Keep your pup safe with these tips from an animal behavior expert.
little girl hugging puppy with her mom in front of a Christmas tree; puppy proof your Christmas tree
Credit: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

Oh, the season is joyful and bright, and your pupper can't help but pick up on all the excitement you're feeling. Plus, when he spies the twinkling lights and pretty baubles, his curiosity kicks in. So to keep him safe, try these clever dog-proof Christmas tree ideas to redirect his risky temptations. 

"Something new in the environment will always get your pup's attention," says Viviane Arzoumanian, CBBC, CPDT-KA, and founder of PumpkinPups Dog Training. "Dogs of all ages may be attracted to Christmas trees, but you can bet money that young puppies and adolescent dogs may get themselves into trouble, especially if it's their first time seeing, smelling, and perhaps even tasting one." 

Unfortunately, there are numerous ingestion hazards such as chocolate ornaments, tinsel, ribbons, and presents containing food or dog toys. Yes—with their high-powered sniffers, our fuzzy elves can smell their deliciously festive treats through wrapping paper. So Arzoumanian recommends the following methods for dog-proofing a Christmas tree.

1. Leave It Bare at First

Bring in the tree and set it up, but leave it alone for a few days. This gives your pooch time to check it out—and you time to persuade him not to. Watch a few holiday movies together and once he loses interest, you can start to decorate. 

2. Avoid Food Decorations

While popcorn and cranberries are OK treats for dogs sometimes, strings of them hanging around the tree might be challenging to resist. Other delectable human foods such as holiday cookies, apples, and oranges are best left off the tree, too. Instead, provide a little holiday boost with a dog-friendly advent calendar.

3. Keep Seasonal Plants Off the Floor

which holiday plants are toxic to pets infographic
Credit: Kailey Whitman

As lovely as poinsettia, holly, mistletoe, and other cheerful seasonal plants might be around your tree, they're toxic to pets. As you decorate, make certain inquisitive pups can't reach them to take a bite.  

4. Put Interesting and Breakable Decorations Up High

The chaos cats cause with Christmas trees is the stuff of legend. While dogs don't climb as much, they could easily chomp on something that intrigues them at eye level, especially decorations with light and sound. So to preserve precious pet Christmas trinkets and family heirlooms (and avoid your dog walking on broken glass), nestle them closer to the top. 

5. Use a Gate

A decorative pet gate keeps your doggo from curling up on the soft tree skirt and lapping out of the water reservoir (which might contain bacteria and contaminants.) More importantly, Arzoumanian says it prevents them from nosing through toxic items (potpourri and fake snow) as well as burn hazards (candles, batteries, and wires of Christmas lights). Place a gate around the tree or in a doorway to the room where it's located.

6. Train Your Dog to Stay Away

Although management methods are helpful, positive reinforcement training works best to avoid problematic or potentially dangerous situations. Arzoumanian, who's also a licensed family dog mediator, suggests encouraging better behavior with these training tips:  

  • Reward your dog for responding to his name and coming to you when called
  • Teach him essential cues such as drop it, leave it, and trade. 
  • Does your dog know "find it"? "Dogs love it," she says. "It means that small bits of food or treats are about to be scattered on the floor, and what dog doesn't pay attention to that?"

She advises being generous with high-value treats so when the holidays arrive and the temptations are high, your dog knows there's something in it for him to respond to your cues and requests. This will save a lot of headaches during the holiday season. 

7. Choose a Table Tree

Depending on the size of your pup, Arzoumanian says setting up a small- or medium-sized tree and placing it on a table is a wonderful way to decorate safely. Even if he snuffles his snoot around the edge of the surface, all the pretties will be out of reach. 

8. Create a Closed Door Holiday Room

If you're a Clark Griswold-type of decorator, designating a mini-Santa's workshop means you don't have to dog-proof the Christmas tree—simply close the door to keep him out. Then, whenever there are gatherings in that room, spiff up his attire with matching pet and owner pawjamas or a jolly holiday outfit, and he can join in the fun while supervised. 

9. Wait to Put Out Gifts

A stack of packages all brightly bowed and ribboned is always a welcoming sight—especially to your pooch. They'll want to sniff, lick, and maybe even sample anything on the floor, so consider waiting until Christmas Eve or Christmas morning before setting out the goods. Also clean up as gifts are opened to avoid a scenario of finding Doggy in the corner chewing on wrapping paper and other package trimmings. 

10. Create a Dog-friendly Holiday Experience

Your canine friend always wants to be where you are. However, he might enjoy a private celebration or time away to relax from the craziness, too. A roomy crate or portable dog fence formed as an enclosure is the perfect place for Santa's little helper to "unwrap" special toys and holiday treats

Finally, Be Prepared for Emergencies

"Make a list that includes your vet's name and number, plus the closest 24-hour emergency veterinary service, and the poison control number for your area. Depending on where you are located, there may be a charge for this service," Arzoumanian says. "Put the list in a prominent location and be sure all your family members know where it is."

And to ensure good cheer and good health for your little angel, always have the Pet Poison Helpline number handy: (855) 764-7661.