Today is the last day in my Holiday Stress series. We’ve danced around the subject all week, but now it’s time to get down to it. What do you do on the day of your big holiday party?
Obviously, the easy answer is don’t host one. If you have an anxious or rowdy dog, get Cousin Pauline to host the family potluck this year. Offer to help clean and decorate if you have to.
Not everybody can do that, though. Maybe you have the only house big enough, or you’re like us and are traveling to the Big Family To-do. What can you do then?
The most practical thing is to limit your dog’s access to the actual party. Close him in a spare room if he’s trustworthy, or crate him somewhere quiet. If the party is all your side of the family, have your significant other take the dog on a nice long walk or drive. This is what we do, by the way–we stay with my mom, who hosts her family Christmas. My husband makes the rounds, then I send him and Silas to see my in-laws. If your dog likes boarding and you have a trustworthy facility, send him to the kennel for the duration of your party.
You can also get creative and host a time-limited event. A dog who is fine with people for an hour or so may get increasingly stressed when they stay and stay and stay and disrupt his whole routine. Get rid of that lunch party that drags on until you have to get the leftovers back out and feed people dinner. Ask people to show up at 6 for dinner. Or, have them for the usual lunch, but then drag everyone out at 3:00 to watch a movie or go for a walk. If you host a smaller, adults-only party, have cocktails and appetizers at home and then dinner out.
No matter how long your party is, or on what scale, make sure your dog has a safe place to go when things get to be too much. This is especially important if there are children at the party, because they may very well follow your dog under the table or behind the chair or into his usual hiding place. Then your dog is trapped, which is a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s also important to keep your dog supervised. Don’t just assume that someone else is watching. If you’re elbow deep in the dressing, specifically assign someone to watch Fluffy. Discuss in advance what “watching” actually means. Even if your dog is a saint among dogs, accidents can happen. A guest might leave the gate open, or your dog’s perfect recall might only be perfect when you call, or a kid might feed your dog who knows what.
Above all, watch your dog for signs of stress and adjust accordingly. I love this graphic from Sophia Yin, who has a lot of great downloadable posters on her site. You are your dog’s only advocate. If you aren’t used to standing up for yourself with your family, practice saying things like, “Oh, that silly dog, he’s getting a little worried about you. He’d be happier if you petted him like this/left him alone/waited until he knows you better.”
How do you manage your dog on the big day? Or is this your first holiday season together?
(The fine print for the whole series: Don’t trust anyone on the internet for advice about serious training issues. If your dog has a history of biting, separation anxiety, extreme fear, resource guarding, or generalized anxiety, please get professional help.)