How to keep your dog calm throughout the Christmas period, by expert trainer Ben Randall

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, with houses festooned in merry decorations, loved ones coming to visit, piles of presents under the tree and festive food for all to enjoy. But how do you make sure it doesn't all get too much for your four-legged friend? Ben Randall explains how to enjoy the Christmas season with your dog.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year no matter whether you have two legs or four. For owners of younger dogs, however, it can be a stressful time as you worry about the effect all the excitement might have on your growing pet.

And it’s that worry which prompted one reader to write to me at this week:

Dear Ben,
We have a seven-month-old cocker spaniel who is a lovely dog, and training is going well so far. As we get towards Christmas, however, I’ve started thinking about all the things which could upset her: the tree and all the other decorations, the new and interesting foods she won’t have seen or smelt before, and the stream of visitors and celebrations we’ll have in the run up to Christmas and after that towards the New Year as well.
Can you suggest ways to make it easier for her (and me!) to cope with the excitement? — F. L., Norfolk

Thank you for your letter — it’s actually something I’ll be dealing with myself this Christmas since we have also have a young dog in the house: also a cocker spaniel!

Can I also just say how pleased I am that you’ve thought about this in good time rather than sitting in the car on the way home with the tree on the roof-rack and hoping for the best. Making a plan ahead of time is always a good idea, so I’ll share with you what we’ll be doing with our new dog.

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How to keep your dog calm over the Christmas period

1. Start slowly and gradually build up the Christmas decorations

My young cocker spaniel is nearly crate-trained, so he gets lots of time out the crate, in the kitchen and in the lounge with the other dogs, and is staying calm and happy.

However, if I put the tree up with lots of things hanging off it straight away, I’m sure it’d create a lot of interest. So we start simply, just with the tree and maybe a couple of things higher up in the branches. Bit by bit we’ll add more, just as we’ll gradually decorate the rest of the house. He’ll get used to it all as it goes along — and we’ll make sure we don’t hang anything off low branches. Nothing will be below 2ft off the floor.

2. Don’t keep your dog away from the decorations

Some people might be tempted to keep their pet away from the tree, or locked out of the room — but actually that’s the wrong way to look at it. Not only will I let the new dog in and around the tree, I’ll also put his favourite dog bed fairly close to the tree.

Why? It might sound counter-intuitive, but by placing the safe, cosy bed that he’s used to sleeping and relaxing in, he’ll find it easier to stay calm around the tree. I know my other, older dogs are going to be okay with the tree and other decorations, so I want the tree to become an everyday object for him.

That won’t happen overnight, of course, which leads us on to step 3.

3. When the dog first investigates Christmas decorations, get ready to step in with the leave command

I always want to give my dogs the opportunity to go wrong – that way they’ll learn much quicker. So as I’ve said, don’t be tempted to keep your dog away from the tree – she won’t learn that way. Make sure you’re up to speed with teaching your dog the leave command and the next part should go smoothly.

Wait for her to approach the tree, sniffing and seeing what it’s all about – that’s all fine. But the moment she starts jumping or biting the tree or other decorations, give a quick leave command – and I mean quick, as timing is crucial to make sure she associates what she’s doing in the moment with what you’re telling her. Then remove the dog from the area for a few moments. It’ll only take a few repetitions of her going back to try again, and you repeating the command, for her to understand.

4. Tell your guests in advance what not to do

At Christmas you’ll have lots of people visiting, new people that the dog has never met before, people wearing festive outfits, presents on the floor and festive food smells coming from the kitchen. There’s a lot going on, and you’ll need to make sure that you protect your little canine friend from harm.

Everyone who comes to your house will have a part to play in that, but if you’re seeing people you may not have seen for a year, the last thing you want to do is open the front door to greet them and immediately start giving them a long list of things not to do with the dog.

So before my guests arrive, I text them to explain that we have a young dog in training, and to please go very carefully. Be clear that you don’t want anybody to feed them any titbits, allow the dog to chew and chase the wrapping paper, or anything else.

5. Keep to your normal routines as much as you can

I want you to try to keep to your normal routines as closely as you can. I know it’s not always going to be possible, but by at least sticking to the same toilet, feed and walking times and routines as normal, you’ll really help keep your pet grounded.

The same goes for sitting down to Christmas dinner: keep things the same for your dogs. In our house, the dogs go in their favourite beds when we sit down to a family meal, some of them having a chew and some not, depending on their preference. My dogs understand that when we’ve finished and they’ve ‘helped’ with loading the dishwasher 😉  it’s their turn to be fed. Christmas dinner might be bigger and take longer, but the same rules apply.

6. Relax and enjoy yourself

Above all, don’t stress too much. You’re starting things early so the dog will have a couple of weeks getting used to the tree and the presents, and if you stick to your routines and keep the training going well, your dog will quickly get used to things quite easily. It should be plain sailing.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit

Ben also has a forthcoming book, ‘How to Train Your Gundog’, out in December. You can pre-order it here at £40.

For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit

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