'Tis the season for winter holidays, and no matter what you celebrate, sharing this time of year with family and friends is what makes it the most wonderful time of the year. If you're a pet parent, your four-legged companions are likely considered family, yet they are often overlooked in the festivities. So here are 17 ways to celebrate the winter holidays with dogs and enjoy some fun dog holiday activities.
Take Holiday Photos
Capture the holiday spirit by taking photos with your pets. These can serve as family photos for your own enjoyment, images for holiday cards, or even snapshots with Santa (just be sure to find locations that offer pet-friendly Christmas pictures – some malls do, but your best option would likely be pet stores and shelters). You can also use this as an opportunity to get creative and dress your pup in festive collars, bandanas or other holiday gear (if they tolerate it). These photos can be used for Christmas, Hanukkah, or general "Happy Holidays" cards. You can even include your dog's name in your holiday cards (they are a part of the family after all).
Pro Tip: Consider planning the photo session a few days in advance when everyone is less busy. Additionally, look for tips from professionals to ensure great pictures, such as using treats or toys to get your dog to look at the camera.
Snuggle Up By The Fireplace Or For A Holiday Movie, Reading Or Listening To Music Together
Embrace the holiday season by indulging in some cozy indoor activities with your pets. You can snuggle up for a holiday movie night (or even a marathon), or enjoy a binge-watching session of holiday television shows, particularly if they feature pets! Another delightful option is reading together, a pastime that dogs have been shown to truly relish. Moreover, it has been demonstrated to reduce stress and anxiety in both people and dogs, while also strengthening the bond between you two. Alternatively, you can cuddle up together and listen to holiday music, turning up your favorite Christmas or Hanukkah tunes, and perhaps your pet will even join in with their howls.
Pro Tip: To make these activities even more enjoyable, consider pairing them with a warm cup of hot chocolate. Since dogs can't partake in regular hot chocolate, you can create a dog-safe version using carob!
Make Dog-Safe Holiday Treats, Food And Meals
If you eagerly anticipate indulging in human holiday goodies, you might also want your pup to partake in the deliciousness of the season. One option, particularly if you enjoy baking or cooking, is to prepare some homemade dog-safe treats. You can discover a variety of recipes for holiday pet treats online. It provides an excellent opportunity for both you and your pets to relish homemade treats in enjoyable holiday shapes.
However, if you lack the time, energy, skills, or the desire to make your own treats, you can always purchase some holiday dog treats. Some highly-rated options include:
- Three Dog Bakery Lick'n Crunch Holiday Sandwich Cookies (Carob and Red Creme Vanilla Flavor)
- Lord Jameson Hanukkah Gelt Organic Soft And Chewy No-Bake Bites
- Bocce's Bakery All-Natural Seasonal "Reindeer Fuel" Dog Treats
- CRAFTED BY HUMANS LOVED BY DOGS Portland Pet Food Company Grain-Free And Gluten-Free Gingerbread Dog Treats
- Milk-Bone Holiday Dog Treats Small Biscuits (24 Ounce, Reusable Tin)
- Bocce's Bakery Holiday Feast Recipe Dog Treats All-Natural Soft And Chewy Cookies
- Blue Buffalo Santa Snacks Natural Crunchy Dog Treat Oatmeal And Cinnamon Biscuits
- Whimzees by Wellness Holiday Natural Dental Chews for Dogs
- Old Mother Hubbard Winter Fun P-Nuttier Natural Dog Treats Crunchy Oven-Baked Biscuits
- BoxDog Christmas Cookies for Dogs Handmade Holiday Dog Treats
- Claudia's Canine Bakery Blue Buddies Signature Gift Box of Gourmet Dog Cookies
You can also create pet-safe versions of your favorite holiday foods and drinks for your dog, including applesauce, candy canes, eggnog, gingerbread cookies, hot chocolate, Hanukkah Gelt, jelly donuts (Sufganiyots), and potato pancakes (Latkes). For pet-safe versions of these specifically, check out our article! Alternatively, you can search the internet for pet-friendly recipes (even better if they're vet-approved!). However, be sure to keep a close eye on your pet while they sample these new foods to watch for any allergic reactions.
