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Preparing Your Pets for the Holidays

If visiting friends and family over the holidays you may encounter furry friends! Holidays are very hectic for both people and their pets; you will need to take this into consideration when interacting with them.

When entering a home that has pets, plan on ignoring the pets for the first few minutes. Some dogs will gleefully jump on and around you. IGNORE the dog. Do not look at them, talk to them, push them, or scold them. Only once all 4 paws are on the floor you may interact with them following the steps outlined below.

Sometimes the dog may be fearful or overwhelmed by the commotion of the holidays. In this case you will also want to ignore the dog and wait for them to approach you. If the dog does come forward to greet you follow these steps.

Proper Greeting

  • Turn to the side and avoid making direct eye contact.
  • For small dogs, you may crouch down to appear smaller and less threatening.
  • Talk in a soft voice (not high pitch or squeaky), and gently pat your thigh or leg to encourage the dog to come over. You may put your hand out for the dog to sniff.
  • If the dog is still seeking attention you may pet the dog UNDER the chin and on the chest. Avoid patting on the head and along the back.
  • If the dog decides to leave, let them. Do not force any interaction with the animals.

Signs of a fearful dog

  • Dog’s body will be low to the ground.
  • Ears are back or flat against their head.
  • May be showing teeth.
  • Growling
  • Stiff showing whites of eyes

A wagging tail is not always a safe sign. If the dog is barking loudly and wagging with a tail that is straight up in the air like a flag, proceed with caution. Better yet, ask the homeowners to help remove the dog from the room. Never grab a fleeing dog by its collar. You can easily startle him and make him feel trapped. He may snap or bite.

If you are entertaining over the holidays, your pet may not act in the same manner he would with just the family.

If you know your dog is nervous or anxious with multiple people, set up a place in the house where he can be safe and quiet and where people will not be coming in and out. Be sure to practice having your dog settle in this new space with his interactive toys well before the actual event.

If you have a very social dog, but who also forgets his manners from time to time you may want to allow him to visit initially but once more guest start to arrive set him up in a quiet room with a stuffed Kong or other interactive treat toy.

If you do not know how your dog will act always side with caution and put them away, especially if there will be children or other pets coming over. Even if your pet does very well with parties, they should always have the option to leave once they have had enough. Do not force your dog to interact with your guests.


Have a safe and happy Holiday Season!

If you would like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please call 414-431-6173 or email to schedule a consultation.