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With the COVID-19 pandemic, most of our dogs haven’t seen anyone outside our immediate families for many months. And dogs or puppies acquired during the pandemic may never have experienced people visiting our homes. While many of us have chosen not to see friends or family this holiday season, those who decide to safely host guests will need to ensure that their dogs are set up for success. Having people over for the holidays is stressful enough—and you don’t want to be also having to apologize for your dog’s behavior.

Set Your Dog Up for Success

The best way to prevent your dog from getting into trouble during your holiday season is to give them the support to make good decisions. If you know your dog likes to “counter surf” or steal things off the counter, for example, make sure there aren’t tempting food items left within reach, and that your dog isn’t left alone in the kitchen.

A good rule for life with puppies is “supervise or confine,” meaning if you can’t fully supervise your puppy to prevent unwanted behavior, they should be safely confined to a puppy-safe area of the home or a crate. During the holidays — or any busy time — this is a good rule to keep in mind no matter your dog’s age. If you know your dog gets overly excited about visitors and you want to prevent behaviors like jumping up or just aren’t sure how your dog will react, it can be helpful to keep your dog leashed during the festivities.

Use high-value treats to reward your dog for appropriate calm behavior like sitting or settling into a down. It can help to make someone in the family responsible for working with the dog—especially if it’s a young puppy, newly adopted dog, or if you are trying to retrain new manners around engaging with visitors. Be sure to praise and reward your dog for the behavior you want.

Help Your Dog to Make Good Decisions

Some dogs are very excited about visitors entering the home, while others are nervous or uncomfortable. This can be due to a lack of socialization and individual personality, as well as breed traits. For example, some breeds developed as guardians may be initially wary about visitors.

For puppies and dogs that came home during the pandemic, the experience of guests coming into the house can be particularly disorienting. If you know that your dog gets overly excited when the doorbell rings, or when people come into the house for the first time, it’s important to help your pup to make good decisions. One option is to put your dog in a crate or another room before the doorbell rings, and bring them out only after the initial excitement has calmed down.

Give Your Dog Private Space

If your dog starts getting overwhelmed or stressed by visitors, take a break and bring your pup outside for a walk, or for some relaxation time in a private area of the home. Short and successful training sessions with visitors —instead of prolonged, overwhelming exposure — will help your dog to start making positive associations with guests coming into your home.

As you are preparing for the holidays, it’s helpful to set up space in your home to allow your dog to get away from the stress of festivities. Put your dog’s crate in an out-of-the-way place that’s accessible to them but away from visitors. Alternatively, you can designate a room in your house for your dog to relax in if they are struggling or overstimulated. Consider using a baby gate to secure them inside the room for breaks. Give them a stuffed KONG or other safe chew, which will provide mental stimulation and help your pup relax.

Advocate For Your Dog

If your dog is nervous about meeting people, don’t force them to interact with visitors. Instead, put your pup in a private, quiet, and safe place in another part of the house for the duration of your visitors’ stay. Many people love dogs but they don’t always engage safely or appropriately with them. It can be helpful to prepare your friends/family for what your dog needs to be successful. Be your dog’s best advocate and explain to your guests how you would like them to engage, whether that means ignoring your dog completely, or giving your dog treats in exchange for calm behavior like “sit.” If you have children visiting the home, make sure that kids aren’t allowed to interact with your dog unsupervised, and that they are taught appropriate ways to pet and/or play with your dog.

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