Mastering the Holidays – A Canine Master

Thanksgiving is here and with it the official start of the holiday season. From the last Thursday in November until well into next year, it’s a time of gatherings and celebrations.

And family.

Family is what makes the holidays great. And to most of us, our dogs are family. It’s essential that Rudolph the Schnauzer have a great time too if we are to call these festivities a success.

So, before the first guests arrive, it’s a good time to review the rules. Just like we know we never talk politics with Cousin Jeff or call Die Hard a Christmas movie when Aunt Lolo is in the room, there is important background information to keep in mind when it comes to our furry family.

The most wonderful time of the year can be a very stressful time for pets. The holidays highlight the importance of a well-trained, well-socialized pet that can adjust with ease to new environments.

Most animals (particularly cats and dogs) like consistent structure in their environment. Dogs - and even some cats - live in social groups (packs/families). They feel most comfortable and secure when the dynamics of the pack (humans included) stay the same.

During the holidays is when family and friends tend to visit most. Our children come home from college and bring a new “friend”, our parents/in-laws move into the house for the duration of the season, your sister comes to visit with her two toddlers.

These changes to the pack dynamics can really be a problem and cause major stress for every member of your family. Now imagine how it can feel for your dog.

As a canine behavioral expert, I will receive many phone calls over the holidays because a client’s dog is suddenly becoming aggressive or has bitten a dinner guest or family member.

I’ll also hear through the grapevine of people who can’t find their cats, who have been hiding for days.

If your dog/cat is not used to small kids and toddlers, is a bit leery of strangers and/or visiting dogs, or new situations at home in general, you may want to reconsider how you are going to handle these pets during the holidays.

A great idea is to bring your dog to a boarding or daycare facility for the more hectic events in the home.

I have many people that will bring their dogs to my canine center (Dog Gone Smart) when they have a holiday party or out of town guests. The dogs stay for the day or even spend the night. This allows for your dogs to have lots of fun, get exercise and stay calm while you concentrate on your guests and menus.

The peace of mind usually makes it worth the expense.

Another option is to set some off-limit rooms where your dog and cats can stay during the party. Put a sign on the door saying please keep out. If you can lock the door, all the better. For cats this can work great, but for dogs it may prove to be a problem if they can hear you and they tend to bark, scratch and whine. Crating your pet in a separate room may also work. Remember to leave them food and water and to let them out to relieve themselves. Don’t forget the kitty litter box for the cats.

If Snoopy insists on being home for the full festivities at the Brown residence, a few extra precautions are in order.

For dogs that like to sleep on couches, human beds, and grandpa’s favorite recliner you need to be very careful that small children and toddlers do not put their faces up to theirs. Many dog bites occur when dogs are in an elevated position and children go to kiss them on the face or hug them.

Also, don’t let the children play on the dog’s bed or in her crate. Dogs can be protective of their dens and this is just asking for trouble.

Watch your pets at all times and put them in another room when they seem stressed and/or have had enough of your houseguests.

I recommend you follow the same advice for yourself, but that’s a different article.

Be careful when alcohol is involved, people tend to not “read” animals correctly when they are under the influence. I can’t tell you how many times I hear of a family member or houseguest that suddenly becomes Cesar Milan or Steve Irwin at a party and attempts to “train” the dog. This unfortunately usually ends up with the dog freaked out and the fledgling trainer bitten.

When a friend or family member wants to bring their new pet along, you really need to know how your pet will react.

In general this is not a great idea. Politely decline.

If your cat is not used to dogs or the visiting dog is not used to cats, it could prove to be a disaster. I just had a client whose cat was killed by her daughter’s new dog when she brought it home from college.

If your dog tends to be protective of your home and yard when they see another dog, you will need to be very careful when having another dog visit. If you have a guest who is insistent on bringing their dog, first take both dogs on a long walk together and then introduce them in a neutral area. If all seems well, then introduce them in your yard next and then proceed inside.

Be sure to separate both dogs during feeding time. Pick up all dog toys and bones, as this is how many fights begin.

Other perils to be on the lookout for:


Chocolate is everywhere over the holidays. It’s a bane of diets but it can also be toxic to dogs and cats.

Baked goods over the holidays tend to contain sweets which may contain the artificial sweetener, xylitol, which has been linked to liver complications and death in dogs.

Dinner leftovers like turkey skin, onions, grapes can be dangerous for dogs. Just skip giving the dog the table scraps altogether to be safe. And don’t forget to tell children to not to do it too!


Christmas trees can tip over but the most dangerous aspect can be the water under a freshly cut tree. Many additives can be hazardous to your pet.

Tinsel and other decorations can be dangerous if eaten. Keep tinsel away from the dog, keep the dog away from the tinsel. This is also true of potpourris and decoratives that include essential oils.

Holiday plants to avoid include: mistletoe, balsam, holly, amaryllis, and poinsettias. The ASPCA puts out an updated list every year.

With a little pre-planning you and your furry family can be stress-free and all enjoy the holiday season.

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