Help your dog be the perfect host during the holidays

By Joan Hunter Mayer

Ah, the holiday season! A time for family, friends and hopefully pet celebrations too. In a previous article, we shared some tips to help your dog be a courteous guest. Now let’s see how you can help Fido be a kind host as well. Whether it’s preventing unwanted behavior, teaching new skills, or honing existing ones, we’ve got tips to keep your pawliday festivities fun and rewarding for your pets and guests.

Management – aka preparing you and your dog for success

Throughout the year, and especially during the holidays, managing the environment goes a long way in making pets and people feel safe and happy. As caring animal keepers, our job is to try to arrange the environment so that our dogs do not have the opportunity to practice unwanted behaviors. Fortunately, a systematic approach ahead of time can mean a positively fluid holiday season (at least when it comes to dog training!).

The first step is to train the humans in your house! Unleash your people training skills

can help avoid embarrassing or even dangerous accidents – food left on hand for easy dog ​​access, doors and gates left open for pets to wander away, confusion over responsibilities animal care, etc. Here’s how you and your family can be proactive:

  • Now is a good time to protect your home from puppies (again). Try to be thorough, even if your “puppy” is an adult dog!

  • You can prevent behaviors you don’t want, such as overly exuberant greetings, by limiting space and access. For example, if your puppy has been petted for a long time when jumping on beloved humans, putting on a harness and leash when someone arrives is a useful management strategy. During this time, you can work with humans, including visitors, so that they know they should only interact with your dog when he has four paws politely glued to the ground.

  • Also, keep in mind that just like you, your puppy will have a hard time being a good host if they are “hungry” or uncomfortable. Have a schedule posted somewhere obvious to keep track of feeding and walking responsibilities. Check what was done, and when, to avoid missing out on walks or meals.

Next, plan ahead to watch your puppy during holiday preparations and entertaining. For some dogs confinement can be safe and fun if you use crates, baby wears X-pens wisely. Once your dog gets used to them, using these strategies can help restrict access to restricted areas such as doors to outside and food preparation / dining areas. Just try not to take too much time at the checkout or alone.

Also think about the types of enrichment you are going to offer. It is our responsibility to provide suitable outlets for our furry friends to meet the needs of their dogs. Keeping your dog physically and mentally active can help prevent boredom issues. Food puzzles, bones, and chews can all come in handy here. More importantly, what could be more rewarding for you and Fluffy than spending quality time savoring together? And that brings us to the next topic: training games to build your bond and hone your skills.

Practice these versatile skills in good manners

To help your dog put his best paw forward this holiday season, use simple dog-friendly and human-friendly training techniques. As we walk you through our top coaching tips, it can be fun to think about how they could be applied to teaching a specific behavior, like polite greetings.

Tip # 1: be nice. Practice rewarding and positive reinforcement-based human training techniques developed from the science of animal behavior. These science-based teaching methods are easy to follow and effective. Plus, they make learning fun and rewarding for both animals and humans!

As in all of our relationships, one of the nicest and most important things we can do is learn to listen. But most of what your dog has to “say” is communicated through the dog’s body language – his facial expressions, poses and postures. What does your dog communicate (or try to communicate) to family members and guests who come to your home? Recognizing, understanding and responding appropriately to your dog’s emotional response to visitors is a matter of not only consideration, but also safety!

Look for signs of stress. Some of your dog’s key areas to watch out for are his head, eyes, mouth / tongue, paws, and tail. If the holiday hustle and bustle is a bit intense, make sure you have a quiet and comfortable place where Fluffy can relax and rest, or enjoy enrichment activities safely, undisturbed – but not banned. .

Tip # 2 Find Out What Motivates Your Dog. Successful positive reinforcement begins with determining what motivates your dog. Whether it’s food, toys, or real rewards, such as “Go say hello!” The common thread is that the right motivators encourage learning and participation because these are things your dog enjoys. Providing whatever your pooch finds rewarding helps establish a more enjoyable learning environment and helps build and maintain a canine-human relationship of mutual trust, elevating life with dogs to the next level.

So, make a list of the rewards your dog really enjoys. Be creative. Remember to look at what’s rewarding from your dog’s perspective, not yours. Great! Now you have a list of powerful motivators for your dog and you are ready for tip # 3.

Tip # 3 Reward All The Behaviors You Like And Want. But what is a reward, technically? In short, a reward is whatever your dog wants. However, context matters! If your dog just had dinner, your treats might not be worth as much as a tug party. If you’ve got some fresh salami in your pocket, the opportunity to say hello to a new person might not be as rewarding for Fido as standing by your side with his nose glued to your hip.

Novelty is also important. Use new or unknown rewards when training more difficult skills or when you find yourself in areas where distractions are more frequent. Also, be sure to incorporate rewards other than food into your workout. You can use things like fluffy toys, squeaky ball, scavenge game, and actual rewards. For example, if you are entertaining guests, reward your dog’s calm attention on his mat (or “spot”) by freeing him up to “Go say hello” to visitors – as long as they agree!

Tip # 4 – Learning is a lifelong process

One of the most important things you can do when training your dog is to think about the scenarios in which you ultimately want the behaviors to work. Then work towards that goal gradually, practicing a little each day, in a variety of places and under various circumstances.

Here’s why. Often times when we ask our dogs to do something and they don’t, we assume that they are “crushing us” or “being disobedient.” The truth is, more often than not that answer is just a lack of understanding of what you are asking because something is different in the training environment. It might sound like a recipe for frustration on your side, but the good news is that you have a head start when you realize what is going on in your dog’s brain when he is struggling to behave in the cold. a new context: it simply has difficulty generalizing.

You can fully understand how to tie your shoes whether you are in your kitchen, garden or office. People are good enough at generalizing the behaviors. But your dog might not understand that the rules of polite greetings on leash walks also apply to welcoming visitors to the home. However, if you re-teach the cue or concept from square one, it won’t take your dog that long to learn a known behavior in a new context. In other words, Fido will pick up on the idea pretty quickly and have that beautiful “a-ha!” ” moment.

Put it all together

With a little strategic management, a pawstive approach to teaching and skill development, and a few dress rehearsals, your best friend can be an attractive host to any holiday gathering!

And with that, well done and woofs to you and your curious dogs for a wonderful holiday season.


The curious dog was founded by Joan Hunter Mayer, a Santa Barbara dog behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer. Joan and her team are dedicated to providing humane, pawsitive and practical solutions that address the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Bark with dogs, cheer on humans and have fun!


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