If possible, have your dog meet guests outside where it’s less cramped than in a doorway. If your dog tends to get uncomfortable or overexcited with new people coming into his space, you might try going for a brief walk with your dog and your guests in the yard or down the street. If your dog is nervous, give your guests plenty of tasty treats to give to your dog so he can think they’re actually quite awesome! If your dog is overexcited, give your dog plenty of praise and reinforcement (including high value treats) for being with you rather than trying to jump on your guests.
If it’s not possible for your dog to meet guests outside, keep him separated in another room away from the door when guests arrive so he cannot jump or mouth at them. You may give him something else fun to do, like a frozen stuffed Kong or a special bone to enjoy. After a while of seeing and hearing the guests at a distance, you can take your dog out of the room (perhaps on leash at first) and gradually introduce him to guests one at a time.
If you have a busy household during gift-opening time, it’s best to have your dog relax in another room. He’ll be less likely to get stepped on or pushed aside and he won’t be right there to feed into the frenzy if children are anxious or squealing with joy about the gifts they receive. He also won’t have to deal with the frequent flashes that come along with taking photos and the chaos of multiple things happening at once. Once gift-opening time is over, your dog can be reintroduced to the party.
Holiday Food Items:
If you have a lot of children around the dinner table, it may be in your best interest to keep the dog in another room while you eat. This way he cannot succeed by eating dropped food off the floor or getting snarly when a child (or adult) tries to stop him from getting to it. Even if your dog does not usually resource guard against food, with the added stimulation and stress of the holidays, the pressure is on. More pressure means more agitation and a higher chance that a miscommunication can occur. It’s best to avoid these situations by keeping your dog separate from holiday meal time. He won’t practice bad behaviors and you will be able to eat your holiday meal in peace! (hopefully) A win-win for all!
New Places - Visiting Family:
When you first arrive, give your dog a chance to scope out the yard and house with you there to help him understand (in a positive way) the boundaries and rules. Make sure he has a safe space to go to as he needs to relax (this is where having his crate and familiar items in a quiet room will help him acclimate). If there’s a crowd, introduce him to people a little at a time rather than all at once. For some dogs, it will help them feel more secure to be with you, so having them on leash or gated into the room you’re in may help. If you notice signs that your dog needs a break, take a few minutes to play with him in another room or take him for a short walk. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in family that we forget the needs of our fur-family too!
If he will be meeting another dog, introduce them outside of the house to give both dogs a chance to accept one another without territoriality playing a part. I recommend going for a brief walk together up and down the street, then in the yard, then gradually working your way into the home. Give both dogs a chance to have separate spaces inside the home as well so one doesn’t ever feel threatened by the other. For more tips on introducing dogs in a way that is pressure-free, see my article “Introducing Fido to Rufus: Dog-to-Dog Greetings, Pressure-Free!”.
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA