Cats, dogs, and Christmas trees can be a recipe for disaster - but it doesn’t have to be! Unfortunately there is a Tiktok video circulating suggesting you use the tree to scare your cat so that they’ll leave it alone - let's not. You can train your cats and dogs to leave your tree alone in just a few easy, fear-free steps.
What do cats love? Boxes, plants, strings, knocking things over, and general chaos. We definitely do not need their help while we have boxes out, full of fragile ornaments, literal strings of lights and beads, tinsel (in fact, tinsel can be very dangerous for cats if ingested, we suggest you give it a miss entirely). Set them up in a room for a few hours with everything they need (food, water, litter), plus some new toys, boxes to jump and lay in, paper to crinkle, a puzzle feeder, you name it. Confine your dog behind a baby gate or in their crate with a food stuffed toy and some calming music.
Repeat this routine when it’s time to take the tree down.
Keeping the animals away during the most exciting tree moments can stop them from thinking that the tree is a giant new toy, brought to the house for their amusement. If you’ve already set up your tree, don’t despair! Simply move on to step 2 with the knowledge that you might have to work a bit harder to reprogram any unwanted behaviors.
Once the tree is set up, gather some new supplies - special treats, a wand toy for your cat, or a new chewing item or other toy for your dog. Have a few other fun things on deck; paper towel tubes, packing paper, or tinfoil balls (for cats only.) Let your cat or dog into the room with the tree. Any time they approach it, calmly redirect them to their new toy, or start a treat game of throwing one treat at a time in the opposite direction of the tree. You can also reward them for sitting or laying down next to you or the tree without fussing with it. Continue redirecting until they lose interest.
If they haven’t had experience with a Christmas tree before, they’ll likely lose interest in no time. If they have a lot of experience climbing or playing with christmas trees, you might be redirecting and supervising for a few days. For a large or energetic dog, you might even want to put a short exercise pen around the tree or keep them on a leash initially.
The best way to ensure good behavior is to prevent the rehearsal of unwanted behavior.
By keeping them away from the tree when it’s at its most exciting, plus supervising and redirecting after the tree is up, we can prevent our animals from finding the tree to be their own personal source of entertainment. For energetic animals, incorporating other sources of enrichment while the tree is up may be necessary. Stay tuned for our upcoming blogs about cat enrichment and dog enrichment!