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5 Tips for Managing Your Anxiety at a Multi-Dog Thanksgiving

GhostBuster's first Turkey Day in a houseful of dogs was more stressful for me than for him. Here's how to navigate your own dog-friendly affair.

Heather Marcoux  |  Nov 21st 2014



In my family, the holiday season means lots of food, lots of grocery-store runs, and lots of dogs underfoot.

For the last several years, we have celebrated the holidays at my sister’s place. She has two little dogs, a yappy (but adorable) old Bichon and a cranky (but adorable) old Shih Tzu. Since my parents live about six hours north of the city we three kids are in, they bring along their two senior dogs. A couple of years ago, my brother got himself a pair of Miniature Schnauzer puppies, which increased the holiday guest list to six dogs, eight adults, and one human child.

My husband and I were the only ones who weren’t bringing a dog to holiday get-togethers, but that changed in October when our rescue Lab-mix GhostBuster attended his first (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner.

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There were already four smaller dogs (including one who is blind and another who is deaf) crowding into my sister’s kitchen when GhostBuster arrived, but somehow our Dogsgiving wasn’t really that chaotic.

I’m pretty sure I was more stressed out than all of the dogs combined. Here are five tips — based on our recent experience — for keeping calm with an extended family of dogs under the table.

1. Don’t panic (like I did)

I hadn’t planned for GhostBuster to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t know if my brother would be bringing his two dogs, and I figured that if he was, seven dogs would just be too many to have at my sister’s house (thankfully, my brother’s pups did not attend this year).

It was my husband who insisted on bringing GhostBuster (after I called him once there and asked if he would ever be making an appearance). I was nervous as I waited for them to walk the five blocks between our place and my sister’s, and when I looked out the living room window and saw the pair coming up the driveway, I felt my muscles tighten with anxiety. I wasn’t afraid that GhostBuster would behave badly, I was just afraid that I would feel like we were imposing — and I let my anxiety get the best of me.

2. Decide: All dogs in or all dogs out

I was reluctant to add to the chaos already happening in the house, and as a result I wasn’t being fair to my dog or my husband. When my guys first arrived, I put poor GhostBuster in the backyard until we could figure out how to integrate our ungainly Lab mix into the crowded kitchen without him moving about like a bull in a china shop.

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GhostBuster is never left outside on his own at home, so he was quickly doing his World’s Saddest Dog act. I knew I wasn’t being fair, and my husband encouraged me to either bring GhostBuster inside or let the other dogs out. We proceeded with an indoor meet-and-greet before a group pee break.

3. Introduce to new dogs with caution

GhostBuster knows my sister’s dogs pretty well. They’ve gone for lots of walks together and hung out in the backyard a bunch of times. My parents’ dogs, on the other hand, didn’t know GhostBuster at all — and since Pagan the Jack Russell Terrier has been known to start scraps with my siblings’ dogs, a slow and steady introduction was needed.

When we first brought GhostBuster into the kitchen, I stood right beside him while the other dogs all circled around my feet. To Carlos and Sophie, he was old news, but Pagan and her BFF Rags were leery of this new giant before them.

My mom kept a close eye on her little Pagan as the five dogs sniffed around each other. My GhostBuster was not a hit with Pagan, who growled at him — twice. My mom and I calmly separated the two, but didn’t move them very far from each other. It was obvious that Pagan was intimidated by GhostBuster, so we just kept him at a distance by until she got used to him.

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By the time the humans were moving on to pumpkin pie, Pagan had begrudgingly accepted GhostBuster as a fellow member of this temporary Thanksgiving pack.

4. Don’t be a helicopter pet parent

When the turkey came out of the oven, the dogs were all very excited to do a little taste testing, and they congregated in the kitchen to get their collective beg on. My mom was giving each of the dogs a little bit of turkey, but when she got to GhostBuster, I butted in.

“It’s better if you hold it flat in your hand instead of dropping it,” I told her.

I knew I was being ridiculous, but GhostBuster’s (one and only) biting episode was still fresh in my mind, so I also tried to school my dad on the best way to deliver treats.

“Stop hovering!” my husband scolded me. “They’ve given treats to dogs before! He’s fine.”

My husband was right. My parents have probably delivered hundreds of thousands of treats and table scraps into the mouths of many dogs in their lifetimes, and GhostBuster was being a perfect gentleman, sitting and waiting for these nice people to feed him.

Once I backed off a bit and stopped trying to control every interaction, GhostBuster was able to relax and enjoy the holiday a little more.

5. Know when to call it a night

Just like holidays are stressful and overwhelming for some people (obviously, myself included), they can be overwhelming for dogs.

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My husband and I were very, very proud of GhostBuster for how well he did in a house full of people and old, cranky dogs, but we didn’t push it. We left Thanksgiving dinner rather early and took him on a nice, relaxing evening walk to calm down from the hectic holiday.

How do you handle holidays that are jam-packed with extended-family dogs? Let us know in the comments!

Read more about spending Thanksgiving with dogs:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.