Dogs greeting in snowy field
The holidays are coming, and many of us may be visiting family and friends. Isn’t it fun when we can also take our four-legged companions along to share in the festivities? If you are lucky enough to have that option, here are some tips on how to help make sure the visit goes as smoothly as possible.

First, visiting a new place with your dog always requires some thought beforehand. Always make sure your hosts are OK with you taking your dog to their homes. Never take a pet visitor without asking ahead of time, because some hosts might have allergies to dogs, have another pet who might get upset or simply not want another pet under foot in a crowded household. Even if your pet is invited, you also need to think about whether there are any potential hazards in your host’s home that would make it unsafe for your dog to visit. For example, do your hosts live on a busy road, and/or are there young children who might forget to close an outside door, allowing your pet to escape? If so, you might want to decline or minimize such risks by also taking along some baby gates or a crate to help keep your pet safe.

Once those logistical issues are out of the way, it comes down to making sure everyone — visiting dog and resident pets — are comfortable and having fun or, at the very least, safe together.

Introductions Are Key

Assuming the dogs in question are not exhibiting any overt signs of aggression toward each other, such as barking, staring, growling, baring their teeth or lunging, I usually follow a few basic rules when introducing a visiting dog to a resident dog and to someone else’s house.

First, I recommend people introduce dogs to each other off the property at a neutral location. This could be at a local park or several streets away from the host dog’s property. They can perform a slow approach at a distance from each other, with both dogs on a leash. Both owners can take treats to reward each dog for being calm around the other. Observe each dog’s body language as they approach each other. If they appear to have relaxed body language, allow them to approach and sniff each other. Praise calm, appropriate signaling (ears pulled slightly to the side, no hard stares) between the dogs. Depending on how the dogs are interacting, you may allow the dogs to briefly play with each other or exhibit play bow behavior while still on leash. After several minutes, have the dogs perform a parallel walk alongside each other toward the host dog’s home. When the dogs enter the residence, keep the dogs on leash for a few minutes to observe both dogs’ body language. If there continues to be relaxed postures with no stiffening, direct eye contact or raised hackles (piloerection), then both dogs can be allowed off leash.

If there are any concerns, leave the leashes on and allow the dogs to drag them around for a few more minutes until both owners are more comfortable. You will need to supervise to make sure the leashes do not get caught on furniture, etc. Another option, if possible, is to take the dogs outside and allow them to play with each other in the yard for a few minutes before they are taken into the house.

Keep in mind that some dogs are more reactive on a leash. Assuming there are no dog aggression issues, if one of the dogs appears to behave worse on a leash, then it might be a good idea to introduce them off leash in an open, fenced area, such as a dog park. Or allow them to meet with a barrier between them, such as a chain-link fence, baby gate, etc. 

“Guest” Bathroom Etiquette

It is not usually necessary to show the visiting dog where the dog bed(s), toys and water are, because usually the visiting dog will follow the resident dog’s lead. While it’s a good idea for the owner of the visiting dog to bring the dog’s own bed, toys, etc., keep in mind that some dogs may want to play with the host dog’s toys or lie on his bed, because it is something new. When it comes to bathroom needs, however, it is always a good idea to show the visiting dog where he can go to eliminate outside. It is also a good idea to take the visiting dog out every two to three hours during the visit to allow him to eliminate. Sometimes with the stress or excitement of a new environment, they may need to eliminate more frequently or you may need to remind them to go. Like children, they may get so caught up in play or excitement that they forget they need to go until it is too late. We would not want our dogs to make that lasting impression in our host’s home! 

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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