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8 Ways to Help Your Dog Survive Holiday Visits

Holiday guests and revelry can throw your dog for a loop -- but not if you read our tips first.

 |  Dec 10th 2012  |   8 Contributions


The holidays are a time of great comfort and joy and commiserating with family and friends. Dogster readers know that family includes dogs, so over the river and through the woods we all go ... until we skid on ice.

If your dog is less than welcome during holiday visits, a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life can quickly turn to one from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. According to AAA, approximately 43.6 million Americans traveled over 50 miles during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. With over 72 million dogs sharing our lives in the states, we are definitely a culture going places, with a dog by our side.

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You got us presents, too, right?

Keep your sanity intact and your pooch’s tail wagging with these eight tips for holiday visits. 

1. Furniture alert

What the host says: “Your dog is welcome but isn’t allowed on the furniture.”

What you think: “My dog allows me to share his furniture at home, Grinchie McGrinch!”

How to react: Respect your host’s wishes. To some, paw prints on a couch add nothing to the ambience and can ruffle more than a few feathers. If your dog knows “off” or “down,” reinforce those skills a few days prior to leaving. Back to basics: Reward with a treat or praise, and never scold a dog for behavior he is accustomed to at home. After all, life is one big pooch pad in his eyes.

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Not everyone welcomes Fido on the furniture.

2. Coat-check warning

What the host says: “Can I take your coat and purse?”

What you think: “Well of course, how polite.”

How to react: Ask where the coats and purses will be stored and ensure that your dog has zero access to them. Purses and coats are often laden with breath mints and gum in pockets, many of which contain the very dangerous ingredient, Xylitol. It is toxic to dogs, and all counter surfing and pocket sniffing should be halted before a potentially fatal situation occurs.

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"I'll just hang out here til the festivities are over."

3. Cuteness alert

What the host says: “He is so cute, can I pet him?”

What you think: “Of course, this is my dog, my pride and joy. Pet away!”

How to react: No matter how friendly your dog is on a general basis, unfamiliar territory, new faces, kids reacting to presents, and a houseful of people can precipitate an uneasiness in your dog. Think about petting: It’s like a stranger running up to you in public and hugging you without warning. I like it when people ask to pet my dog, and also when they don’t put their face right in my dog's face. Proceed with caution, and think like the dog. Do you want Aunt Mary squeezing your cheeks? Your dog doesn't, either.

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Sure, I'm cute, so admire me from a distance.

4. Clean-up duty

What the host says: “Make sure he doesn’t poop or pee in the house.”

What you think: “My dog won’t do that.”

How to react: Accidents happen, and it isn’t the end of the world. I have been to houses where my dog had an accident and you would think someone canceled Christmas. Not so, life goes on. Apologize, volunteer to clean it up (actually, insist), and if you have the gumption to do so, carry along an arsenal of cleaning remedies. I’ve been doing it for years; the first time your dog leaves a log of the non-yule variety, you are no longer looked at as the “crazy dog lady” for whipping out the doggy bags and non-toxic deodorizer.

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The things our dogs endure from us.

5. More than reindeer

What the host says: “There will be a few dogs here, just a heads up.”

What you think: “No worries, my dog loves everyone.”

How to react: Referring back to the holiday frenzy that comes with a houseful of people, think like the dog. Normally friendly dogs can react differently when in a stressful situation with strange dogs. If your dog can pretty much pass the elements of a Canine Good Citizen test, this is a good earmark of taking him or her along when other dogs will be present.

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Can I open this yet?

6. Oh no he didn't

What the host says: “He’s humping Uncle Earl’s leg.”

What you think: “Gadzooks! No!”

How to react: Calmly and politely remove the dog from said leg and apologize. Mounting or dominance behavior manifests itself differently in a variety of ways to dogs, so no need to worry. Clap your hands, say “off,” and keep your dog close to you to avoid any further urges.

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Dogs are part of holiday traditions.

7. Can my dog stay over?

What the host says: “I guess it’s OK to bring your dog when you stay over, but do you have to?”

What you think: “Don’t ever talk to me again. How rude!”

How to react: Assess the situation. Is your dog averse to road travel? Does he or she panic and get more stressed with traveling and visiting people? I am a big proponent of taking a dog with me wherever I go, as long as the dog reacts well and is happy about doing so. In cases of stressing the dog out, alternative arrangements with a qualified pet sitter, friend, or family member would be in his best interest.

If the dog is OK with the travel part but the host is not fond of having a pet stay there, consider pet-friendly accommodations nearby for the sleeping part. I’ve been there, done that, and it saves a lot of unnecessary stress on everyone.

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"I promise, I don't talk in my sleep."

8. Table the scraps

What the host says: “Hey Maxie, c’mere boy, have a few table scraps.”

What you think: “Please don’t feed my dog from the table” or “just a few bites won’t hurt him.”

How to react: Voice your wishes to everyone present. Ask that they refrain from feeding your dog anything or sneaking him a snack under the table. A surefire way to ruin a holiday is by sitting at the emergency vet on Christmas Day. A dog’s digestive system is different than ours, so proceed with caution on any foods you feed your dog outside his norm. Here's our list of plants and foods that are dangerous to have around dogs.

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Proceed with caution when feeding Fido anything but his normal diet.

Are you visiting family and friends with your dog this holiday season? How are you preparing for it? Let us know in the comments! 

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