If you’re planning to be or to have company this holiday season, involving your dog requires careful consideration. How do you envision your visit or visitors? Are your hosts or guests seasoned dog lovers, patient and tolerant, or are they merely paying lip service to your situation, notably more than slightly uptight? Dog lovers or not, they have a right to their opinions. Next, picture your dog on his best behavior — greeting guests on four paws, resting stoically on his bed while you dine, lying hearthside while you toss back eggnog and reminisce over holiday spirits. Then picture the worst: your dog steals the holiday roast, flips over the cooling desserts behind the scenes while you dine, pees on Aunt Betsy’s fur stole, or tears the bedsheets to ribboned strips while locked away in the upstairs guest room. I personally have heard it all. Even the most well-mannered companions can be undone by the chaos holidays bring. With the goal of a stress-free visit in mind, thoughtful consideration and preparation will ensure your dog’s involvement does not put a damper on your holiday cheer.
Whether you’re expecting an elderly relative or a herd of kids, your dog is going to take note. Like young children, any distraction that draws your attention will cause a reaction. If your behavior toward your dog suddenly shifts from calm interaction to heightened frustration or passivity, or if your impulsive solution is to isolate him in an unfamiliar space or for a lengthy duration, you’re going to have a reaction on your hands, from destructive chewing to barking to hyperactivity. When fully misunderstood, some dogs may show outright possessiveness or aggression toward newcomers. These are not signs of “bad” behavior: when treated like an object, a dog will always object. Consider your options, your company, and most important, your dog.
Older dogs or those with a “uppity” air (many Eastern breeds, such as Lhasa apsos, Tibetan spaniels) prefer to be spared any mayhem. Condition them quickly to a room and comfortable spot — an armchair or quilted cushion — exercise them until they’re tired, play some soothing music, leave a favorite chew toy, and after greeting everyone, lead them aside and let them sleep through it. If the company is staying overnight, provide a similar spot in shared rooms and ask the company to respect your dog’s personal space. Children under 5 must be separated from your dog at all times unless your dog delights in them.
Puppies, or those who are puppies at heart, will not tolerate isolation well. Equip them with a proper training collar and leash and handle them through the initial greetings. Whether the company is there one hour or one week, leave the leash dragging behind your dog when he is supervised to enable easy interference. Condition him to accept being stationed, that is, placed on a short leash attached to an immovable object, with bedding and toys to distract him while you entertain. Exercise is paramount: a tired dog is a happy household. Quick reference to a trusted training manual can help you brush up on his manners in this, your midnight hour.
Protective personalities, often with breed and genes backing them up, will predictably have a nail-biting anxiety attack when stressful preparations are met with incoming hoards. Decondition your dog’s door-knocking alarm code by having a friend or family member ring the bell 20 times in succession. With your dog on leash, tell him “It’s not your job” as you pull him to your side and/or send him to a specified place. Exercise your dog before your company arrives and consider keeping him on leash when they arrive to enable both interference and direction.
Skipping town for the holidays? If you’re lucky enough to have a host that welcomes your whole family, you’ll be spared tearful goodbyes and pangs of guilt-filled separation. That said, however, remember that your dog is not as adapted to travel as you are and will need time to settle and connect with the new environment, people, and other animals in his own way. Bring as much familiarity as space will allow. Bedding, toys, leash, collar, food, treats etc., will all spell consistency that will breed calmness. If there are other dogs, introduce them on unfamiliar turf, using long lines to allow their natural connection. Lead your dog into the new home on leash. Encourage basic manners like waiting at doors and sitting for greetings. Take 10 minutes to allow your dog to sniff about. Remember that sight is not their strongest sense; they must smell a place to see it.
A “leaving your dog behind memory” draws me back to a Christmas when, seven months pregnant, I sat on the floor in a puddle of tears, grasping my puppy before leaving her at the kennel for five days. Hormonal excuses aside, please remember that any stressed departure bums your dog. Your behavior highlights your sudden departure and the drastic environmental change. Some kennels will allow familiar bedding and toys when clearly marked with your dog’s name. Most dogs fair well at a kennel, getting into the rhythm of the day and entertaining themselves with sights and sounds.