Holiday Pet Safety

December 19, 2010

My name is Dr. Robert Forto and I am the training director of Denver Dog Works and Alaska Dog Works. I am asked all the time about holiday do’s and don’ts from pet owners. While I always offer an article right around Christmas about training Christmas puppies I thought it would be wise to offer some tips to pet owners on holiday safety before the season’s festivities reaches a crescendo. While most of this is common sense, it is the little things that we overlook during this busy time of the year that can turn a joyous season into a nightmare for your pet if you do not take some steps to ensure their safety.

The holiday season can get pretty hectic, and with the decorations and extra goodies around the house, there is a lot your pet can find to get into. Here are a few safety tips to help keep your pets safe and happy during the festivities:

Christmas trees

Firmly secure the tree in its stand, and consider wire or twine ties attached to the wall to help secure the tree. You’ll want to make sure the tree doesn’t topple over if, or more likely when, kitty tries to climb the tree.

Dogs and cats will often try to drink water from the reservoir in the stand. The sap from the tree itself may irritate your pet’s stomach, and preservatives added to the water may be toxic. Devise a cover to fit around the base of the tree—even a towel wrapped around the trunk covering the stand will do.

[ Rewind: Christmas Puppies? Maybe Not. ]

Research also shows that the chemicals used in producing artificial trees contain chemicals that can be harmful or even fatal if ingested by your pet. While there are many pro’s and con’s to having a natural versus an artificial Christmas tree, this fact alone should make the decision a little easier.

Ornamentation is very attractive, especially to kittens, cats and puppies, but may be deadly. The tinsel, ribbon and glitter can cause intestinal blockages. Protect your pet by placing these items high enough to be out of reach. Packages under the tree may offer the same threat—the ribbons are just too hard to resist, and your pet may end up chewing on them while playing.

Those wonderful goodies

Holidays are the time for lots of baking, and receiving of baked gifts. These items smell just wonderful to your pet. Your dog may help himself to the candy, cookies, or part of the holiday meal if you are not looking. Eating people food may lead to indigestion, diarrhea, or worse. Remember, items containing chocolate can poison a dog, even if it is a small amount.

Remains of the holiday meal left on countertops, tables, and even in the garbage will entice your pets. If there is a way to get to it, be assured your dog will certainly try. Bones from turkey, a roast, or ham may splinter if eaten. Older garbage may even contain enough bacteria to poison a pet. Be careful where the trash is held while waiting to be disposed of.

And of course I don’t need to remind you that begging at that table can cause major behavior problems in the future…

Other Decorations

Plants, especially poinsettias, are often used for decoration in November and December.  Some of these plants contain toxins that can irritate your pet’s gastrointestinal tract if chewed on or eaten. Eating enough of some plants may poison your dog or cat. In some cases it may be the leaves, in others the stem, berries, or roots. Your veterinarian or behaviorist can help guide you, or you can do a bit of research at the library or online to see if any of your holiday plants may be harmful to your pets.

Toys

On Christmas morning when all of those toys are being played with (and soon forgotten, I might add) they contain many hazards for pets. Small toys, balls, marbles, board game pieces, BB’s from the Red Rider BB gun with the compass in the stock that your son just had to have!, and electric cords are all dangerous to your cat or dog.

Taking a few minutes to set some family guidelines and spot potential safety hazards could keep this holiday season from having serious consequences for your four-footed family member.

In the coming weeks Dr. Forto will be publishing and article on training Christmas puppies. His position is that you should never give a puppy for a Christmas present but thousands are given as gifts each year. In this article Dr. Forto will discuss when to train your dog, how to properly care for him and who should be in charge. Just remember that shelters are full of dogs that were once bundles of Christmas morning joy that grew up too fast and were not trained. Dr. Forto and his certified trainers at Denver Dog Works are here to help.

This article is provided as a general overview of the topic. Always consult your veterinarian or behaviorist for specific information related to diseases or medical care for pets.

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Dr. Robert Forto is a canine behaviorist and the training director of Denver Dog Works in Colorado. He can be reached through his website at www.denverdogworks.com

 


A Christmas Puppy for a Gift? Maybe Not

December 4, 2010

Events of this Christmas will have a profound impact on the dog training industry in April.

All those cute puppy-in-a-stocking photos prompt unsuspecting people to give dogs as gifts, inevitably resulting in a high rate of premium business for me and my colleagues.

A Christmas Puppy? Maybe Not

“Christmas puppies” often are impulse purchases, in a spirit of love and giving and generosity that goes with the season, but without the hard self-assessment that goes into asking oneself if one has the time and the energy and the inclination to give the necessary commitment to raising and socializing and educating that puppy. Better to get that new puppy at a less emotionally charged time of the year, when the decision to add a dog to the family is a less impulsive and more carefully considered one, uninfluenced by seasonal generosity of spirit, which might just fade a bit after the tree comes down and the lights are put away.

Realistically and sadly, Christmas puppies tend to be older puppies at the pound a few months later, or that nearly year old dog getting euthanized because someone bought a dog as a “toy” for a child that has no legitimate responsibility for that animal and loses interest. Also, some people have no idea that dogs grow and get bigger, or at least bigger than they expected.  Nor do they consider that the dog will require training and they bring them to me at arm’s length saying, “Fix my dog!”

Every April I see frenzied clients at my training center at wits end with their now-adult sized dogs that are totally out of control. They have no leash manners, refuse to come when called, hyperactive from a lack of exercise, obese from too many treats, and unwilling to even acknowledge their name.

Most people think that cute little puppy that was under the tree on Christmas morning will stay that way. On the contrary, they grow up and they grow up quick. Think of it this way. Could you go from the crib to high-school? No way! Puppies need exercise, discipline and affection—in that order. The best gift you can ever give that Christmas puppy is obedience training. This will not only build a lifelong bond but give you the control, leadership and routine that your dog so much desires.

If you are absolutely set upon getting your family a puppy for Christmas, consider this alternative instead: Purchase a leash, a collar, a good book on raising a puppy, a gift certificate for a veterinary checkup, a gift certificate for puppy socialization classes from one of the local obedience instructors, a book or video tape on the topic of how to select the right dog for your family (there are several, including even a computer program that purports to help you do this), or a gift subscription to one of the dog-oriented magazines.

Wrap these up and put them under the tree. As family members unwrap the various pieces of the “puzzle”, their delight and anticipation will grow. They will gradually understand what this present is! Then, after the Christmas tree is taken down and the frenzy of the holiday season is behind, the family can once again enjoy together the anticipation and excitement of discussing and selecting a breed, selecting a breeder, selecting an individual pup, and so on. This will increase the family’s mutual commitment to, and investment in, the well-being of the newest family member. It will be a project the family has done together, which is a wonderful way for any adoption to commence. This will not decrease the enjoyment of your new puppy; I guarantee it. It will increase it by many fold. And it will be a better start both for the puppy, and for the long-term relationship between dog and owner(s). A dog with a good introduction to its adoptive family is much more likely to become a long term companion rather than just another tragic statistic.

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Dr. Robert Forto, PhD is the training director for Dog Works Training Centers and hosts a weekly radio program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show, every Saturday. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.denverdogworks.com