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Do Dogs Understand Holidays? | Pupford

September 26th, 2023

Filed under Lifestyle + Stories

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The holiday season is a busy time of year with all the social engagements due to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year's parties, extra visitors in the house, shopping for gifts and groceries, and lots of delicious cooking in the kitchen.

Yet, we often aren't aware if our four-legged friends understand what's happening around them.

In this article, we'll talk about if dogs understand holidays, why they seem to enjoy them, and how you can best prepare them for the holidays.

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dogs do not understand holidays

While many dog parents have reported that their dogs seem to know when the holiday season is coming, dogs do not understand holidays.

According to psychologist and leading canine researcher Stanley Coren, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia, pups have a similar mental age to a toddler.

And if you know any 2-year-olds, you'll know that the concept of holidays is a bit tricky for most of them too.

So, while dogs are much more intelligent than most people realize, it's unlikely you've been feeding a little hairy Einstein all this time.

As unfortunate as it may be, dogs simply don't have the cognitive ability to understand the significance behind special dates or remember them when they come around. Therefore, any perceived excitement or recognition they display around the holidays is not their joy and happiness but a reflection of yours!

That said, dogs do understand patterns. They can link settings and behaviors. Once they know something has happened, they can think it will likely happen again. So while they might not realize it’s Christmas day, they may know something is happening because of patterns and associations.

There may even be presents for them under the tree. But mostly, they see us getting excited, so they get excited too.

Related: Best Dog Gifts


prepare your dog for the holiday season

Like we mentioned before, dogs may not understand what the holidays mean, but they can pick up on our emotions and excitement during this time of year (and stress) and respond by wagging their tails, barking, or acting playful.

  1. More guests equal more attention. So yes, all those visitors and relatives mean that your pooch gets more strokes and kisses than usual; he doesn't even mind the sloppy drunken kisses or the hairy, lipsticky ones from Grandma.
  2. More food equals more opportunities for snacking. With way more food in the house than the rest of the year, your dog really comes into his own in hoovering up the leftovers.
  3. Decorations! Plenty of funny baubles and balls rolling around the floor means plenty of chasing fun.
  4. Unwrapping presents. Your canine companion is keen to help, so scrunch the stuff up into balls and throw it for them.
  5. What's this at the bottom of the stocking? It's only a new chew toy in the shape of a pie. You lucky, lucky boy.
  6. Spending time with YOU! Seasonal holidays mean time off work if you're lucky, and your dog reaps the benefit because all they really want for Christmas is you.

While these are some reasons dogs may be excited for the holidays, some dogs can also feel nervous when their schedule changes, when visitors come, and when other changes occur. So, we will share some tips for those pups too…

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We don't often consider what the holidays must be like for dogs. Though most dogs enjoy the holiday season, it can even be a bit stressful for some dogs.

As you get ready for the holidays this year, it's essential to try to keep your dog's habits as close to their normal routine as possible. Also, it's important to steer dogs clear of unhealthy treats, unsafe essential oils, toxic plants, and danger decorations. You can take the following steps to prepare your dog for the holidays and all its challenges.

  • We often have lots of family members around during holidays. For some dogs, this is fine, but for others, it can be a bit too hectic and overbearing. Here's how you can prepare your pooch for guests during the holidays.
  • Dogs see presents and instinctively want to get their paws on them. So remember to keep them well out of reach until Christmas day! Keep them away from all the holiday décor too.
  • Don't leave lighted candles unattended. Your pup may burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over. Be sure to use appropriate candle holders placed on a stable surface. If you leave the room, put the candle out!
  • Dogs often don’t get much attention when festivities occur because their parents are busy preparing dinner, eating, opening presents, or simply enjoying the festivities. So remember to give your dog something to do to keep them occupied and make sure your dog still gets a decent walk, be it on any occasion.
  • Make sure to keep potentially toxic foods and substances out of your dog’s reach and make sure lids on garbage cans are secure as well. If you are going to let them enjoy some holiday treats, be sure they are free of garlic, onions, certain spices, chocolate, and more. Here is a list of foods that dogs can and can not eat. If you want to create a holiday feast for your pup, try making this recipe.
  • As you count down to the new year, please remember that strings of thrown confetti can be a problem for dogs. Noisy poppers can terrify them and cause possible damage to sensitive ears. Also, remember that many dogs are also scared of fireworks, so be sure to secure them in a safe and escape-proof area as midnight approaches.

Related Reading– Dogs & Fireworks: Desensitization & What to Give


Dogs may not be able to fully understand holidays, but they will always be excited whenever the whole family comes together, no matter what season. So as you celebrate the holiday season, don't forget to shower loads of TLC on your furry family members.

On behalf of the team here at Pupford, we wish you and your family a very blessed holiday season and a wonderful New Year! In the comments, let us know how you plan to celebrate the holiday season with your four-legged companions.

Additional Reading: List of Dog Holidays


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