Every year I am inundated by requests for advice about how to prevent dogs from peeing on the Christmas tree. It’s a legitimate concern and I’m always pleased at how many people are thinking ahead and being proactive about dealing with a potential behavioral issue.
Though Christmas trees are decorations to us, their purpose is far from clear to most dogs. I encourage anyone whose dog is going to be around a Christmas tree to assume that dogs might view the tree differently than people and act accordingly, if you want your tree to be free of dog pee. (And who doesn’t want that?)
Brought home my first Christmas tree about 25 seconds ago. The dog peed on it about 23 seconds ago. So. Joy to the world and season's greetings and all that.
It does happen sometimes that dogs use the Christmas tree as the bathroom, and regrettably, it so often involves a handmade tree skirt or other priceless family heirloom. On the bright side, many people find that their fears are never realized—the majority of dogs who are thoroughly house trained do not eliminate indoors just because a tree is suddenly under their roof.
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How to Keep Your Dog From Peeing on the Christmas Tree
To make sure that your tree stays dog pee free this year, there are several strategies, and your success is more likely if you take advantage of all of them. Largely, this is a management issue, so focus on preventing your dog from having an opportunity to eliminate on the tree.
Before The Tree Goes Up
Go back to Housetraining 101. No matter how well your dog is housetrained or how many years it’s been since he had an accident, assume nothing when a christmas tree is indoors, especially if it is your dog’s first experience with one. A dog who pees on a Christmas tree is confused rather than acting out. Give your dog some help by letting him know that you still want him to eliminate outside.
1) Take your dog out often on walks and in the yard. We want to provide plenty of opportunities for them to pee and eliminate in the right places.
2) Reinforce with top quality treats for peeing outside, every time, to make sure that your dog knows where they are supposed to go pee.
3) I never let your dog out of your sight while inside, especially at a guest’s house.
In addition, practice using “leave it” for a variety of objects in the house that are off limits, including the tree, and reinforce the dog’s correct response to this cue with treats, play, and chew items. You’ll feel good about helping your dog avoid a mistake that might have lowered his popularity with the family.
Use Prevention Barriers
Supervise your dog so that there is no chance for your dog to sneak towards the tree. Consider blocking your dog’s access to the tree with gates or other barriers. Putting a vacuum cleaner next to a tree it is my favorite solution. Though I dislike the idea of making a dog afraid, the fact that many dogs actively avoid vacuum cleaners makes this solution useful to so many people.
Watching the dog constantly is the best way to guarantee that your dog will not decorate the tree in a way you don’t like. With smaller dogs, tethering your dog to you with a leash is another way to be sure you know where your dog is and what he or she is doing.
Be Alert for Signs
Be alert to the signs that your dog may be about to eliminate such as sniffing or circling. Take your dog out often and reinforce elimination in acceptable locations. By the time a dog has started to lift a leg or squat, it is often too late to stop your dog from urinating.
If you do see your dog doing this by the tree, make a sound that’s loud enough to cause a startled reaction, but not so loud that it’s scary. Take your dog outside immediately and reinforce your dog for urinating outside with treats and praise. If the tree has pee on it, clean it thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner so the area will not smell like the bathroom to your dog.
Normalize the Tree
Spend quiet time with your dog near the tree massaging, scratching or letting your dog chew on a Kong or other chew treat so they consider the tree part of their living space. Dogs are less likely to eliminate in areas where they hang out or where they sleep.
Reinforce Another Behavior
If your dog sniffs the Christmas tree or goes near it, reinforce them for being near it but not peeing on it. Do this by teaching your dog to do something specific near the tree such as “sit” or “lie down” gives them a go-to behavior to do in that area other than peeing. If your dog develops a strong reinforcement history with a behavior other than peeing on the tree, they will be less likely to pee on it.
I hope that those of you who have a Christmas tree inside are able to use these tips to help keep your dog from peeing on it. These tips should help your dog understand that this is a special, indoor tree and that it doesn’t mean that there is now a bathroom inside. Has your dog every peed on your Christmas tree, or have you been able to prevent this behavior?