Some dogs are naturally social. Some are not. If your dog is not particularly social, never force them to interact with guests. Instead, give them a safe zone in the house where they will not be bothered by anyone and are away from the noise and hubbub.
If your dog is the kind of pooch who really loves having company come over, here are some ideas I’ve learned from dog-loving friends over the years on how to include your dog in holiday celebrations.
Make Sure Your Dog is Healthy
If you have older dogs or ones who’ve been recently ill, have your veterinarian check your dog out before the holiday season begins. Arthritis pain, ear infections, or other unseen problems can make an otherwise friendly dog anything but.
I once knew a dog who bit a child’s face after the family repeatedly warned the child to leave the dog alone. It turns out he had a terrible ear infection and was in no mood to have his head rubbed by someone he didn’t know.
Exercise Dogs Before Guests Arrive
Getting plenty of exercise before everyone puts on their best clothes and manners is a good start. Don’t overdo it because some dogs actually make worse decisions if they are overly tired, but a good, brisk walk or some fetch can take the edge off of high-energy pups.
Greet Guests Outside
As weather allows, think about taking your dog outside on leash to greet guests as they arrive. This prevents much of the drama that can crop up at the door with the doorbell ringing, people coming in the house, etc.
A friend of mine did this with her Bulldog puppy who urinated when she got excited. By having the dog greet guests in the front yard, she avoided a lot of cleanup inside the house. (Yes, submissive urination requires greater intervention, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
If weather doesn’t allow for outside greetings, make sure to keep your dog and guests safe as they come and go.
Plan Appropriate Activities
Always supervise your dog around guests – especially children. Look for ways your dog can take part without necessarily letting guests run the game.
Here are a few examples:
Have your dog show off their tricks for guests. You ask for and reward the trick. Everyone gets to tell them how smart they are. I’ve heard of dogs that can retrieve beers (by brand, even) from the refrigerator. One of my favorites is asking my dogs to “clean up,” which means putting dog toys in the toy basket.
Play fetch. If your dog is a good fetcher and can give back the ball without being too slobbery, then let guests throw the ball for them outside. With really little kids, have them sit in your lap and help them throw the ball.
Play find it. If your dog knows how to hunt around the house to find treats or toys, allow guests (again, great for kids) to hide items, then send the dog to find them. Just be sure the hiding spots are safe. For example, you don’t want your canine pal rooting through gifts or everyone’s coats for their favorite ball.
Give Food-stuffed Toys During the Meal
Give your dog a break from the celebration. Hand over a well-stuffed food toy – either inside a crate or in the safe zone in your home – during the meal, so that everyone can relax and enjoy holiday treats.
Take a Walk After the Meal
A friend of mine, who is one of the best party hosts I know, sends her guests, her husband, and her dog for a walk around the neighborhood while she whisks away the dishes, makes coffee, and brings out dessert.
You definitely want someone who knows the dog really well, usually someone who lives in the home, to handle the dog’s leash. Often, 15-30 minutes is plenty for the dog and the guests.