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Holiday Pet Tips from The Search For Santa Paws with Nicole Zuehl

by Karen Idelson

Are your children eagerly awaiting the arrival of a puppy this holiday season? Are you afraid the puppy will turn your holiday decorations into chew toys, jump visitors when they come through the door and generally cause chaos when you’re entertaining? Not to worry! Nicole Zuehl, the seasoned dog trainer who helped make the adorable little puppies in The Search for Santa Paws — Disney’s all-new holiday movie for the whole family — some of the best trained dogs on a movie set, is here with helpful training tips. Your own dog will learn proper holiday etiquette in no time if you follow this dog expert’s advice.

SET RULES – “Sometimes people don’t realize dogs need to have rules set or they’ll think anything is okay for them to do,” says Zuehl. “For example, most puppies have to be taught not to jump on people. They don’t automatically know it’s wrong.” If you allow your pet to jump on you when you come home, chances are they’ll assume it’s okay to jump on a stranger, too. Be certain everyone in the family knows the rules for the dog. Start on day one and stick with those rules so the dog understands what is expected.

If you’re introducing a pet into your home during the holidays, house proof just like you would for a toddler. Put sparkly decorations above waist height. Wait to put presents out until you’re ready
to open them. Gently step between the dog and the packages every time it tries to approach them. Pick up toys after playing and place them out of puppy’s reach. Don’t let snacks sit out on coffee tables unattended. Chocolate, crackers, cheeses and other rich foods are definitely irresistible ‘no-nos’ for pets. Some puppies might tug on children while playing on the floor. This is a sign of play but could
frighten or scratch a child, so it’s important to keep an eye on the pet when guests are around and stop the behavior even if everyone thinks it’s cute. Create an enclosed ‘safe’ place for your puppy to nap. Dog crates are great for this. After your puppy has had a chance to meet and play with the guests for a bit, removing it from the action for a quiet nap will keep it from being over-stimulated and let you relax with your family and guests.

WORK ON IMPORTANT COMMANDS FIRST – It’s tempting to teach crowd-pleasing tricks, but first focus on the basics! “It’s a safety issue for pets to know their name and respond to you when you call for them,” says Zuehl. “If your dog gets out and is near traffic you need to be able to immediately get it away from that harmful situation.” Begin teaching a dog to come when called by placing it in a quiet environment and calling its name. Puppies love to hear the sound of your voice and will naturally look towards you when they hear you speak. Reward that attention with a “good dog” and possibly a treat. Repeat this a few times a day, keeping in mind you want the puppy to look at you when you call.

BE PATIENT – If your dog has trouble focusing while learning to respond to its name, don’t get discouraged! “Puppies are generally distracted and excited about everything that’s around them,”
says Zuehl. “Remember they’re like little kids and sometimes need quiet and more time than you imagine to focus.” Be sure to remove possible distractions like loud noises or other dogs when training your pet. If you’ve been working with your dog for awhile, the dog may be tired and need a break. Let it rest and start again later. With gentle repetition and positive feedback, your dog will know its name and
proper holiday etiquette in no time!

REWARD THE FAMILY TOO – When you reward the dog for good behavior, remember that it’s important that everyone in the family gets rewarded for following the rules, as the dog be-comes
the family’s best friend. One great way is to sit together with the puppy and enjoy The Search for Santa Paws, the exciting and uplifting movie from director Robert Vince (Air Bud and Buddies films) about the power of giving and the true meaning of Christmas in the tradition of Disney’s classic holiday tales. Available in Blu-ray and DVD combo packs and download, this big city adventure for the whole family reveals how the legendary friendship of Santa Claus and his newest best friend Santa Paws began.

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