts is unhealthy, and I had just experienced the only possible outcome. I spent the rest of the evening feeling like Scrooge, and the dogs gave me those looks that only dogs seem to manage. “What is WRONG with you?” was the gentlest message those looks conveyed. I’d gotten all caught up in a perfect Christmas, flawless decorations, too many things to do, and all the rest.
Don’t ruin years of work with your dogs by behaving badly because you are stressed. It took me days to get Janice to climb into my lap, and only then did it feel like Christmas again.
The point here is to be attentive to your behaviors and don’t get so frazzled that you forget your primary job – caring for and keeping your dogs safe. This can be safe from unhealthy foods, safe from tempting but dangerous decorations, or safe from you and your stress.
3. The company – My mother, as my readers know, is a big animal advocate with loads of dogs and cats in the house at all times (along with the periodic raccoon, rehabilitating opossum, group of ducks, and so on). The holidays at her house are more amped up in terms of chaos and bedlam, and even more so when my parents “entertain”. From the crazy dog that stands on the table like he’s a cat (he weights 60 pounds) to the free-roaming parrot who has been trained to shout “Ho, Ho, Ho!” in a Santa-jolly voice, that household is a bit much.
The dogs get over-excited when the door bell rings or someone clomps on to the old porch, and just a few years ago they got overexcited and one of them bit someone entering the side door. This was not a quick snarl or lunge, this was a full on, chomping down on a non-stranger’s hand.
They knew the guy for years, loved him to bits whenever he arrived and did not have any sort of aggressive tendencies. However, the household had been in a bit of chaos for days, and my dad had been cooking for several hours that morning. The smells, the turmoil and the surprise entry of someone the dogs had not heard arriving caused the biggest and goofiest of the dogs to panic.
Lashing out from fear or doing the opposite and hiding for days on end, can all result from too many people coming and going. Whether it is several visits from the UPS driver, the neighbors, a group of family paying a visit for a few days, or a combination of these things, all of the new activity can lead dogs to behave badly.
The answer? Have a solution in place ahead of time. Does the dog have a crate? If so, make sure they have easy access. Can you warn those who are visiting that you’ll want to put the dog away before they arrive? Whatever it is that your dog needs to feel normal and calm, do this to ensure no surprises or unwelcome behaviors.The routine – Is your day to day routine going to change a lot beginning around Thanksgiving and extending into the New Year? Be honest with yourself about this. For me, it is Christmas Day alone that I find different. The rest of the year I spend at least one day per weekend doing household chores and a lot of cooking. I don’t spend a lot of time outside of the house each day, and the dogs have a real routine. On Christmas Day, I am up early and visiting family and friends. Breakfast with one, late lunch with another, and later dinner with still other loved ones. I can bring the dogs to two out of three homes, so they actually enjoy themselves (though I have to keep after friends to stop giving them so many “treats”).
What’s your schedule like during the holidays? Do you go out to a lot of parties and evening events? Are you away from home for much longer stretches of time? What about your weekend routines? Are you online shopping or doing unusual things around the house?
No matter what, your pets notice. They try to accommodate their people, but as I said earlier, potty breaks, walks and meal times cannot be swayed much for days or weeks on end. It will lead to accidents in the house, upset stomachs and even changes in behavior that require re-training after the holidays are over. Rather than allowing your dogs to be affected so much by the season, really look at your routine and work around the established patterns rather than changing them for those weeks. You’ll find that your dogs are much happier and that you don’t feel so chaotic or dizzy by the events. In fact, it may inspire you to turn down some activities in order to keep a healthier routine.
The season is meant to be a joyful one, but if it means you are going to rush around like the proverbial chicken that has lots its head or you are going to be continually cranky, bloated, annoyed, sad or all of the above, why do it? Be realistic about your capabilities and embrace the ability to say “Oh, I’m so sorry but I have plans!” Saying no to too many things is a gift you can give to yourself and your dogs who look forward to your arrival home at the end of every single day!
And now that I mentioned the word “gift”, we can start to look at those excellent gifts for the dogs and dog lovers in your life! Keep in mind that I’ve gone over all of those details above because those are things YOU can give to YOUR dogs this year as the ultimate holiday treat. Rather than being stressed, upset, away too long, and all the rest – by following those tips, you and your puppos can have a fantastic holiday season.
