Tackling Family Gatherings with Pets

The holiday season is upon us, which for many pet guardians means time spent at gatherings with family and friends. Whether you are heading to someone else’s house or hosting at your home, there are some unique challenges that can come along with the holiday season when we have pets! Do we bring our dogs along to family gatherings or leave them at home? How can we prevent our pets from getting into holiday meals or snatching snacks off the kitchen counter? What do we do if our pets are uncomfortable around guests? Keep reading for answers to these questions and tips for enjoying a jolly and low-stress holiday season!

To Bring or Not to Bring

While it can be tempting to want to bring our dogs along to family gatherings, there are some things we should consider beforehand:

  • Has my dog been invited to the event? Don’t assume that you can bring your dog unless you’ve been expressly invited to do so!
  • Am I bringing my dog because I want them there or because my dog will genuinely enjoy being there?
  • Will my dog be comfortable will all of the other people and pets in attendance? Will all of those people and pets be comfortable with my dog?
  • Will there be children in attendance? Even dogs who are very tolerant of children can become overwhelmed when small humans are running or yelling at fun family events like holidays!
  • Is there space available for my dog to have a solo quiet zone away from people and other animals if they need a break?
  • How long will the gathering be? Extended events can be very tiring for dogs and result in them getting cranky (just like people!).
Keep Your Feast Out of Reach

Have you heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Because an ounce of prevention is worth it to avoid losing a pound of food to curious and motivated pets! Keep bowls and pots of food out of reach of pets, and be especially careful that hot foods and dishes aren’t accessible. This may mean placing pets in another room, in a crate, or behind a baby gate while you are cooking – this also keeps pets out from underfoot while you are carrying hot pans from the oven! There are some holiday foods that are dangerous for pets as well, so make sure to keep those well out of reach. Check out this list from the ASPCA on foods to avoid!

Gearing Up for Guests

If you are having guests to your home during the holidays, have a plan ahead of time for where your pets will be. When your guests arrive, it may be helpful to ask them to text or call you instead of knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell, since those extra front door sounds can be extra exciting for a lot of pets. Prevent door-dashing or overexcited greetings by keeping your dog on leash or placing them behind a baby gate while guests come in. If you have a cat or dog who is likely to be scared or uncomfortable with guests entering the home, consider placing them in another room with soothing music and a tasty snack!

If your dog is going to be out and about while guests are over there are lots of ways we can set everyone up for success during the visit. Think about skills and cues they know that might be useful and put in some extra practice in the days and weeks leading up to the guest arrival. For example, is your dog familiar with a “go to bed” or “relax on a mat” cue? Practice that ahead of time so that it will be more likely that your dog can chill there during the human meal! You can also let your guests know if your dog has any particular cues or tricks that they enjoy showing off and set aside some treats for the guests to give. That’s a fun way to get your dog involved in a rewarding way and gives visitors a fun and appropriate method of interacting with your dog. Be clear with your guests about what kind of interactions are appropriate for your dog so that they stay comfortable!

Set Up for Success

Set expectations for guests or family members so that they know what the routine will be with your pets. If you need your guests to refrain from petting your dog on top of their head (which most dogs don’t like), set that ground rule ahead of time and remind them as soon as they walk in the door. If a friend begs you to bring your dog to a holiday party and you know it will be overwhelming or not an ideal situation for your pup, politely decline and let your friend know that your dog will be happier at home. If you do bring your dog along to a gathering, arrive a bit early to let them settle in – take them for a sniff walk around the yard, show them where water bowls and comfy spots to relax are, and give them time to acclimate before the house is full of guests. Advocate for your pet’s needs!

Holidays tend to be a time of heighted excitement where it is easy to overlook our pet’s stress signals in the chaos of party environments. Look out for stress signals like a dog who moves away when a guest reaches out to pet them, dogs sitting or standing stiffly instead of relaxed, or panting when they aren’t hot. I highly recommend the book Doggie Language to help you become familiar with canine body language information – it’s an excellent resource to have on hand during the holiday season! Make sure to keep an eye on your pet – intervene if you see a stressful situation building, give your pet breaks, and let them have regular quiet time away from the excitement. And if your dog or cat is more comfortable staying away from the party entirely, that’s perfectly fine too! Give them a designated space in a quiet room with a sign on the door reminding guests not to open it, or arrange for your pet to spend the day at a trusted boarding facility or with a pet sitter.

If you are looking for targeted training advice for the holidays, schedule your virtual consultation or training session now using our online booking tool. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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