Preparing Your Pets for Holiday Guests



November 3, 2020

Here come the holidays! 2020 has almost met its end, Bivvy pet parents, and we hope your holiday season is a warm and fuzzy wrap on a chaotic year. Don’t let more chaos rear its head in the form of your pets and your guests not getting along. If your home will be the socially distant gathering spot for family, or if the thought of neighbors popping in for a Christmas card and cookie drop-off and interacting with your pets makes you nervous, read on! We’ve got the dish on how your pets and your guests can have many merry interactions.

Prepping Your Dog to Hang out with Human Guests

When a guest approaches your house, does your dog bark, growl, or get their hackles up? Or do you have a social butterfly who is thrilled when someone comes to the door, but their happy rambunctious behavior is a little over the top? Both of these reactions may make your guests uncomfortable. It’s up to you to determine which of these your dog most closely resembles as a first step, but a good rule of thumb either way is to be very consistent about ignoring bad behavior and rewarding good.

For example, if you’ve got an overly excitable dog that jumps, have your guest ignore them until they’ve got four paws on the floor. This is something you can and should start working on with your dog, like, yesterday. If your dog barks when you come home, ignore them until they’re calm, not jumping or barking. Don’t pay him any attention—positive or negative. This includes not scolding until he’s calm.

If you’ve got a particularly nervous dog, and they want nothing to do with newcomers, the best thing to do is to set up a safe space for them to retreat to.

No dog should be expected to never bark. It’s a natural behavior. But if excessive defensive barking is a problem, be consistent about working on this with your dog day in and day out. If they barks as someone approaches and you yell in response, they’ll likely think you’re joining in. Instead, calmly but firmly, say, “Quiet.” The moment they stop barking, reward them with a delicious treat. Also tiring your dog out before guests are arriving will make them less likely to bark and cause commotion at the door.

Training your dog to “place,” or go lay down in a designated area until you give them their release command, takes lots of training and discipline, but can be very handy for times like welcoming guests.

Giving your guest a hug or a handshake or guiding their hand to your dog’s snout for a sniff, will mix your scent with the guest’s. Your body language will also indicate to the dog that this is someone we’re comfortable with.

If you’re uncertain about how your dog will behave, or are still training, there’s no shame in being above board with your guests about this. You can ask them to help reinforce the hand signals and verbal cues you’re using, give them treats to give the dog for good behavior and to build a positive association with them, or even give your guest the chance to tell you if they’re nervous around dogs, which might give you a great opportunity to work on your dog’s crate training!  

Your best chance at happy interactions between your pet and your guests is to start socializing them from their earliest days under your care. For dogs, you can do things like walk and hang out in busy areas, have playdates, or sign up for group training or daycare. These activities will encourage them to be adaptable and comfortable with people other than you. Here’s a post filled with practical ways Bivvy pet parents can find community with their companion animals.

Prepping Your Dog to Hang out with New Pet Guests

Oh what fun! Your neighbor’s just adopted a dog. They want to stop by to spread some holiday cheer, and they know you’re a dog person too, so they’re just tickled at the idea of having your pups meet.

If you’re worried about whether your dog will take kindly to a new canine friend coming into their house, have the dogs meet outside. And if they do come in, don’t have any of your dog’s food or toys laying around, as those could lead to a fight. Or tell your well-intended neighbor that it would be best to meet at a neutral location, rather than on your dog’s turf.

And make it a holiday gift to yourself and your dog to invest in Bivvy’s affordable pet insurance. Pet health insurance is a great thing to have in case the unthinkable happens and something goes awry, say, when you’re introducing your pet to a pet guest. One in three pets needs emergency attention every year, and the average cost for such a vet visit is $1,500.

And…What About Cats?

Ah, cats, bless their little hearts. They are harder to socialize than dogs and can even have a timid genetic trait. If they were not exposed to many newcomers in the three to nine-week old window, they may be forever fearful.

If you want to put in some time and effort and see if it helps your cat get more comfortable around guests, you can attempt to do some training. Have someone come over and—ideally over multiple sessions—start at the far side of the same room as your cat and get closer and closer to them, while you reward the cat for being calm.

Now just how effective this will be in terms of getting your cat comfortable with a houseful of guests depends on you repeating this exercise, and changing up the variables. But…you may just have to accept that your dear feline is the timid type. Don’t force them into anything they’re not comfortable with.

So, enjoy your holidays and your houseguests, and make a to-do list that includes pet health insurance, and taking steps to ensure warm relations between guests and your pets. And…do check the list twice!

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