Forget swimming swans and French hens — that song is for the birds! Instead, here are the 12 Days of Howlidays, to keep you and your furry friend feeling festive. Sprinkle these throughout December to take the pressure off doing something 12 days in a row and to truly savor the season.
Our experts share tips and advice to keep the season full of joy instead of chaos. Modify as needed with social distancing and masks for safety.
Great doggie bake-off
Making cookies is a beloved holiday tradition. Take a day to make a batch of Snickerdoodles for people and dog biscuits for your Doodle. Cookie cutters in Christmas tree, dreidel or other holiday shapes can be used for a festive touch. And making dog-safe treats can reduce people’s temptation to slip pups something from their holiday goodies.
Related: DIY Recipe: Candy Cane Dog Treats
DIY advent calendar
Now that you have all these dog biscuits, a fun way to disperse them is with an empty Advent calendar that you can fill with treats and toys. This is especially fun if this is already a family activity for your two-legged kids, giving your dog a way to participate in the daily fun. Google “empty Advent calendar” for some ideas on what to make or buy.
Slay that doggie sleigh
If your older dog isn’t up for as many walks anymore, give him a ride in a tricked-out doggie stroller or wagon while you walk around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights. Make it a neighborhood event with a Most Festive Wagon competition and parade. When choosing decorations, safety is first — an emergency trip to the vet is NOT jolly.
“Sparkly, light-catching tinsel is especially attractive to pets, but even just a small bit consumed can cause severe vomiting, dehydration or obstruction to your pet’s digestive tract,” reminds Monica Body, behavior rehabilitation specialist with the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Weaverville, North Carolina. “Shards of breakable ornaments can damage your pet’s mouth and digestive tract.”
Glam groom: more sparkles, less mats
Whether your dog gets professionally groomed year-round or you want a special look to show off to guests, make your December appointment early.
This is a good chance for someone to give your dog a thorough inspection, especially if you live in an area that uses rock salt on snowy sidewalks, which can irritate your pup’s paw pads.
Try some fun fur products to boost the holiday cheer. Check out nail polish made for dogs, as well as pet-friendly glitter-type products for extra sparkle in Sparky’s coat. Do your own nails, too, and make it a dual spa day.
It’s hard to believe a humble needle, thread and popped corn can turn a humbug mood into a good time. Making popcorn decorations can be another way to gather together as part of the tree trimming fun, plus share some of the treats with your dog.
Now, there is a caveat with this one: You don’t want to encourage your dog to eat any trimmings once they’re on the tree, so if you do the popcorn garland on the tree, keep it strictly on the highest branches. Better yet, use those starchy strands to decorate your front door or elsewhere out of reach.
Speaking of the tree, Monica recommends a few tips to keep it something your dog can strictly observe instead of trying to turn it into a giant, pine-scented chew toy:
✶ “Consider the location of your tree, what you use to decorate and which decorations and presents surround it carefully. If you have valuable heirlooms, avoid hanging them on the tree until your dog shows disinterest for several days in a row.”
✶ “Secure it tightly so it doesn’t fall and cause injury to your pet, and be sure to cover the water dish with a skirt or towel. Tree water can contain fertilizer and other chemicals that can be hazardous if consumed by pets.”
✶ “If you know your dog might get himself into trouble, simply put a low gate around the tree or in the entryway to the room to prevent access unless you’re there to supervise.”
Do your holidays include the nightly lighting of a Hanukkah menorah or a kinara for Kwanzaa? Make your dog part of the ritual with a treat hunt as a nightly activity for him afterward.
Steven Appelbaum, founder, president and CEO of Animal Behavior College, located in Valencia, California, explains the year-round game he played with his dogs. “We would take tiny treats like Charlee Bears and hide them in a couple of rooms in the house,” he says. “Then we would let the dogs into these rooms and ask them to find the treat. Initially we showed them a half dozen of the hiding spots, but once they got the concept we just got out of their way and let them go to work. They loved this game.”
Pose your pooch
Send out some holiday cards to show off your dog in his ugly Christmas sweater. A photo shoot is a great activity to bond with Bo Bo. Make it fun for your dog instead of a dreaded interaction. A couple ways to help with that is to go for a walk first and enlist an assistant. A tired dog is typically a calmer dog. And Santa’s helper can wrangle your dog, using a squeak toy to get her to look your way while you focus on getting the shot. For a quality background, choose an area with good lighting and not too much clutter.
Host a dog-friendly tea and cookie exchange
Invite a handful of people and dogs to share an afternoon of tea, cookies and dog treats.
Let each dog enjoy a treat or two, and prepare doggie bags for each one to take some home. If your friends are willing, have them bring some treats, too, for each dog to get a merry medley of items.