Take A Lights Viewing Walk Or Drive
One way to enjoy the holiday season with your pets is by exploring festive decorations together. Whether it's taking a winter walk to view holiday lights, going on a car ride to see holiday light displays, or strolling through well-decorated areas, there are plenty of ways to share in the magic of the season. In fact, some city light shows and displays are specifically dog-friendly, as long as they are leashed. Just make sure your pets stay warm in the cold weather (consider warming clothing if needed) and remember to bring essentials like water.
For dogs that are more rambunctious or don't do well on a leash, drive-through displays are a great option (as long as your dog is comfortable in the car). If you don't have any nearby or dog-friendly light shows in your area, consider taking a nighttime stroll through your neighborhood to get a similar experience (bonus: walking in a familiar area can be less stressful, especially anxious dogs).
Pro Tip: This isn't the best activity if your dog is fearful of large decoration. If your dog barks at larger decorations, it's a good idea to turn around and lead them in the opposite direction.
These displays can be enjoyed for both Christmas and Hanukkah, although the latter is less common. That being said, there are plenty of Hanukkah displays as well as famous Hanukkah decorations in cities like Houston (the Hanukkah House), New York (the world's largest Menorah in NYC and the second largest in Brooklyn, as well as drive-through light shows by the Jewish Federation of Central New York), Los Angeles (the Chanukah Car Parade and Menorah Lighting in Brentwood), Washington D.C. (Hanukkah Drive-In Minyan and Candle Lighting Celebration) and more.
Find A Christmas Tree Together
Another relatively easy way to include your dog in the holiday season is to go pick out a Christmas tree together. Many tree farms and tree lots allow dogs to accompany you as long as they are on a leash. Just make sure to do some research to ensure you choose a dog-friendly location. This not only includes your dog but also offers an opportunity to get them outdoors and provide some enrichment. However, be sure not to let them pee on the trees!
Spread Joy And Cheer
There are numerous ways to spread holiday cheer with your pet. For example, you can share homemade treats, whether they are for humans or specifically for dogs, with your human and canine neighbors. You can also take your dog Christmas caroling, provided they enjoy meeting people. If not, you can always participate in a virtual or at-home caroling session with your dog. Additionally, you and your people-loving dog can deliver holiday cards or small gifts. While the holidays aren't solely about gifts, they do play a significant role. Therefore, you can also spread cheer by involving your dog in gift-giving. Take your dog with you to give your neighbors, friends, or family gifts.
Get Crafty With Stockings, Ornaments, Wreaths And More
If you love crafts, the holidays offer a fantastic opportunity to get creative for your pets. You can craft personalized holiday stockings, DIY ornaments using your dog's paw print or photos, and even a pet-friendly advent calendar for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Another option is taking your dog on a winter walk to collect natural items for a DIY wreath, using branches, leaves, pinecones, and more (here's Chewy's step-by-step instructions for making a rustic, foraged wreath). Just ensure that you only use items that are pet-safe, as many plants, berries and grasses can be harmful or even toxic to dogs. If you aren't crafty, you can always purchase customized items and kits to create ornaments for your dog.
Go Shopping Together
While the holidays aren't solely about gift-giving, it is indeed a significant part of the season. One enjoyable holiday activity to do with your dog is going shopping for all those gifts. Of course, you'll need to find stores that allow dogs or visit outdoor markets and stores. You can also involve your pet in the fun of selecting their own gifts by visiting a pet store and letting them choose some goodies!
Decorate For Your Pet And Decorate Their Spaces (Safely)
You can also engage your pets in holiday decorating with pet-friendly decor ideas. Create a festive atmosphere for your pets by incorporating seasonal pet food mats, pet stockings filled with their favorite treats and some new toys, holiday family photos with your dog, special spots on the tree, holiday-themed dog decorations and art, dog-safe Menorahs, or even a talking Mensch on a Bench (fun idea: pair it with a Furbo or other treat-dispensing dog camera to make it seem like the Mensch is giving treats). You can also opt for holiday-themed toys and attire, such as collars, bandanas, outfits, sweaters, and more. Another simple idea is to make your dog's bed or their favorite spot on the couch extra cozy with holiday-themed or wintery blankets.
Pro Tip: Train your dog to "light candles" using tap lights. Place eight tap lights on the ground and teach your dog to turn them on with their nose or paw. You can have your dog light the appropriate number of candles each night together.
