5 Tips for Hosting a Friend’s Dog During the Holiday Season

We took a German Shepherd named Ruby into our cat-filled home; here's what I learned from the dog-sitting experience.


Our dog passed away a few months ago, and we’d missed having a dog around the house — we just have several cats now. So when a friend asked us to dog-sit her very nice German Shepherd female over the Thanksgiving weekend, we were glad to assist. We agreed to keep Ruby at our house, and we knew ahead of time that she loves cats. I consider myself much more experienced with cats than with dogs, but we were willing to try out this situation.

We learned a lot from the process and would do it again. Whether you’re taking another dog into your house over the holidays, or your dog is visiting another house, here are a few tips to make the dog-sitting experience go as smoothly as possible for everyone involved:

1. Plan a short trial visit

Ruby came over with her mom a few days before the departure date and visited our house for about 30 minutes. After letting Ruby run around outside for a few moments, we brought her into the house on her leash. There were plenty of places, rooms, and floors for the cats to escape to if they didn’t want to see Ruby.

We wanted to be able to observe every possible dynamic between the dog and our cats. As it turned out, the dog was completely respectful and actually scared of the cats, and the cats seemed to know it. But you will want to make sure to you introduce animals ahead of time, so there are no surprises.

2. Have a backup for food

Sometimes things can go awry when a dog is separated from her human. In Ruby’s case, her mom sent a bunch of dry food that should have lasted the entire three days of the dog-sitting experience. But Ruby, even though she appeared to be having a great time at our house, would not touch the dry food. This was something we hadn’t planned for, so we ended up getting her some canned food, which she loved. It’s not a biggie, but be prepared with an alternative food.

In another instance, I was dog-sitting the pup of a relative in the dog’s home. The dog was eating fine, but he began eating grass often and throwing up clear saliva. I was able to text the relative, who told me that this dog often gets a nervous stomach when the human is away. My relative told me where a dog probiotic for this purpose was located and how to give it to the dog. Anticipate that a dog might be a little confused if his daily circumstances change, and that it might affect his appetite.

3. Be prepared to separate animals if necessary

Can you be certain that the visiting dog will get along, at all times, with the other animals in the house? If so, great. If you have doubts, have a Plan B. In the case of Ruby, we were comfortable, over time, with letting her have the run of the house when we were there. When we slept, we put her in one of the small bedrooms with her toys, bed, food, and water, of course, and shut the door for the night. Then, we didn’t have to worry about anything going awry while we slept.

We did have a dog crate from our previous dog, but Ruby was not crate-trained. I didn’t know how hard it would be to get her into a crate, and I didn’t want to freak her out, so I went with the more comfortable option.

4. Be ready for the unexpected

Surprises can come out of nowhere. Here’s a simple example. When we took Ruby, we were sure we wanted her on leash in our unfenced yard, with us present, because we live on a busy road. I did not want her running into the road and into danger, and I was happy to walk her several times a day so that she would get exercise — in fact, I really looked forward to this because I missed walking our dog.

Ruby’s mom was pretty sure that Ruby would be fine off-leash in the yard because she is very well trained. But we have a bird feeder, and a squirrel suddenly showed up. Ruby lunged, but was on leash, fortunately. The incident caused her human to rethink whether the dog should run around in the yard. Some yards have things dogs will chase; some don’t. Ruby was a very good dog and probably would not have gone out of the yard, but I didn’t want to take a chance with a dog that I didn’t completely know. And I can never know her as well as her mom knows her.

5. Have crucial information and make sure all possibilities are discussed

Obviously, the dog sitter needs information about veterinarians, hours, emergency vets, and any health or medication information. It could also be helpful if the dog sitter knows about unanticipated scenarios. For example: “My dog hates being scratched on the back” or “Tall men make my dog cower and growl.”

We ended up having a great time hosting Ruby, even though we don’t consider ourselves experienced dog people. The visit was made easier by the fact that Ruby was such a good dog, and she could be completely trusted with the other animals.

Have you taken in a friend’s dog or had your dog go to a friend’s place when you had to go out of town? How did it go for you? Let us know in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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