The Gifts to Give
So, here’s the thing: I’m cheap. I’m not re-gifting-the-things-you-got-from-people-last-year cheap, but I’m no big spender. I like to make things for people to enjoy, and most of what we (me, Leroy and Janice) give out at the holidays will be “consumable”. Jams, breads, cookies, homemade scarves or hats, small trinkets from my ventures in the local pottery studio, and so on…these are what we give away each year.
However, those retail figures I researched show that I may be the odd man (woman) out on this one. People love to go out and do holiday shopping, and that is just fine. While I will always say to set a budget and stick to it (so you don’t stress out later about the sums spent), I also know that it can be more difficult to succeed in that goal. That is why I’ve done a bit of preliminary shopping for all of you dog fans and dog owners.
The following gifts involve everything from ornaments and décor to foods and treats. Some are more for the people than the pets, but most are incredibly well priced and functional for almost any budget. I’ll also point out if you might be able to do a DIY version of something instead of purchasing an item. And with all of that in mind…
1. Paw print ornaments – Whether you decide to give this kit to a dog lover in your life OR you head to a craft store and buy the supplies to make your own ornaments, it is a great idea. These are remarkably affordable whether in kit form or as a DIY option. You can easily and affordably doll up your entire tree or even sneak around and get your friends’ dogs to donate a quick print and then bake them up at home to give as a sweeter than sweet holiday surprise. It is a wonderful keepsake and I’ve known lots of people who actually end up framing such gifts to protect them over the years.
2. Never lost – Even with a harness, a dog might still bust loose and get lost. That’s why this makes a great gift for the new or first-time dog owner in your circle of family or friends. Available through L.L. Bean, this harness can have the dog’s name and owner’s contact information embroidered into the material. So, even if the puppo manages to escape, they can be easily returned thanks to the bold lettering and clear information on the harness. It is also a high quality and comfortable harness with the company’s years of dedication to premium products offering additional benefits. They also have reflective options. Alternately, you can give this to your dog and reward yourself with peace of mind as the ultimate holiday gift for a dog lover!
3. Bacon scented bubbles are the ultimate dog luxury – I won’t lie, I screamed when I saw this. I cannot believe that there are A) Bubble machines for dogs and B) That said machines blow bacon scented bubbles! The gadget is affordably priced as a sort of “big gift” for a dog or two (or three), and it is self-described as blowing a windstorm of bacon bubbles…who could resist that!
4. A safe and chewable wreath – I always emphasize positive reinforcement, and if you find your dogs are a bit fixated on the holiday decorations you break out after Thanksgiving, why not give them a bit of holiday cheer to safely play with? This item from Chewy.com looks like a typical Christmas wreath but is a plush dog toy that lets your pup join in on the festivities without any worries. At such an affordable price, it is a good idea to buy a few extras for the friends whose dogs might appreciate a toy from you at Christmas!
5. The Everlasting Treat – Just like Willie Wonka’s gobstopper, this remarkable Starmark Everlasting Treat Ball Dog Chew Toy is a reasonably priced solution for dogs of all sizes. Available in small, medium or large sizes it arrives pre-filled and can be refilled with whatever kibble or treats you like. It is indestructible and designed to mentally soothe and stimulate. It helps dogs with natural foraging instincts and eliminates the risks of destructive behaviors for dogs easily bored.
6. Puzzle it out – I love the different Nina Ottoson dog puzzle toys. They are not slow feeders (though I do have one I recommend below) but are instead treat-based puzzle games that ask the dog to open and close the sliders to see if there are treats hidden in the puzzle. This is a great toy for a dog prone to boredom or separation anxiety but might just be a fun option for a dog that likes to figure things out and get rewarded for their efforts. These are surprisingly affordable, so you might find them a good answer for all of the dogs and/or dog owners on your gift list.
7. Peeking pups – Here’s the thing, this gift may be for yourself, your dog, or even a neighbor. It is sure to bring loads of smiles. The PetPeek Fence Window is designed to be installed in a fence and allow your dog’s head to fit into the unbreakable bubble where they can look outside and see the world beyond the fence. It alleviates curiosity and worry, lets a naturally protective dog feel calmer because they can see outside of the perimeter, and it can even stop dogs from trying to jump over or dig under fences. It is not the least expensive item, but at less than $40 it might be a great gift for a curious or active dog who enjoys seeing and exploring the world around them.