Wear Holiday Attire And Ugly Sweaters Together
Dressing up your pets in holiday outfits is a delightful way to involve them in the celebrations. Consider Santa costumes, Hanukkah outfits, booties, matching pajamas for dogs and owners, and festive sweaters as excellent options. If you prefer a more subtle approach, themed collars, bows or bowties, bandanas, and more can add a touch of holiday spirit to your pet's attire. You can also purchase ugly Christmas sweaters and ugly Hanukkah sweaters for both you and your pet. Just ensure your dog is comfortable wearing such attire, and that it is designed for comfort and easy movement.
For some fun ugly sweaters for both Christmas and Hanukkah, please check out our article! You can also explore other options on Amazon:
Play Holiday-Themed Games Together
Dogs love to play, so a fun way to involve them in the celebrations is to engage in pet-friendly holiday-themed games together. These games not only offer entertainment but also provide enrichment, mental stimulation, and even some training, all while reducing boredom.
You can purchase or create puzzle toys and brain games, play hide-and-seek with holiday-themed treats or toys, create a Christmas or Hanukkah themed scavenger hunt, set up an agility course with holiday-themed obstacles, or enjoy a classic game of fetch with holiday-themed toys. You can also play a version of dreidel with your dogs (but don't actually give your dog a dreidel as they can be a choking hazard). Here's how to play dreidel with your dog:
Spin the dreidel and, depending on what it lands on, give them:
- Gimmel: give your dog multiple treats
- Hay: give your dog one treat
- Shin: spin again
- Nun: no treats
Pro Tip: Make use of extra boxes for games! With all the gift-giving during the holidays, there are likely plenty of spare boxes. If your dog isn't afraid of them, you can use them for play. One option is to run around with the box (our older dog Brody loves being chased by someone holding and lightly banging a box). Or you can give it to your dog to tear apart (as long as they don't eat it) or use them to create an agility course for them.
Go for a Winter Walk, Play In The Snow And Enjoy Other Dog-Friendly Winter Activities
An easy way to enjoy the holiday season with your pet is through snowy activities. You can put on your cold-weather gear and play in the winter wonderland if your pup is one of several dogs that love snow. Just make sure to find a safe area if you don't have a yard and keep everyone warm and frost-free.
Here are some options for playing in the snow:
- Play Fetch - Cold weather likely isn't enough to stop your dog from playing fetch if they love it. Snow can even add an extra challenge to the game by forcing your dog to search for the ball. Just make sure not to stay out for too long because of the risk of hypothermia and avoid icy areas to prevent your dog from slipping and injuring themselves.
- Pro Tip: Use a bright colored ball or one in colors dogs can see (such as yellow or blue) so it's easier for you both to find.
- Have a snowball fight - Snowball fights are a classic winter activity for humans, but you can also include your dog in them. Make sure to keep snowballs soft (in other words, don't pack them too hard) and toss them for your dog to chase or try to jump up and catch. Also, avoid letting your dog eat too much snow.
- Practice Nose Work And Scent Tracking - Winter provides a great opportunity to practice nose work (when your dog uses their nose to locate something). This is because winter conditions - such as snow, wind and rain - can all affect scent flow, making it more challenging. If there's snow on the ground, you can hide treats, balls and other toys. It provides both physical and mental stimulation for dogs because it requires running around as well as problem-solving skills.
- Crate a Snow Maze - One creative idea is to build a snow maze for your dog, which first became popular when owners shared videos to social media of the snow mazes they made for their pups. The maze will provide physical exercise as your dog navigates it, as well as mental stimulation as they problem solve to find their way out. To create your own, use a shovel to form narrow pathways that twist and turn.
- Pro Tip: Build your snow maze in a fenced area or use a long leash to avoid separating from your dog.
And if your pup is one of many dogs that don't love snow, they would probably still enjoy a quick walk. You can take a stroll around your neighborhood, find some nearby woods with a path, or even go on a winter hike for more adventurous pups. And if your area doesn't get snow, consider taking a little road trip to find some!
For more, including indoor ones for dogs that don't like snow, check out our article on winter activities!
Give Back Together
Spread holiday kindness by helping your pet give back to the less fortunate, whether they are people or animals. You can donate your pet's unloved toys to shelters and rescues or create a basket of treats, toys, and other pet essentials to donate. If you don't have the time, means, or proximity to drop off items, you can shop shelter Wish Lists to have items delivered directly to them. These items often include collars, leashes, food, toys, water bowls, bedding, towels, cleaning products, trash bags, potty training pads, and more.