This play date should have an exclusive guest list. Invite only the dogs you know your dog gets along with and that don’t have food guarding or other issues. Consider gathering on a heated porch for social distancing safety.
“Dogs that enjoy the company of dogs in general will typically do well with polite, well-socialized canine guests — but not always,” Monica says. Have a crate or time-out space ready just in case. Also, tire your dog out ahead of time. “For overly enthusiastic dogs, exercise before party time can work wonders,” Monica adds.
If you’re serving food for people, there are always a couple things to be mindful of. “A few of the more concerning common food exposures during the holidays are chocolate, bread dough, fruitcake and alcohol,” Monica says. “Keep your pets away from the buffet table and unattended plates of food, and be sure to secure the lids on garbage cans.”
Experiment with ingredients based on your dog’s preferences. But, really, who are we kidding? Most dogs would even eat the much-maligned fruitcake. Of course, never include raisins, macadamia nuts or chocolate. And calories do still exist during the holidays, so resist those puppy eyes when your dog begs for more. Below is one recipe for cut-out cookies and one for drop cookies
Peanut Butter Bites
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup all-natural smooth peanut butter,
- no salt, sugar or xylitol added
- ¼ cup honey (not raw honey)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 cups whole-wheat or rice flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients well until the dough is stiff; if it is too sticky, mix in a small amount of flour.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until firm. Roll out the dough to half-inch thickness, and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter.
- Put the cookies on a baking sheet ½-inch apart. Bake at 350° F for 20 to 25 minutes.
- When done, the cookie should be firm. Turn the oven off, and leave the cookies in for 1 to 2 hours to harden.
Yield: approximately 40 2-inch cookies.
Banana Oatmeal Cookies
- 1 ½ cups whole-wheat or rice flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup all-natural applesauce, no sugar or xylitol added
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 bananas, mashed
- 1¼ cup honey (not raw honey)
- 1 3/4 cups quick cooking oats, uncooked
- Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
- With a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of dough on a baking sheet, about 1½ inches apart. Bake at 350° F for 10 to 15 minutes.
- When done, the cookies should be firm. Turn the oven off and leave the cookies in for one to two hours to harden.
Yield: approximately 55 cookies.
Recipes with minor variations from the book Doggy Desserts by Cheryl Gianfrancesco
Become snow bound
Depending on where you live, this might be as close as your front yard. For others, it’s a day trip that’s truly a winter wonderland for your dog.
“I took my Basset Hound to the snow,” Steven recalls. “He ran through chest-high snow drifts for an hour with a look of such profound happiness that it made everyone laugh with delight.”
Make It Movie Night
Consider bundling this activity after the Tree Trimming Pawty since you’ve already made all the popcorn. After all, there’s no better pairing than to sit down with the family and make an evening out of dog-themed holiday movies. Before adding butter, save a handful or two of popcorn for your dog to enjoy. And no need to be a Scrooge. Giving a dozen pieces of popcorn is like giving him 12 treats. (Less for small dogs.) Throw some baby carrots in there, too, if you’re going for a triple feature!
Here are just a few films to consider:
✶ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
✶ Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure
✶ The Nightmare Before Christmas
✶ A Charlie Brown Christmas
✶ The Search for Santa Paws
Lights + decorations = car ride!
Many neighborhoods go all out when it comes to decorating during the
holidays. For those that aren’t in walking distance, include your dog in the car to spend extra time with you. If you don’t know of any near you, get your Google on and find something as near or far as you’re willing to go. Once you get to the neighborhood, you all can admire the homes on foot so Fido gets to stretch his legs (never leave him in the car alone). You could also bring that decorated wagon from No. 3 if your dog isn’t up for a walk.
For any outing, bringing poop bags and a collar with a current ID tag is a must. For longer trips, bring a water bowl or some kibble. “Pack a favorite toy or pillow to give your pet a sense of familiarity during a long drive,” Monica says.
Chillax This Howliday
When it comes to Fido and holiday festivities, Steven recommends including them in family gatherings and activities when possible. However, there should still be lots of time just relaxing at home. Don’t try to make every December day a different adventure.
“It’s not surprising that changes in the home environment during the hectic holiday season can cause anxiety for some pets,” Monica says. “Even amidst the busy holiday season, don’t forget to keep your pets busy and happy with exercise, playtime, interactive games or puzzle toys.” That gives them some alone-time activities to keep them occupied both while you are home and out of the house.
This is especially important with a newly rescued or adopted dog — help her adjust to your home with a normal routine to know what to expect with her new surroundings. You won’t need to bring out all the bells and whistles to impress your new dog. She just got a new home and family. And that’s the best thing you could give and the best gift she could receive.
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