Perhaps one of the hardest parts of having a dog around the holidays is deciding how to handle parties and get-togethers in your home. As someone with a small swarm of canine housemates, I completely understand the struggles and frustrations that go into hosting any sort of event. It can be really tough to plan such a thing, and I’ll tell you now that you can’t please everyone. But I do have some tips that may be helpful as you sort through the holiday havoc.
The first step in being successful, of course, is to decide whether or not embarking on such an endeavor is even realistic. Is your dog able to accept visitors into your home? Can he be trusted around food or decorations? Are your guests dog lovers, or at least willing to be in their company for a few hours? Is your dog trustworthy with children, if any will be in attendance? If you can’t answer “yes” to all of those questions, it’s probably best to reassess the entire plan and perhaps revisit the idea next year when you’ve had more time to train and make accomodations.
However, if you are confident that your dog and guests can coexist, your best bet is to throw yourself into planning right now. Consider what could go wrong, and find ways to prevent it. Here are a few of my favorite tricks that you may want to consider:
Gate off the entrance. If your dog is a door dasher or an excited greeter, you’ll want to prevent him from bolting to the doorway every time someone arrives. Use interior doors or baby gates to keep him contained to other sections of the house. This also gives your guests an opportunity to be welcomed without being jumped on.
Post a sign. If your dog tends to get over-excited when people enter your home, type up a quick warning sign to post on your door. Giving your friends or family a heads up will not go unappreciated, especially if they don’t visit you frequently. Plus, you can always use it to ask people to avoid knocking or ringing a doorbell if that sort of thing tends to cause something of a frenzy in your dog.
Groom your dog. You wouldn’t want to be smelly or muddy when company arrived would you? Bathe your dog, trim his nails, and continue to wipe his feet after every trip outside. Or, book a visit with your favorite groomer leading up to the big day.
Provide an escape. For crate-savvy pups, having access to their safe space in the midst of holiday chaos can be a lifesaver.
Pick up chews and squeaky toys. I usually leave out a couple of new (read: not stinky yet) plush toys that my pups use to engage with guests, but antlers, balls, and anything else get tucked away for the evening. This keeps flying objects and annoying noises to a minimum and ensures people won’t be accidentally stepping on anything that the dog left lying around.
Plan ample potty breaks. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in conversation and before you know it, hours and hours have passed. If you’re guilty of this, set an alarm to remind you when it’s time to let the dog out to relieve himself. And try to make those breaks more frequent than normal. If your dog is experiencing any stress, it can affect his ability to hold it. And we can all agree you don’t want to be cleaning up an accident in the midst of your debut as a host or hostess.
Set and enforce boundaries for guests. If you don’t want your dog begging or sneaking pieces of people food, you have to be firm in conveying this to your guests. Stand your ground. And if your well-meaning aunt or uncle just can’t seem to follow directions, you may need to remove your dog from the scene until the meal is done.
Alternatively, provide treats for guests to feed to your pup. Set out a couple of small treat jars and ask people to reach for them instead if they’re easily won over by the “puppy dog eyes” begging for a snack.
Exercise your dog before the party. This one really doesn’t require any explanation. If you can tire your dog out in the hours leading up the event, you absolutely won’t regret it.
It’s possible to pull off a wonderful get-together with dogs and humans alike; you just have to put in the work to make it happen. Of course, I remind you again to use your best judgement. There are some dogs that simply cannot succeed in such an environment, no matter how badly you want them to, and it would be unfair of you to ask them to try. Those dogs may be happier to board overnight or spend the evening with neighbors.
As much as anything, try to remember to enjoy the season and time spent with loved ones. Roll with the punches as best you can, and consider any hiccups something to learn from in years to come.
Taylor Herr IACP-CDT