Dogster Tips: How to Throw a Holiday Party That’s Safe for Dogs

Dogs are like people -- some like parties and some don't -- so make sure everyone has a good time.

Last Updated on May 13, 2015 by Sassafras Lowrey, MFA, CPDT-KA, CTDI

The holidays are coming, and for many of us that means changes in routines, bustling about, and more entertaining. Last weekend my partner and I hosted our annual “cheese and cider” party where we invite about 30 of our closest friends to our place, encouraging them to bring their favorite cheeses and ciders to share. It’s a fun event for all of us, including the dogs!

Like people, dogs are individuals with distinct and diverse comfort levels in busy and loud situations such as a party. For some dogs, comfort in these environments comes down to socialization (or a lack of), but general temperament also plays a role. There are some dogs who, no matter how well socialized and trained, might put up with parties but don’t actually enjoy them much. On the other hand, some dogs, like my little Mercury, thrive in large social environments and are all too eager to make friends with lots of people. My Charlotte, on the other hand, is a little more nervous about changes in routine and is less comfortable when lots of loud people arrive.

Because of that, my partner does a lot more of playing host to our guests, and I always have one eye on the dogs to make sure that they are having fun, and not disrupting guests; alas, no one wants a soggy squeaky toy on a plate of fancy imported cheeses.

Here are a few of my favorite tips that I put into practice when throwing a successful party with dogs underfoot.

1. Set your dog up to succeed

Having lots of guests over can be overstimulating for even well-trained dogs. I like to set my dogs up to succeed by giving them a chance to run off a lot of energy before the guests arrive. My partner usually sends Charlotte and I out to play in the park while finishing touches are being put on hors d’oeuvre.

2. Be aware of allergies, toxic snacks, sensitive tummies

Lots of foods we find delicious are dangerous for your dog. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the kinds of treats your dog shouldn’t sample. If you dog has allergies, or a sensitive stomach that responds to people food, I recommend going the extra lengths to educate guests about your dogs needs. Mercury, who has severe food allergies, wears a little sign pinned to his tuxedo letting our guests know that even if he’s cute, not to feed him.

3. Supervise or confine

Assign someone the job of watching/engaging with your dog(s) while the party is taking place to make sure that they are comfortable and behaving appropriately. If you aren’t able to keep a close eye on the dog(s), then make the decision to move them to a crate/bedroom/quiet area. Charlotte is quite friendly with people, but has a tendency to get overwhelmed in large crowds. To help her feel secure, and to assist with keeping her nose out of cheese trays on coffee tables, Charlotte generally spends the busiest hours of any party tethered to me. I coordinate her leash to my outfit, and she moves with me from conversation to conversation, practicing being calm when greeted and settling at my feet while I talk to guests.

4. Educate guests

I take parties as a great opportunity to give information not only about my own dogs, but about general tips for interacting with unknown dogs, such as reading basic canine body language, how to approach an unfamiliar dog, etc. Aren’t I a fun party guest?!

5. Take breaks

Parties can be exhausting (I say as an introvert); make sure your dog is still having fun, and not getting too worn out, or too wound up by all the excitement. If you find the party is getting too much for them, take a little break in another room, play a game, practice tricks, or just sit quietly together to recharge your pup before returning to the festivities.

About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.

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