Holidays - Help Your Dog Deal With Visitors

17 December 2022

Whether you have a senior dog or a new puppy, their lives get temporarily shaken up when you have house guests over during the holiday season. Having people over for the holidays and cooking for everyone is stressful enough—and you don’t want to also have to apologize for your dog’s behavior.

Set Your Dog Up for Success

The best way to prevent your dog from getting into trouble during your holiday season is to give them the support to make good decisions. If you know your dog likes to steal things or "counter surf", for example, make sure there aren’t tempting food items left within reach, and that your dog isn’t left alone in the kitchen.

A good rule for life with dogs is “confine or supervise,” meaning if you can’t fully supervise your pet to prevent unwanted behavior, they should be safely confined to a safe area of the home or a crate. Any busy time including the holidays — is a good rule to keep in mind no matter your dog’s age. If you know your dog gets overly excited about visitors and you want to prevent behaviors like jumping up or just aren’t sure how your dog will react, it can be helpful to use items like a leash during the gatherings.

Use treats of high interest to reward your dog for appropriate calm behavior like down or sitting. It can help to make someone in the family responsible for working with the dog—especially if it’s a young puppy, a newly adopted dog, or if you are trying to retrain new manners around engaging with visitors. Always be sure to praise and reward your dog for the behavior you want.

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Help Your Dog to Make Good Decisions

Some dogs are very excited about visitors entering the home, while others are uncomfortable or nervous. This can be due to a individual personality or lack of socialization, as well as breed traits.

For puppies and dogs that came home during the pandemic, the experience of guests coming into the house can be particularly disorienting. If you know that your dog gets overly excited when when people come into the house for the first time or the doorbell rings, it’s important to help your pet make good decisions. One option is to put your dog in a crate or another room before the doorbell rings and bring them out only after the initial excitement has calmed down.


Give your dog a private space

If your dog becomes stressed by visitors or starts getting overwhelmed, take a break and bring your pup outside for a walk, or for some relaxation time in a private area of the home. Short and successful training sessions with visitors —instead of prolonged, overwhelming exposure — will help your dog to start making positive associations with guests coming into your home.

As you are preparing for the holidays, it’s helpful to set up space in your home to allow your dog to get away from the stress of festivities. Put your dog’s crate in an out-of-the-way place that’s accessible to them but away from visitors. Alternatively, you can designate a room in your house for your dog to relax in if they are struggling or being overstimulated. Consider using a baby gate to secure them inside the room for breaks. Prepare a stuffed KONG or chew for them, which will provide mental stimulation and help your pup relax.

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Advocate for you Dog

If your dog is nervous about meeting people, don’t force them to interact with visitors. Instead, put your pup in a private, quiet, and safe place in another part of the house for the duration of your visitors’ stay. Many people love dogs but they don’t always engage safely or appropriately with them. It can be helpful to prepare your family/ friends for what your dog needs to be successful. Be your dog’s best advocate and explain to your guests how you would like them to engage, whether that means ignoring your dog completely, or giving your dog treats in exchange for calm behavior like “sit” or "laydown." If you have children visiting the home, make sure that kids aren't allowed to interact with your pet unsupervised, and they are taught appropriate ways to pet and/or play with your dog.