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Help Your Dog Cope with Guests This Holiday Season

Written by Anna Hollisey


Christmas Frenchie with decorations

…Or should that be “how to help guests cope with your dog”? We’re Team Dog all the way. Here’s how to support your favorite family member when friends and relatives come to stay!

Christmas – Stressful or Sublime?

Huge twinkling trees… bowls filled with eggnog… and presents piled up in a heap. Your home feels completely different in the festive season. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but how does it make your dog feel? Take a look at the holidays from your dog’s point of view:  

  • Dogs thrive on routine and may not cope with the disruption to meals and walks.
  • Some dogs dislike travel and others just aren’t used to long journeys.
  • Temperatures and tempers rise in the kitchen, where your dog likes to hang out.
  • Children are extra-hyper and although they’re fun, they will exhaust older dogs.
  • You might scold your dog when they nibble on a present or two. 
  • Holiday guests take up all the space on the couch, so your dog spends more time alone.
  • There are more dog poisoning cases during the holiday season. 

1. Make a Safe Area For Your Dog

You probably already have this in your home. If you’re expecting guests, brief them on proper protocol so that your dog feels calm and comfortable. If your dog’s ‘safe zone’ is the kitchen, limit numbers in there so that your dog has enough space (and doesn’t get stepped on).

  • Preserve the peace in one room where your dog can rest (even if they’re allowed to mingle too).
  • If your dog is nervous, you could play music in there.
  • If there is no door, install a baby-gate to prevent your dog from wandering off.
  • Ask visitors to ensure that doors are kept closed.

2. Take Extra Exercise With Your Dog

It’s a great idea to tire your dog before your guests are expected. Not just because your dog is less likely to leap all over the couch in excitement (new people? For me?!) – but also because your dog will make a great first impression. As we all know, a tired dog is a lovely, restful dog. Your guests will probably appreciate this too!

If your visitors are staying awhile, plan time for exercising your dog each day; sufficient activity is important to help your dog manage their energy and stabilize their mood. An under-worked dog can be tense and overactive. 

Need to be on-hand to perform your hosting duties? If you’re finding it difficult to leave, you could exercise your dog in the yard, do some indoor training, or ask a local dog-walker to pick them up. If you have older offspring, you could even try bribing them to take the dog for an extra walk…

3. Bring Home Extra Treats

After those exhilarating walks, your dog deserves a treat. So make sure you have a stash of boredom-busting chew bones or pig ears – whatever your dog loves most. When your attention is divided, your dog will be happy to know that you still love them. Have you tried baking your own dog biscuits? It’s a great activity for the holiday season and they can be put into jars for regular treating. 

Are you planning some family trips to choose a tree or go ice-skating? Don’t forget that your dog needs entertainment too, especially if they’ll be left alone for more than usual. Toys are excellent distractions for most dogs. A new shaker or nylon bone will give your dog some extra stimulation when you’re not around. Just ensure that you are supervising if the toys are the treat-stuffed variety. 

4. Prep Your Guests, Too

It’s worthwhile to discuss your household needs with your guests, if you can. For example, if your dog is young, you might not be comfortable leaving them ‘Home Alone’ for long, and excursions should be limited. 

Your guests might like to accompany you on walks, which saves you from finding a dog-walker. Some family members will be active enough to tag along on your usual route, but if there will be young children or elderly relatives, plan some easy routes so that everyone can tag along. (You know the ones – places you go when you’re feeling tired but your dog isn’t!) Make sure you also ask your guests to bring coats and boots if you’re walking on difficult terrain!

If you plan to keep your dog in a different room, ask your guests to take care when they open the door and to stay calm, because your dog will quickly pick up on anxiety, stress or arguing. (Not saying it’ll happen… just saying it pays to discuss these issues early.)

5. Be Cautious with Festive Food and Drinks

Unfortunately, the holiday season is bursting with delicious treats which can be toxic for dogs. So you can either purchase carefully, or ensure that your guests are warned about keeping food in safe places. There’s nothing wrong with a guest gifting a favorite aunt with a box of chocs, but wrapping paper alone won’t deter a determined dog if they’re left under the tree. 

Festive food and drink to take extra care with:

  • All nuts, especially walnuts and macadamia nuts
  • Chocolates
  • Sugar-free confectionery (Xylitol is poisonous for dogs)
  • Alcohol (it doesn’t take much for your dog to get alcohol poisoning)
  • Leftovers – stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy are bad for your dog
  • Hot chocolate and eggnog (delicious but dangerous for dogs, especially if they are lactose-intolerant).

6. Take Time Out With Your Dog

This one is no hardship. In fact, spending time with your dog will boost your mental health as well as theirs. It’s one of the best things about pet ownership – but it’s easy to neglect during the busiest time of the year. 

If your dog is shut in another room during festivities, be sure to spend time in there too. Some of us will appreciate this excuse to escape the chaos for ten minutes. Others will have to tear themselves away from the party. Whichever you are, commit to short snuggle-breaks (or tug-of-war sessions) with your dog to prevent them from becoming bored and lonely. It’s their holiday season too.