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How to Include Dogs Safely in a Holiday Celebration

By Roxanne Hawn

Pets and the Holidays

Some dogs are naturally social. Some are not. If your dog is not particularly social, never force her to interact with guests. Instead, give her a safe zone in the house where she will not be bothered by anyone and is 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 a family celebration.

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, an ear infection, or other unseen problems can make an otherwise friendly dog anything but.

I once knew a dog who lost his life after biting a child’s face. 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.

I would argue the family had a duty to protect the dog. I’m told the child was repeatedly warned to leave the dog alone. I also later learned that at least two other dogs had bitten this same child in the past.

Nonetheless, there is a good chance the ear infection made things worse.

Exercise Dogs Before Guests Arrive

Getting plenty of exercise before everyone puts on their best clothes and manners is a good start. Don’t overdue 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.)

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 his tricks for guests. You ask for and reward the trick. Everyone gets to tell him how smart he is. 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 him 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 his 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.

She runs a tight ship in her kitchen, and she once confided that it prevents the awkwardness of people wanting to help, when she has a proven system for handling this task quickly and easily on her own.

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.

Tell us how you safely include your dogs in holiday events.

Over the years, what has worked at your house for allowing dogs to be part of holiday celebrations?

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