With Thanksgiving and winter holidays approaching (here in the US), it’s likely you’re gathering with friends and family and your dog is expected to seamlessly integrate into that chaos. While you may be out of time for training helpful skills like down/stay on a mat, all is not lost! There are management ideas to help keep your dog, and your visitors safe.
- Use barriers like baby gates, crates and closed off rooms to separate your dog when needed. Do this liberally. Provide enrichment or activities for your dog. Common times of separation or confinement include food prep, meal time, when hors d’oeuvres are being served (and lots of snacks might be placed on end or coffee tables), when people are arriving/leaving or just when your dog could use a break from the activity.
- Put a note on your door when people arrive for them to text or call before they enter. This will reduce the chances of your dog door-dashing as you’re hugging hello to visitors by giving you time to put the dog away, or put a leash on them.
- Put a note on all exit doors to remind guests to close the door behind them, and be mindful of dogs who might try to slip out. Uncle Bucky might just run out to his car to grab something and leave the front door ajar because he doesn’t live with a dog, so the risks of open doors aren’t on his radar.
- Separate dogs and kids. Holiday gatherings can be a little hectic and that means child/dog supervision often takes a back seat. It only takes a split second for a child to rush up to a dog who is resting, eating, chewing or playing and try to hug, kiss, pet the dog or take away their toy. And that could be a bite. Nobody wants to interrupt dinner because Fido bit someone’s child and they have to go to the ER.
- Keep enthusiastic greeters away or on a leash. I love prosocial dogs but if Fido is overly enthusiastic about greeting, Grandma might break a hip or small kids could get knocked over. There’s plenty of anti-jumping and polite greetings training we can do, but if Fido doesn’t have those skills now, it’s best to keep him away or leashed.
- Give dogs, especially fearful ones, a safe retreat away from the chaos. Fearful dogs will not “get socialized” if they’re scared by all the people, sounds and activity. This increases the risk of bites happening. Even friendly, social, typically non-fearful dogs can be overwhelmed by changes in routines, disrupted schedules and visitors.
- Exercise and provide enrichment ahead of guests arriving. Fido may need to skip his afternoon walk or trip to the dog park, so make sure he gets plenty of exercise and have enrichment like long lasting chews and food toys pre-prepared for when you need them.
- Be mindful of table scraps. I love letting dogs share in our special meals and holidays but be mindful that changes in diet or extra fatty items like turkey skin, gravy and tables scraps can cause issues like diarrhea or worse, pancreatitis. And ask your guests to refrain from sharing with your dog so you can control how much and what Fido gets. Many vets say Black Friday is the day when most dogs present with pancreatitis in their hospitals.
Safety for everyone – canine and human – is paramount. When in doubt if Fido is safe or enjoying himself, be proactive and put him away. Don’t wait until he’s hiding, avoiding, growling or snapping to help give him relief. And as a reminder, Never punish the dog for growling or communicating. Growling can be very upsetting but yelling or punishing will just make things worse.
And I really encourage you to learn your dog’s body language, including subtle signals when they’re stressed, anxious or fearful. This is the most important thing you can do. If you don’t know when your dog is uncomfortable, you won’t know how or when to help them. Download my free Dog Communication handout here.
If your dog is already afraid of strangers, you can set up a one on one fear and aggression consult to learn how to help them for long-term success.