Dogs and the Holidays

Yup, it’s that time of year when the leaping, crotch-sniffing, cat poop-eating dog that you just rescued from a puppy mill is about to meet Aunt Polly, the only member of the family who is terrified of dogs. Or maybe you’re about to have guests who hate dogs, even your perfectly behaved ones.

No matter what your circumstances, it is always a good idea to have a plan for your dog during the holidays, just as you plan your gift giving and the menu for the big family dinner on Christmas Eve. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Do you REALLY want to take your dog to the big family gathering? How fun is it going to be when you discover that your nephew is allergic to dogs, or your sister-in-law brought a dog-hating cat, or your uncle brought his three Rat Terriers, all of whom are X!X!X! (insert interesting behavioral issue here.) For everyone’s sake, seriously consider leaving your dog at home, either in a great kennel or with a great dog sitter.

2. If visitors are coming to you, do what many of us do, and thank the heavens for dog crates and X-pens. Don’t hesitate to put your dogs away to prevent problems, rather than crossing your fingers and saying “I think it’ll be okay…”. Anytime I say that to myself, I know to change my tune and do whatever I need to do to know that it will be okay.

Don’t hesitate to err on the side of caution if there is even the slightest chance of trouble between a dog and a visitor. Are kids coming over and you’re not 110% sure about how they’ll behave around your dog? Then start with your dog safely contained, meet the kids and then decide how they’ll interact. Is Uncle Johnny, all 6 foot 7 of him, driving in from down south to meet your dog who is uncomfortable around unfamiliar men? Aren’t you glad you crate-trained your dog?

3. Observe carefully. Watch your dog like a hawk, looking for signs of discomfort, such as a closed, tense mouth, looking away when someone reaches to pet him, or a stiff, tense body. Slow tail wags and stiff bodies are not signs of happy dogs, they are associated with nervous dogs who need to be taken out of the situation.

4. Give everyone a break. Crate Fido or put him in another room after an hour with the guests. Why wait until after he’s tired and beginning to get grumpy? Many of the cases I’ve seen in the past have occurred after the dog has been with the company all day long, is tired and finally snaps/bites. Being an introvert (truly), I can sympathize. I love company and being with people, but I get tired after hours of it and need to go into my crate so that I don’t get cranky and bite someone. (Please keep that in mind if I come to visit.)

Of course, lots of dogs love visitors (and vice versa), so if you have that kind of dog, be grateful! But trainers and behaviorists all know that the holidays can be fraught with tension to some dogs, so take our advice, and be safe rather than sorry. Far better to be cautious than keeping us busy with appointments after the holidays are over!