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Tips to Prevent Dogs from Peeing on Christmas Tree

Five steps to prevent your pup from “decorating” your tree.

by Karen B. London, PhD
December 15, 2020
A dog wearing a colorful striped sweater staring at a decorated christmas tree in a living room.
Photo: Ruth Black / Stocksy

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You just brought home your Christmas tree about 25 seconds ago, and the dog’s already peed on it. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Around this time of year, people start franticly asking their dog trainers how to prevent their dogs from peeing on their Christmas trees. Though we see Christmas trees as decorations, their purpose is far from clear to dogs. The good news is that most dogs (who are thoroughly house-trained) won’t pee indoors just because a tree is suddenly under their roof. But it’s good to think ahead and be proactive, if you want your tree to be free of dog pee. (And who doesn’t want that?) Here are a few tips to keep your festivities in the clear.

How to Keep Your Dog From Peeing on a 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. Essentially, this is a management issue. Your focus will be on preventing your dog from having an opportunity to go on the tree.

1. Go back to Housetraining 101.

Before tree goes up, it’s important to get back to the basics. No matter how well your dog is house-trained or how many years it’s been since they had an accident, especially if it is your dog’s first experience with an indoor tree. A dog who pees on a Christmas tree is confused, not acting out. Give your dog some help by letting them know that you still want them to go outside.

  • Take your dog out often on walks and in the yard. You want to provide plenty of opportunities for them to pee in the right places.

  • Reinforce with high-value treats for peeing outside, every time, to make sure that your dog knows where they are supposed to go pee.

  • Never let your dog out of your sight while inside, especially at a guest’s house.

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.

2. Use Prevention Barriers

Supervise your dog so that there is no chance for your dog to sneak toward the tree. Watching the dog constantly is the best way to guarantee that your dog will not (ahem) decorate the tree. If you cannot supervise them, then block your dog’s access to the tree with gates or other barriers. Putting a vacuum cleaner next to a tree might work for some dogs. Tethering your dog to you with a leash is another way to be sure you know where your dog is and what they are doing.

3. Be Alert for Signs

Be alert to the signs that your dog may be about to go, such as sniffing or circling. Take your dog out often and reinforce them with rewards for peeing there. By the time a dog has started to lift a leg or squat, it is often too late to stop them from peeing.

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.

4. 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 pee in areas where they hang out or where they sleep.

5. Reinforce and Redirect

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.” This gives them a go-to behavior to do in that area other than peeing. If your dog develops positive history with a behavior other than peeing on the tree, they will be less likely to pee on it.

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karen london

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.