8. Selfie tool for Instagram success – I’ve already told you about this one, but it bears repeating since it makes some of the best and most expressive dog photos I have ever seen. Totally affordable, this Pooch Selfie should be on your list for every dog owner (and yourself). Just pop it on the top of your phone, put the ball in place and watch as your dog smiles for the camera in every single shot!
9. Matching collars – I love the idea of wearing a bracelet that has the same look as my dog’s collar – and Chewy.com offers up this adorable set with a red and gold holiday Whether you buy it for a friend who likes to dress up their puppo for the season or for yourself and your furriest pal, it is a lovely little splurge that can become a fun holiday tradition.
10. Give bonding for the holidays – Dogs love to be touched by their humans and they love massage as much as the rest of us. These unique pet massage products from Gaiam let you give your dogs or your human friends the tools they need to enjoy lots of time spent bonding through massage. Vet approved, they are sized for different breeds and make a wonderful way to soothe sore muscles or aching joints on dogs of any age or size. They are affordably priced, meaning you can get one for your dogs and give away a few over the holidays!
11. A Two-for-One pet bed – Does your friend complain that their sofa is never free of dog hair? Maybe you give your own dog a bit of the stink eye every time they hop down from the sofa (or worse, you don’t let them sit on the sofa at all!)? This Duck River Textiles WUBBA pet bed is an affordable gift for you, your dog or that friend who is upset by the whole dog hair situation. Large and easy to use, it is an attractively designed bed that fits on a standard sofa and offers an easy to use and easy to clean solution. A dog can feel like a king or queen as they are surrounded by cozy foam roll that protects the sofa and keeps owners happy.
12. Have water will travel! – You guys know that I am a huge advocate of taking your dogs out into the world and even nights out backpacking and camping. I also go on a lot about properly packing for such trips, and whether you are just out doing errands, on a regular walk, or taking a lengthy hike, your dog needs water. Sometimes it is difficult to carry extra bottles, but this unique Dog Bowl Water Bottle solves the issue. It uses a traditional water bottle design and with just a squeeze, the bowl-shaped top is filled and ready for your puppo to drink. It doesn’t leak and any leftovers are drained back into the bottle! Carry it in the car in a cupholder or with you in a pack, and your dog is always well stocked with essential water. Affordable and ideal for dogs and dog lovers alike, I’ll be giving away a few of these this year!
13. Chuckit! – Have you used one of these yet? I was skeptical until I tried the one my older brother uses for his Golden Retriever. Because I have the worst throwing arm, Janice and Leroy tend to roll their eyes if I suggest they play ball with me. Sure, they humor me, but they don’t get to run far. I invested in a Chuckit! and now have to be careful if I so much as move it while getting myself out the door each day. They have become that obsessed with this thing, and at such an affordable price it is an ideal gift to the dogs I love most. Since it also serves to help friends bond with their dogs, it is a wonderful way to give the gift of time to dogs and owners alike.
14. I go out a walkin’ after midnight… – Do you head out after dark to take the dog for a walk? Maybe you are pre-dawn stroller or you just don’t get home in time to get the dogs out before sunset? No matter what, the Beacon is a high-performance safety light that works in full dark as well as low light and bad weather (which are more dangerous than just plain full dark situations). These clip on easily to a collar or harness and quickly recharges for consistent use. It features a durable LED light that cycles through a few modes to ensure you and your puppos are easily seen. These are the perfect gift for dogs and dog lovers who are often out walking before or after sunset.
15. Dining and playtime in one – Aikiou Interactive Bowls are pretty amazing, and I highly recommend them for those of you who work outside of your homes. They offer a dog 14 different ways to puzzle out some treats, and while keeping a dog mentally stimulated it is also a way to slow their food consumption (i.e. help a chubby dog burn off a few pounds). It is good for supporting a dog’s natural hunting instincts, too and help a dog with separation anxiety to feel a bit better about being alone. If you don’t need this, it is still a very affordable gift for the dog in your social circle who might benefit from a bit of fun and food control.
