What to Consider If Your Dog Is Going to Be a Holiday Houseguest

What’s Mine Is, Well, Mine

Because food is often a trigger for aggressive behavior in dogs, I recommend people pick up the food bowl and not allow the dogs to have any conflict over the bowls whether they are full or empty. I also recommend keeping dogs away from food containers or any areas containing food, such as the pantry and kitchen, in order to avoid any potential conflict. If the dogs are offered treats or chewies, then they should be separated while they are working on the treats. Dogs should be fed separately, either on opposite sides of the room from each other with adult supervision or in completely separate rooms.

Take a Break

Depending on the dogs, I usually recommend allowing your dog to have a “nap time.” This is a time when each dog can relax and decompress and get away either from the other dogs or, if you are visiting family for the holidays, the crush of new and unfamiliar people. Even being around familiar people and socializing all the time can be very tiring and stressful. It is never a bad idea to place the dogs in separate rooms or crates and give them a nice tasty chewy treat or food-filled puzzle toy and allow them some alone time. This can be 15 to 20 minutes or up to one to two hours. Dogs who are not comfortable around new people or appear to be getting overwhelmed should always have a “safe, secure” place to retreat to.

Cats and Other Pets

If the visiting dog has not had exposure to cats and other small furry pets, then they should be kept in another room. If it's just a brief visit, it may not be worth the time and effort for the host and visitor to work on introductions. If the visiting dog is staying longer, then you want to introduce the visiting dog slowly to the cat. Make sure that both parties see each other first at a distance, ideally separated by a baby gate. That way, they can see and smell but not reach each other. We want to leave enough space between them until we determine how the cat is going to react. If the visiting dog is too excitable or close, the cat may feel threatened and may want to run. This would be the worst thing for the cat to do, because your dog’s first instinct generally is to chase after quick-moving animals. We do not want the visiting dog to learn that it is great fun to chase after the cat! Sometimes, the resident cat needs space and will want to hide from the visiting dog. In that case, do not force any pets who are showing obvious signs of discomfort to stay close to each other. Instead of socializing or allowing the animals to get used to each other, keep them apart. Otherwise, your efforts instead may be reinforcing a negative experience.

If the visiting dog exhibits obvious anxious, fearful or aggressive behaviors, then it is sending a clear message to the owner that he does not enjoy visiting other dogs or other people’s homes. For the remainder of your visit, do your best to keep your dog away from other pets or people who he is reacting to. Next time, it may be best to leave the dog home when visiting.


However, many dogs take quite well to the adventure of a visit. Hopefully, these tips will make holiday visiting fun for everyone in the family!

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