Whether you recently adopted your furry companion or you are planning to add a dog to your growing family over the holidays, this season can be particularly overly stimulating for anyone, much less a newly introduced canine friend. But, don’t worry. We’ve written down some great tips to make sure everyone in your household, including your newest four-legged family member, enjoys this magical time together by teaching your dog ways he or she can quickly become one of Santa’s best helpers!

Teach Him/Her to Fetch
The first thing a furry elf-in-training needs to do to earn his or her Santa’s Helper badge of honor is learn some fun fetching skills. Most dogs who like to fetch can be trained to bring ribbons, bows, gifts, and disposable tape dispensers to the gift wrapping area or the gift recipient. Start by teaching your dog to fetch a tennis ball or other dog toy of choice. Through the item of interest. If your dog likes to fetch, he or she will naturally want to follow the item and pick it up.

Next, call your dog to your side and reward him or her with praise, a click from a clicker, and/or a training treat. Finally, tell your dog to “Release It” and hold the item until he or she lets go of all pressure and you can safely remove the item from the dog’s mouth. It is important NOT to pull on the item or get into a game of tug of war. Tugging on objects your dog carries will make him or her bite down to secure the item. If your dog runs away with the toy, call him or her back and try the “Release It” command again with your hand on the item until your dog gently releases it and you can safely take ownership. Be sure to offer loads of praise, a click, and/or training treats when each task is performed correctly.

Keep in mind, it is critical to ignore your dog when he or she is overly excited, biting down on the item, or running off with the item. He or she will likely need patience from you while training as you wait for the next calm moment to toss the item again and call him or her back to you before issuing the “Release It” command. The key is to expect your dog to take a long time to learn each skill and be prepared to practice for 15-20 minutes each day.

Fetching for Gifts, Wrapping Items, and More!
Once your dog can fetch and release on command with ease, it’s time to teach your elf-in-training to be selective with the items you want him or her to bring you. Take an item like a brand new spool of ribbon and hold it in front of your dog’s nose while saying the name of the item like “Ribbon”. Each time your dog touches the item with his or her nose, provide the reward of praise, a click, and/or training treats. Repeat this until your dog knows to touch the item or shows interest in licking or gently mouthing the item each time.

Again, is critical to ignore your dog when he or she is overly excited, biting down on the item, or running off with the item. If this behavior occurs, go back to the dog toy for the item to fetch until he or she fully understands the game rules.

Helping Guests Get into the Holiday Spirit
One skill that comes naturally to well-socialized dogs is greeting guests and helping everyone feel welcome. Dogs can help lower anxiety, stress, and blood pressure for all while equally offering a warm greeting at the same time just by being friendly. But, before he or she can be a calming influence for guests and help them get into the holiday spirit, your dog will need a little training. Teach your dog to sit by standing in front of your dog and holding a training treat above his or her nose. Give the “Sit” command. When your dog sits, however long it takes, give him or her praise, a click from a clicker, and the treat. Do this repeatedly until your dog is a real pro at the “Sit” command.

Now, teach your dog not to jump on people. For this trick, you’ll need a human helper, a leash, and training treats. Put your dog on a leash and drop several treats on the floor in front of your dog as your training guest comes to the door. Ask your helper to pet your dog while he or she is eating the treats on the floor and step away and close the door when the dog is finished eating. Repeat these actions until your dog is able to keep all four paws on the ground while your guest is near. Over time, you can give fewer treats as your dog learns the behavior you are rewarding. Then, ask other guests to help with the same exercise. Eventually, you will be able to provide one treat, click, and/or lots of praise for a job well done as your dog remains calm and does not jump when new guests arrive at your home.

Where to Find Your Own Santa’s Helper
If you are looking to adopt a dog in the Volusia County area, browse our list of loving rescues in need of a patient and attentive owner like you. We also have opportunities for fostering families and, of course, we welcome donations for our dogs as well as dog food drop-offs for our community members who have fallen on hard times and are in need of support to keep their dogs healthy at home. Check out our adoption page, foster criteria, and donation page for more ways you can help our elves-in-training find the right place to share the holiday spirit.