16. Indestructible dinosaurs for the toy wreckers on your list – So, you might recall that my mother owns a large and unforgettable dog named Kenny. Smart and dense at the same time, he is one of the strongest and goofiest guys I have ever met. You can only love this dog, but he has one glitch – he is a toy destroyer. My parents have spent an enormous sum on dog toys for him and yet they cannot find anything that this dog will not wreck within a 24 hour period. This year, I’ve decide to buy him one of these colorful TUFFY Dinosaur Dog Toys and see just how indestructible they are. I will report back after the holidays…
17. Ultimate grooming for good looking holiday photos – I’ve advocated for the use of the ZoomGrooms in the past, and continue to do so. Wildly affordable, they might be your go-to gift for all of the dog lovers and dog owners on your list, as well as a good idea for your own dogs. They are one of the most effective grooming tools and toys, and my dogs love it when they see me coming with our bright red Kong brush in hand.
18. A brain teasing, treat-dispensing ball of joy – The Planet Dog Mazee requires a dog to push it and kick it with a foot to eventually release the bones seen inside. A large and clear ball with a structured maze inside, it can be filled with your dog’s preferred treats. As they roll it about with their nose or their foot, the bones or treats move through a maze and make their way to the exit hole. This is another great way to help a dog bored or anxious about time alone, and you can use larger or smaller treats in order to control food consumption. It is a fun toy when empty too! Reasonably priced, it is a great gift for any dog in your life.
19. Noisy toys for dog girls and boys – Pet Qwerks Animal Sound X-Tire Ball Dog Toy is a good solution for the dog who struggles with boredom or anxiety since it is not just a fun toy but a noise-making towy with an unusual rolling pattern. Dogs cannot easily predict where it will go or what it will sound like when it is tossed, kicked or jostled. This is not the cheapest dog toy on the market, but if your dogs or the dogs owned by friends struggle with being alone during the day or simple boredom, they are sure to love this fun and long-lasting toy.
20. Terminate fur with the Furminator – Okay, so a caveat about this one before we dig into just what it is and who it is for. I bought this as a gift for a friend recently and she misunderstood the “message”. Every time I entered her home, she’d say she was sorry about the dog fur. I would reassure her that she was in for much worse at my home, but she never seemed comfortable with the condition of the couch. So, I picked this up for her as a gift. She opened this FurminatorFurVac Vacuum Accessory and gave me a sort of half-hearted, “Oh…thanks” in response. I felt like apologizing as I felt I’d offended. However, about three hours after I left, I got a text message telling me that the attachment was one of the best gifts she’d received in years. It really does get all different kinds of fur from upholstery and attaches to almost all vacuums. Whether for your pre-holiday cleaning spree or for a dog lover on your list, it is sure to delight…eventually!
21. For the super active dogs on your list – Thus far, I’ve listed toys for the more sedate (apart from the ball tossing tool). However, the Squishy Face Studio Flirt Pole is for the most active dogs you know. A perfect training and obedience tool, it is a super durable lure at the end of a stick that can help you get a dog to run, jump and burn off lots of energy. Whether you have the active dog who really, really needs to get moving or you have a friend with a dog who might enjoy such a unique way to play, this is a fun and affordable gift.
Okay, so that is 21 good ideas for gifts for the dogs and dog lovers in your life. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention a few “over the top” options. For example, I have been bombarded with questions about Bark Box gifts. These are boxes of curated snacks, toys and other items that can be sent once or as a sort of subscription. This knocks the usual budget out of the park, but if you have some dogs that deserve the royal treatment, a one-time or regular delivery of gift boxes may not be a bad idea.
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There are also the different two-way camera systems that allow you to speak to and enjoy a video exchange with your dog. The PetChatz HD is the top of the line model that has aromatherapy, treat dispensing and motion detection to allow you to know when your dog is nearby and speak to them through your smartphone from anywhere in the world. At more than $300, it is definitely far outside of the budget of the other items already considered, but if you want to be in touch with your dogs when you are away from home, this is the ultimate gift to give to them and yourself!
For those who have smaller dogs unable to walk great distances, you might purchase one of the strollers designed specifically for dogs or cats. Meant to keep them safely inside of a spacious and cozy space, the strollers feature durable construction and materials that ensure a dog is warm and dry, but able to be outdoors and in the world with their owner. One of the best models is the Pet Gear Happy Trails Stroller sized for small to medium sized dogs.
With gift ideas of just a few dollars and others at a few hundred, you should be able to find something for every dog on your list. Don’t forget the myriad of books about dogs, grooming products for dogs, and garments for dogs that could also make great and affordable presents. Let this Christmas be one that you keep as stress-free and happy as possible and start it all by doing your shopping from the comfort of home and using the tips and suggestions I’ve offered up here! Happy holidays!