Even if you prepare ahead of time, there’s plenty to do during your visit to make sure that the holiday is remembered as a fun one rather than as the last family holiday to which you were allowed to bring your dog. Exercise, chews, toys and puzzles can minimize behavioral issues such as destructive chewing and counter-surfing, which tend to worsen when dogs are bored or full of pent-up energy. Bring a crate if your dog likes it and your hosts have enough space. Help clean up, especially if the mess involves dog hair or sloppy drinking at the water bowl. Seize the opportunity to put leftovers out of your dog’s reach, and volunteer to take out the trash.
As soon as possible after you arrive, practice the skills your dog already knows so that he can learn to do them in new places, too. One of the things that separates professional trainers from novices is that professionals know that training doesn’t automatically transfer to new locations. For example, just because your dog has a rock-solid stay in your living room doesn’t mean he knows how to respond in the same way in your yard, at the park or at Grandma’s house. Even a couple of five-minute training sessions can significantly improve your dog’s performance and manners.
Obedience skills aren’t the only ones that may drop off away from home. Many dogs who are completely trustworthy when left at home alone are stressed, scared or mischievous when left alone in a new place, all of which can result in house-soiling or the aforementioned destructive chewing or counter-surfing. The change in routine, a new place and additional people may also make dogs more likely to exhibit these unwanted behaviors. Adjust your plans—and expectations—accordingly.
Faux pas may occur, but focusing on prevention will help your dog succeed. Don’t set up your highly food-motivated dog to fail by leaving him alone, even for a minute, while the turkey is on the table. If you know your dog has a tendency to find food or shoes, don’t put temptation in his way. Make some areas of the house off limits, or use a crate so that your dog never gets the opportunity to display anything but his best behavior.
No matter how things go, send a thank-you note to your hosts, perhaps accompanied by flowers, to express your gratitude that you and your dog were welcomed into their home (and, if necessary, to apologize).
Ideally, holidays are fun, not stressful. With thoughtful preparation and prevention, you can insulate yourself, your dog and your hosts from the dark side of this festive season. You will then be free to focus on the joy of togetherness for everyone, whether they sing “Fa la la la la” or “Bow wow wow wow wow.”