A dog's essential guide to surviving Christmas
My sixth Christmas is just around the corner which makes me a veteran. In the spirit of goodwill among all dogs, here are some festive canine DO'S and DONT'S I've learnt so far. If you're a rookie, buckle up for the ride. There will be strange rituals, strange people, strange smells. There will be pitfalls, but also a world of opportunities for any savvy, determined dog. It's not called silly season for nothing.
Ritual 1: Christmas Tree
An indoor tree is a strange custom I've never really understood. Hours spent diligently decorating a tree with tinsel, fairy lights, and glittery balls. But these balls are different. DON'T chase them, or chew them. And however tempting, DON'T mark the tree or you'll be in the dog house quicker than the man who bought his girlfriend a vacuum cleaner for her birthday. Odd really, it's not like they tend for this tree the way they look after the herb garden - it will soon die and end up on the tip.
Ritual 2: Christmas Presents
An enormous pile of presents will begin growing beneath the tree. Have a good sniff, some might even smell of chocolate. But that won't be yours. Yours will smell of liver or chicken, just like the obedience treats you get during the year. DON'T tamper with the presents. Start poking your nose into them and the gift-wrap will fall apart quicker than a toy from the two-dollar shop, then there'll be trouble.
When the people unwrap your present it will be to such a background of ooh-aahs and theatrical gestures you'd think they'd bought you a kitten to play with. Sadly not. It'll be a bag of dog treats. Just remember, DO show some (fake) excitement but exercise restraint and save your appetite - the treats are just a sly deflection tactic to fill you up so you won't be interested in all the tasty human food to come later.
There might even be a second gift for you. It could be a new dog collar, or a travel blanket. But be prepared as it could also be a stupid pair of antlers, or a santa claus suit. Let them have their fun and laugh at you, chances are it won't last long and they'll remove them so you can regain your dignity. However if they forget about you as they tuck into more wine, then you'll need to go find a puddle or some mud to roll in. Be careful though, go too far and it won't be just the outfit that ends up getting washed.
Strategy 1: DO latch on to young children
Children are an odds-on bet for receiving snacks throughout the day, and an even safer bet for dropping them. Stick closely by their side and you'll score a bumper bonanza of spilled goodies. This is commonly known in the corporate world as "low hanging fruit", only it's not fruit, and it doesn't hang. You DO have to be quick, an opportunistic feeder, but it's well worth the effort and will surely pay dividends.
Word of caution. Children get over-excitable, especially at Christmas, and this can manifest itself as vigorous patting and stroking of the dog (yes, you). Some will even find it amusing to pull your tail, tug your ears, chase you, and tease you so begin to keep your distance. These children will then become tired and irritable since many have been wide awake since 4.30am, leading to temper-tantrums where they scream and shriek with such ear-piercing brutality you'd rather listen to a dog whistle. At this stage parents will confiscate the sweets, so move on to your second target...
Strategy 2: DO target drunken relatives
Another lucrative source of dropped goodies, start identifying them early on. "The life and soul of the party" is typically loud and exuberant, and possibly named Geoffrey. While regaling family with tall stories and booming laughter they regularly top up their wine glasses, becoming increasingly tipsy. At this point a steady stream of nuts and chips will flow from their grasp into your grateful paws.
Cautionary note 2. After the Christmas dinner they might fall asleep on your favourite chair. DON'T try to beat them to it, they're unlikely to notice you in their inebriate state and might sit on you. Which brings me on to another grave danger. With a belly full of turkey and brussel sprouts, they won't be dropping goodies anymore, they'll be dropping something far more sinister. And if you don't keep a safe distance you'll end up getting the blame for it. Time to move away.
The Main Event: Christmas Dinner
One of the most prestigious occasions in any dog's calendar, the Christmas dinner holds huge potential for hungry hounds. Human diets and restraint go out of the window faster than a champion greyhound, and enough food will be served to feed fifty labradors. If you can intercept a mere half percent you'll enjoy a feast of human food fit for a king. DON'T get locked out of the dining room, do whatever it takes to secure your hiding spot early, and keep a low profile until dinner is underway. Prior to serving, stress levels sky-rocket as meat is carved, vegetables drained, and glasses filled, so this is a smart time to sneak into position.
If you're locked out when dinner is served DON'T panic. Something always gets forgotten so wait until someone returns to the kitchen then make your move. Word of warning - Christmas food is rich, pace yourself. Outdoor access might be limited, get your business done at every opportunity (I had my own accident last Christmas and speak from experience.)
Ritual 3: Christmas Crackers
They look harmless enough, colourful like a toy, but don't be fooled. Here's how they work; people face one another and each take one end - initially it looks a bit like a tug-of-war game with a rope toy...until "CRACK", the thing goes off like a firework, and you'll want to disappear under a chair. But don't forget, dinner is about to start, so DO stay well hidden and don't blow your cover. DON'T eat the plastic thing that falls out of the middle, it's not food, it's a cheap gadget that will give you terrible indigestion. And the peril of the christmas cracker doesn't end there. There'll always be one joker who thinks it funny to put the party hat on the dog. It happened to me last year and the year before. You can see how amused I am.
So there you are, your very own canine christmas survival guide. In many households it happens all over again on Boxing Day too. Just stay calm, humour the poor jokes and silly hats, and there's a world of possibility out there. In the words of Bing Crosby, "I'm dreaming of a Calorific Christmas".
Merry Christmas to you, from myself and the human half of Animal Outfitters.