This was one of the most popular questions I had to answer since the beginning of December, so I thought we need to have a proper conversation about puppy-proofing the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees and cocker spaniels can live in utter harmony most of the time. Admittedly, we never had to worry even though my boys have always been inquisitive about things. Thankfully, Christmas trees were never on their list of objects to explore. I guess they thought that it was just another piece of furniture that we chose to add to the house decor.
On the other hand, and after I was asked the question, there were things that I’ve always done on subconscious level or perhaps because I tried to perceive the tree from the dog’s point of view – and it helped me to avoid any disasters.
And this is why I made the list to document my actions in one place…
Put the tree in a room that your dog won’t be able to access if you have to leave him on his own. Putting a puppy playpen around the tree may stop some cockers, but many dogs will just force their way through any barriers because the prize is way too good to ignore!
Fake it! Choose an artificial tree over the real thing. Just think how tempting a fir tree would be for your pup who lives to sniff and chew! Boys may even mark it… because it’s exactly the same as the “message boards” they use outside!
Additionally, fir needles contain oils that can irritate the mouth and digestive tract and cause drooling, vomiting and upset stomach. Your cocker cannot digest any needles he swallows, which can lead to additional digestive issues and even stomach punctures. If your dog walks over them, the needles (especially old and dry ones) can cause anything from a mild irritation from the prick to an injury.
Another thing to bear in mind when it comes to the real trees is the water – it can become stale, contain chemicals and oils from the tree and “special solutions” such as pesticides, preservatives and aspirin, which are toxic to dogs.
On the other hand, an artificial tree is not that fragrant even from the canine prespective and is relatively safe unless your pooch chooses to pull the entire arrangement down for the fun of it.
Talking of the latter… Give your dog some time to get used to the tree. Put it up, make sure it’s sturdy and then leave the tree without any decorations for a couple of days. Do not attract your dog’s attention to the tree when installing it. Do not ask him to come and look at branches or sniff it. As soon as you begin to fuss over “the new thing”, it will become something enchanting for your cocker.
Inspect your artificial tree for loose needles and brittle brunches. Some materials can become fragile with age and if they fall off and get swallowed by your dog, the pieces of plastic or metal can be harmful.
Decorations need to be chosen wisely, especially if your cocker is still young. When my boys were puppies I made sure to avoid putting any bubbles onto the bottom brunches and always picked plastic, metal, paper, fabric and unbreakable “glass” decorations if they were within my boys’ reach. They never tried to steal them – it’s was my cautious paranoia that made me do it.
Some dogs do find baubles interesting: the toys move at the slightest draft, they are reflective and sparkling, the pup can often pick the changes in light when staring at them, and they look like his favourite balls… begging to be stolen and thrown around!
The only way you can decide how to avoid any potential disasters is to put a few baubles on the tree and observe your cocker carefully from nearby. If he shows too much attention, reconsider the decor. If his curiosity is mainly to do with the novelty of the object, use the “leave” word and make him forget about the tree decor completely by playing together or doing some training in the “tree vicinity”.
Also most definitely avoid tinsels unless your spaniel is completely oblivious and indifferent to the festivities. Tinsel can cause digestive blockages and injuries when swallowed, so it’s best not to use it.
Make sure that the tree lights are off if you cannot supervise your dog and the tree and there’s a slight chance that he may bite into the cable.
Last but not least are the edible decorations. Chocolate “baubles” and “stars” are toxic to dogs. Spicy cookies can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and some may contain toxic raisins. Dried fruits may also upset digestion. And just imagine what any normal dog would do if you embellished the tree with any dog biscuits and treats… He is not going to just camp under the branches, that’s for sure.
For more useful tips on having the most wonderful peaceful Christmas with your cocker spaniel read my Dog friendly Christmas check list post.