Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Don’t unwrap that!

We enjoy watching our dogs unwrap gifts, with a couple caveats — it’s got to be their toys and it’s got to be on our terms.
That means no sneaking under the Christmas tree one week beforehand and stealing arbitrary gift boxes to unwrap.
Think about what the ideal situation would be. On Christmas morning, you pull out your dog’s gifts from under the tree and create a little pile especially for him just as you do for your other family members. You hold one up to him and say, “Open it up, pal, this one’s for you!”
When he’s done unwrapping and everyone’s had the opportunity to coo over how cute and human-like he is, he runs around with the new toy in his mouth, his tail wagging and chest protruding with pride.
Then you say, “Come ‘ere boy, I got another one for ya,” and he trots excitedly back to you, ready to do it all over again.
Keep this entire image in your head and do not stray from it. This is important.
The dog will quickly start making associations, usually “wrapped gift equals toy for me.” After the second or third unwrapping experience, he may completely lose interest in the toy that’s inside and instead move on to the next box, ready to do it all over again.
This is not good. If the dog quickly discards the toy and heads for another box, stop him. You may even give him a correction command, like “No!” or “Bad!” to stop him in his tracks. If you have to, put the remaining wrapped boxes up and out of his reach.
Tease him with his new toys and try to get his attention with them. If he’s determined on unwrapping more gifts, he may move in on the next person and their pile, whether it’s your 2-year-old, 15-year-old or yourself. If he does this, be swift with the correction.
“Bad dog!” as soon as sniffs out a box. “Go lay down!”
Let him sulk for a moment, then tease him again with one of his newly unwrapped toys. Once he appears to have forgotten about those magical wrapped boxes, you are free to give him another one.
The key is in the giving, literally. You want your dog to make the association that he may open gifts once you or another human hand has given them to him and encouraged him to open them, and only then.
This means he may not select his own boxes to open. He may not start unwrapping random boxes on the floor. In order for Fido to unwrap, there must first be a hand extending a gift to him. Not even the slightest of deviations should go unnoticed or without a simple “No!” correction.
By setting up the game this way, your dog has parameters by which he can understand the whole ordeal. Otherwise, how would he know that he can’t open any ol’ gift that’s laying around?
Think about a 2-year-old for a moment. If we never took the time to teach them that gifts can only be opened at certain times and that only certain gifts were meant for them, don’t you think they’d be going around, opening up any wrapped box they laid eyes on?
Dogs are the same.
My sister, by the way, used to put a baby gate around the bottom of the tree for a couple years. Bubba did enjoy stealing gifts every now and again and the baby gate proved to be an effective solution for her.
With time and as the number of children in the household grew (hence meaning there were more birthdays for children where there were not gifts for the dog, providing the dog with many experiences where he was told “No!” when he went to open gifts that were not his), Bubba learned that not all gifts were meant for him. Nowadays, she doesn’t have to worry about him sneaking off with a gift.
So, enjoy an unwrapping experience with your dog this Christmas. Just make sure the only gifts he opens are the ones you hand directly to him.

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