What has six legs, two wings, and runs fast but cannot fly? The family dog running off with the holiday turkey. I know this sounds like a bad Dixie Cup joke, but many a holiday fiesta has turned into a fiasco due to a feisty Fido.
So, what’s a dog lover to do when hosting the holidays? Many people these days (yours truly included) consider their dogs members of the family. Let’s face it: Sometimes the dog is our favorite family member! In such cases, it just doesn’t feel right to keep Fido out of the holiday fun. “Shun him to the back yard? Never!” they proclaim. So, how can we involve Fido and still keep the holidays running smoothly?
If you decide to host the holidays, please keep in mind that Fido is likely to be overloaded. A house full of people in party mode and children running around and playing with toys? That’s exciting and over-stimulating stuff for a dog. Allowing Fido to be a part of the action can be wonderful, but first and foremost, we need to keep the safety of the guests in mind. We need to ask some questions. At the top of the list is whether Fido is well socialized and friendly with strangers. Without a resounding “yes,” it’s time for a bit of soul searching. Is he nervous or anxious around strangers? What about children? Is he territorial or possessive around toys or food? Has he ever growled or barked at a houseguest before? Questions like these are critical to ask and answer honestly before deciding to host a party where Fido is on the attendee list. One dog bite is all it takes to spoil a party.
What about Fido’s comfort? Will Fido enjoy all these strangers in the house? He may actually find it stressful. If the conclusion is that he’s just not ready for that much action, you may want to keep him in the garage or a room in the back of the house with something yummy to chew on. Maybe consider turning on the TV to keep him comfortable and drown out the distracting noises of the party. Another option might be to have him stay at a nice boarding facility or a friend’s house. That way he won’t even know what he’s missing and won’t be stressed by all the holiday happenings.
What about Fido’s manners? OK, so you’ve decided he is friendly enough to be included in the festivities. That’s wonderful. Now let’s analyze his social skills a little bit. He may be friendly, but does he jump on people or clear coffee tables with his tail when he gets excited? This could cause serious injury to grandparents or small children as well as make for some nasty red wine stains on the carpet. What about begging? Is Fido going to drool all over Aunt Betty’s brand new shoes hoping for some of that crab dip?
Preferably Fido’s manners are already up to speed. If not, hopefully you are reading this in time to do a little practice training before the party. Try having a couple of friends over for a test run, and keep in mind that there is no rule against using a leash in the house. This simple trick can save a lot of time and frustration. It’s so easy, but most of my clients don’t think of it. They must think, “dang, why did I have to pay this guy to show me something so simple?” So there you go. This one’s a freebie!
Keep the Kitchen Off-Limits
Anyone who has ever hosted a holiday dinner understands how chaotic the kitchen can be. In general, the kitchen can be a problematic area—steaming dishes on the stove, splattering grease, boiling water, hot ovens, and sharp utensils on every countertop just inches from getting accidentally dropped. I’ve seen my wife scurry her bare feet away from a kitchen knife plummeting to the floor after accidently knocking it over with her elbow. She has fast reflexes, but dogs with their noses to the ground in search of crumbs and dribbled gravy may not escape the Ginzu blade so easily. Let’s face it: The kitchen can be a crazy place to be.
Come the holidays, these normal kitchen hazards escalate, because there’s a lot more going on. Well-intended in-laws are trying to lend a hand, and guests with their candies, cookies, and treats create a lot more energy and traffic than any kitchen is typically used to. In this mental picture that I’ve just created, I want you to ask yourself: Is the kitchen a safe place for Fido? Might the dog accidently find himself getting tripped over by a human with a pot of boiling water, dangerous for both the two-legged and four-legged creatures? I would argue that the kitchen is not a safe place.
The holidays remind us all to be joyous for all we have. It’s a time to rejoice and celebrate with loved ones while taking the time to appreciate what matters most. In my house, for sure, that includes our dogs. That said, as a responsible and loving dog owner, I have to decide the best way to manage the environment for everyone’s enjoyment and safety. It can be great to have Fido join the party, as long as it makes sense. It’s important to know Fido’s limits and create a situation that won’t end up in the emergency room. If Fido can’t contain himself, or if your guests are not playing fairly with Fido, or the whole darn thing just seems to be too overwhelming for the dog, don’t hesitate to put him in a safe room or in the garage with his favorite chew toy for some quiet time. Be smart, be safe, and enjoy the holidays.
Chad Culp is a certified dog trainer and canine behavior consultant with Thriving Canine, a full-service dog training platform that began in Gilroy and has spread throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Main article photo by: Anneli Rufus