Since many pets are still in shelters during the holiday season (many of whom are mutts, black dogs and seniors), you might also consider adopting or fostering. You can also volunteering your time there, at non-animal related places like hospitals and nursing homes or participate in pet-friendly fundraiser walks. Additionally, you can donate to people or animals in need, either by making financial contributions (you can make a donation in your pet's name!) or donating items like food, coats, blankets, and toys.
Throw A Holiday-Themed Dog Party
If your dog is good with other dogs or has dog friends, you can consider hosting a dog "holiday party." This is an excellent way to provide your pup with some activity and entertainment, allowing them to burn off some of that extra energy that can build up during the winter. You can also host a holiday-themed costume party if your dog enjoys wearing costumes. For a fun twist, make it an ugly sweater theme where both humans and dogs are encouraged to wear ugly sweaters. Another option is a dog version of Secret Santa, White Elephant, or Hanukkah gifting, where all the dogs end up receiving fun pet gifts. Regardless of the style of "party," you can ensure to serve dog-safe versions of your favorite holiday foods or purchase holiday-themed treats.
Participate In Local Pet-Friendly Holiday Events
If you live in an area where local holiday events are organized, check to see if any of them are pet-friendly so you can bring your dog along. These events might include holiday markets, small business fairs, food truck nights, scavenger hunts, holiday pet parties, animal shelter fundraising events, and more. Since most of these are outdoor events, they tend to be pet-friendly, but it's always best to double-check. If they are pet-friendly and you want to bring your dog, make sure to prioritize their safety. It's a good idea to keep them on a leash, ensure they stay warm, and consider bringing fresh water. Additionally, it might be best to leave less socialized or anxious dogs at home.
Take Your Dog On Your Holiday Trip
If you're traveling for the holidays and bringing your dog on vacation with you is an option, you may want to consider doing so. That's one great way to include them in the holidays, rather than leaving them behind with a pet sitter. This is especially doable if your travels can involve a road trip, rather than flying. Alternatively, if you can't bring your dog along your travels, you can plan a pet-friendly holiday trip together!
Give Lots Of Gifts And Let Your Dog Unwrap Them
Make the holiday season special for your pet by getting them a new toy that you both can enjoy throughout the year. When choosing a toy, consider your pet's personality, size, and age to ensure it's appropriate. Toys like squeaky toys, plush toys and balls are great options to keep your pet active and happy. Additionally, think about other gifts for your pet, such as treats or a new bed. You can also involve your pet in holiday gift-giving traditions, whether it's Christmas or Hanukkah, by giving them presents or having them hand-deliver gifts to others. There are plenty of options for pet-themed gifts, from personalized items to tasty treats and engaging toys. For some gift ideas, check out the following:
Beyond giving your dog gifts, allowing them to open their presents can be an extra joyous way to include your pet in the holiday celebrations. However, it's essential to ensure their safety during this activity and supervise closely. Whether you let your dog tear into wrapping paper or boxes depends on your pet's behavior and tendencies. For instance, if you know your dog is likely to eat the paper or resource guard, it's better to open the gift for them. Alternatively, you can use treats to make a trade for the paper if they resource guard. But for dogs that love to shred, tear and destroy without eating, unwrapping gifts can be a great way to provide enrichment and an outlet to burn excess energy.
When wrapping a gift for your dog, remember to make it easy for them to open. Here are some general tips:
- Use minimal tape.
- Keep the wrapping paper loose.
- Consider leaving one end open so your dog can see and smell the toy inside, especially if it's their first time unwrapping.
- Make sure the gifts your dog unwraps are unbreakable.
- Avoid materials that can be harmful, pose a choking hazard, or cause intestinal obstruction if swallowed, including:
- Ribbon, string and yarn
- Metal embellishments
- Other unnecessary decorations
- Monitor your dog closely to make sure they stay safe and keep out of reach anything you don't want them to get into.
To encourage your dog to open their gift, entice them to investigate and offer praise when they get excited. If they want to tear the paper to shreds, allow them to do so. You can also let your dog open one of their gifts early in the unwrapping to keep them occupied. While your dog might get the idea that tearing into packages is acceptable, using common sense and proper dog management can help maintain a positive and safe environment. For more on this, here are our Christmas pet safety guide and Hanukkah pet safety guide.