The holiday season is here and everyone is getting ready for big celebrations and family gatherings. While it's an exciting time for you, it can be stressful for your dog. Most pet parents take dog socialization seriously, but a raucous party can worry even the friendliest dogs. Celebrating holidays with dogs requires a little extra management to ensure your pup is safe, well-behaved, and happy. Preparing your dog for a large group of people is important and should not be overlooked. So how can you best keep your dog comfortable? Here are a few steps to consider.
While some dogs can't wait to make new friends, others can become a little overwhelmed meeting too many people at once. Manage every introduction your dog has. The best way to do this is to stagger your guests' entrances, so they don't all walk in at once. A sudden crowd can frighten your dog, so you'll want to make sure that the introduction goes calmly on both sides. If you have an overly friendly dog, you'll want to keep him from jumping on guests and knocking them over. If your dog is more shy you'll want to prevent overly friendly humans from making him nervous.
Interestingly, Vetstreet points out that dogs may be more fearful of men with booming voices than of soft-spoken women. Many dogs also prefer adults over children. With this in mind, keep a close eye on any kids who are invited to your holiday parties and consider asking your guests to keep their voices down.
A formal introduction that allows your pup and people to feel safe and comfortable is the best way to go. Perhaps have your dog separated in another room behind a baby gate until everyone arrives. The new guests can each greet him individually from the other side of the gate to make it less overwhelming and prevent any jumping.
Socialization can wear your dog out, even if he's enjoying the company. Set aside a quiet, familiar space for him so he can take a breather. This is especially important for dogs that aren't social butterflies. If your dog is hesitant about large groups of strangers, don't force him to hang out. Forcing a dog to socialize more than he's ready and willing too can lead to a very stressed and fearful dog. Without an escape, he may show aggression to let everyone know he's afraid. It's important to prevent this scenario from happening at all.
A haven will help him feel safe and secure and will give him an opportunity to escape from the chaos if he's feeling nervous or overwhelmed.
Once your dog is comfortable hanging around everyone, you'll want to ensure his safety. Make sure that all human food or drink and decorations are placed out of his reach. Holidays with dogs can be fun for everyone, but you'll want to emphasize that table scraps are unhealthy and some foods are very dangerous for dogs. Do not let any guests feed your pup human food and explain that this is for his safety, health and well-being. Keep an eye on children as well because an opportunistic pooch will have no problem stealing candy from a baby!
Don't Forget Your Pup
Playing host to a bunch of guests can be stressful enough as it is, but the stress that it can have on your dog can make him withdraw. So, during the chaos of hosting do not forget to give your dog some attention. Your guests will surely provide him with needed attention, but its you, his favorite human, from which he will be seeking the most attention. Take a few minutes out of each hour of the party to reward him with a treat for being good, scratch him behind his ears, or sit down and rub his belly. Knowing that you're there for him during this chaotic moment will help reassure him and greatly reduce his stress.
Dog socialization during the holidays is something that should be considered carefully. While you might have a rambunctious pup that loves everyone, being in a large group of people for an extended period can overwhelm even the friendliest dog. Make sure that introductions are done in a calm, supervised manner. Ensure your dog has an appropriate outlet for any anxiety or discomfort. Establish and enforce rules that don't allow any human foods to be given to your dog and that decorations and gifts are placed out of reach. Once the party introductions are over, you, your dog, and your guests will have a great time. So let's make sure you can enjoy the holidays with dogs year after year!
Katie Finlay is a Los Angeles, CA based dog trainer and writer. She has been working with dogs and their owners both in person and through her articles for over six years.