Canine Corner

The human-animal bond

The Dogs of Christmas

Not only reindeer, but dogs as well are part of Christmas traditions.

dog pet canine christmas xmas elf costume santa claus
For some reason there has always been a link between dogs and Christmas. Perhaps it's because the Christian account of the birth of Jesus has him surrounded by shepherds. Since shepherds require dogs it has become traditional to show dogs with the people gathered around the manger in nativity scenes. In Grenada, Spain, the tale is told about three dogs that followed the three shepherds into Bethlehem. When they found the infant Jesus the dogs were given the opportunity to gaze upon him and they were blessed by the holy infant's smile. The dog's names were "Cubilon," "Lubina" and "Melampo". It is for this reason that many people in Grenada still give their dogs these names in—sort of a good luck charm.

While there is a link between dogs and Christmas, it has always been a puzzle to me as to why our conception of Santa Claus is totally bereft of dogs. After all, the North Pole, which is supposedly Santa's home, is claimed by Canada. The traditional mode of transport in the Canadian Arctic involves dog sleds; therefore one might expect that Santa would travel the world in a sleigh pulled by a pack of flying Huskies. Perhaps the fact a dog sled is steered by shouting commands to the lead dogs, rather than mechanically using reins is the problem. With Santa continually shouting, "Gee!" (right), "Haw!" (left), "Whoa!" (stop), "Hike!" (go), or "On By" (go past a distraction), and so forth, his voice would be far too engaged to have time to utter his traditional "Ho ho ho!"

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, former president of the United States, loved both dogs and Christmas. He even went so far as to have Christmas cards made up which featured a picture of him with two of his dogs, his white Collie, Blanco, and one of his Beagles, Him. The card was signed with Johnson's signature and the paw prints of the two dogs. On his last Christmas in the White House, the presidential family gathered around the Christmas tree. The mood was light, despite the fact that the Democratic Party had been defeated in the last election and Richard Nixon, who Johnson despised, would soon be replacing him as president. Yuki, the president's well loved white terrier, was decked out as Santa Claus, with a red coat and a proper hat. Yuki was sniffing around the tree and suddenly stopped and lifted his leg. Johnson laughed and removed a now wet box from the pile of gifts and announced, "I suppose that Santa has just told us which present he wants to give to President Nixon!"

Joan Dyck of Chicago tells another holiday tale about her Shetland Sheepdog. "I suppose that she was meant to be a Christmas elf from the beginning. My husband gave her to me as a Christmas gift, so I named her 'Noel'. A year later, our daughter Rebecca was born. When Becky was around four years old, we moved away from our center city apartment, to a little house. We could now have Christmas with a tree in front of a real fireplace. Becky was worried about whether Santa Claus would fit down the chimney, but we explained to her that Santa was magic, and could shrink himself down to elf size. We also warned her that she had to stay in her room after bedtime on Christmas Eve, since Santa wouldn't give gifts to children if he saw them out of bed when he came. Christmas Eve came and when Becky was asleep we set up the tree. Around midnight Becky burst into our bedroom and woke us crying 'I saw Santa! Is he going to take away my presents now?' While her father comforted her I cautiously sneaked downstairs. There in the empty fireplace sat Noel, shaking a fancy red Christmas stocking in order to get some candies out of it. To sleepy little eyes here was Santa. That was 12 years ago and I have still found no need to tell Becky otherwise."

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

more...

Subscribe to Canine Corner

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.