Surviving the Holidays With Your Dog

by Nov 24, 2021Uncategorized

Every time a special holiday comes up, I get this question: “how do I get my dog to behave during our Thanksgiving/Christmas/Rosh HaShana/etc. Dinner?”

It’s not hard to get your dog to do the right thing, that is: leave your guests alone and lie quietly on his or her bed, or however you would like your dog to behave when you have guests over for dinner. The key is to prepare in advance. 

Below are some things to do.

Preparing (well!) in advance

I find that for my clients, the best behavior to focus on for when guests come over for dinner, especially a special holiday dinner, is teaching a reliable, relaxed “Bed” behavior. Being able to send your dog to lie calmly on their bed or in their crate – and happily stay there while you serve food or eat – is super useful!  

Click here for the steps you’ll take to teach your dog a Go to Bed behavior. 

Training a “Go to Bed” cue should happen well in advance of when you think you’ll need it. You want your dog to be proficient at it or it won’t “work” when there are huge distractions at your house – like a bunch of guests your dog has never met before, or his favorite “Aunt Aida” whom he hasn’t seen in months!

What to do before and during dinner

Dogs at festive holiday window
Surviving the holidays with your pets requires a bit of preparation

Once your dog is proficient at Go to Bed and can do it well even with distractions, here are things you can do the day of your special meal, and during it, to help your dog remain calm and out of the way:

  1. Exercise your dog 1-2 hours before guests are scheduled to arrive. No need to exhaust or over-exert your dog, but we do want him to be content to lie around for a couple of hours, and appropriate physical exercise at the right time can certainly help with that. 
  2. If your dog is an excited greeter, you can toss treats to the floor and play Sniffing Games as guests come in the door, to prevent unwanted over-excited behavior. Sniffing is relaxing for dogs, and the mental stimulation of searching for treats will help tire your dog a little more. 
  3. Don’t forget to remind your guests to ignore your dog at the table and not sneak him any food!
  4. When you are about to sit down for your meal, give your dog a special chew item on his bed. Choose an item that will hold his attention and give him something fun to do while the grownups are busy. A stuffed rubber Kong, a Himalayan Chew, Bully Stick or other appropriate chew item are good choices. You want it to be long-lasting AND highly attractive for your dog.
  5. Use treats as needed to reinforce your dog for staying on his bed, chewing his chewy or resting. You can keep a small bowl of treats next to your plate and toss them to your dog whenever he is NOT trying to get your attention, beg for food or otherwise bug your guests.
  6. Don’t worry about providing treats from the table “teaching your dog to beg”; you are using dog treats and reinforcing the correct behavior of staying calmly on his bed, which will negate any attempts by your dog to beg at the table (since you will NOT be reinforcing those behaviors).  
  7. Dogs are sometimes like little kids at big dinners: they can’t sit still that long. So find some opportunities to give your dog a break from his bed, by taking him outside for a brief potty and play break. Use a leash if you need help controlling your dog around the dinner table to guide your dog to the door and back to his bed after his break. Provide another chew item once he’s back on his station, to help keep his attention and focus on his bed and away from the guests and all the people food. 

With a little planning, training and proper reinforcement, you can enjoy your special meal with your family and your guests. Meanwhile, while your dog can enjoy everyone’s company and show off your close bond and hard work! 

A woman and a light colored dog smiling at the camera on the beach
Noy Szefler, CDBC

Noy grew up in Israel and New York, and currently lives in central Virginia, USA. She has been working professionally with dogs and their people since July 2000. In 2021, Noy founded Holistic Spirit Dog Training to provide holistic support to dogs struggling with emotional and behavioral issues. When she is not working with clients, teaching trainers or writing, she is a homeschool mom, a homesteader and a beekeeper.