Thanksgiving marks the start of the holidays. We all have a lot to be thankful for with extended families visiting and amazing meals and desserts at the ready. But a frightened pet nipping or scratching a guest, or a pet ingesting undercooked poultry or bread dough can take the tanks out of Thanksgiving. So how do we find the perfect balance of welcoming guests while keeping a pet feeling “at home”…at home?
At the top of the list…make all invited guests aware that you have a pet or several of them! Nothing says trouble like an unsuspecting guest discovering pets when they enter your home, OR showing up with a pet of their own you weren’t prepared for. A simple phone call or text is all that is needed to get a good idea of what furry, feathered or scaly pets will be celebrating with us!
Set up a “safe room” for your pet. No one wants to exclude pets from the family fun, but as a an owner and host, you really have some weighty responsibilities. You want to make your guests feel welcome while keeping your pets safe. In reality, sometimes having your pet spend a few hours in a safe space is better for everyone. After company leaves you can give them all the attention you need to remove the guilty feeling that is sure to come.
Are there any pet allergies your guests may be dealing with? Allergies can be a nightmare to deal with. Some folks may be allergic to certain species, or breeds, hair or even saliva. Obviously the first thing to do is put in the extra time to clean and vacuum your home. Don’t be offended if some guests just bow out from the festivities. Allergies are anything but fun for severe allergy sufferers.
Believe it or not, some folks are simply afraid of animals…even yours! Some may be okay with small breeds or cats but are terrified by the bigger dogs. If Duke has a bark that shakes the rafters, prepare guests for what to expect! Prior bad experiences or just inexperience around animals can leave a bad taste for pets in general. Plan ahead: have pet snacks on hand so guests can treat your pet to one or two. Also, take a minute to just explain “Dog Basics 101”:
- Don’t stare directly into the eyes of a dog. Dogs may consider this a challenge. Teach guests to give a quick glance and look away.
- An extended hand, palm upward and flat, is the best way to greet a new dog.
- Avoid touching the top of a dog’s head as this may be read as a sign of dominance. Speak in a soft, happy voice. Dogs are very astute and can sense fear and confidence, and they will react accordingly.
Obviously, if your dog has reacted aggressively in the past, it is much better for both your pet and guests to keep him in a safe room. He’ll be fine with his toys, bed, food, water, and maybe with a TV on for company. Always check on him throughout the festivities for reassurance for BOTH of you!
What if your pets don’t have a mean bone in their bodies? What about Mr. Exuberant Labrador or overly affectionate Miss Kitty? While no ill will is intended, your guests may not welcome all the attention. It is your responsibility to keep your pets (and sometimes human kids) from being a nuisance to your guests! Some folks don’t eat unless they wash up after petting an animal. A dog who keeps his snout lifting a guest’s hand can really put a cramp in eating those hors d’oeuvres. Begging is a no-no, as is loud barking and meowing, and jumping on the company! It is never too late to start teaching your pets how to be the perfect furry hosts at your holiday gatherings.
Now, sometimes it is the guest who is the problem. Guests freely feeding from their plate, or kids roughhousing with Fluffy can be setting the stage for unwelcome consequences. Pets can become confused and frightened by uncommon behaviors. Take the time to establish your house rules and gently insist that your guests abide by them:
- Guests should not feed your pet food, except with treats approved by you.
- Guests should not chase your pet or make him feel trapped or insecure in his own home.
- Pets should not be picked up or cuddled against their will. If your pet is accustomed to having his own private space, keep it off limits!
If guests just can’t be trained to follow the rules, remove the pet to his safe room for the duration of the evening…and make that room OFF LIMITS to everyone.
On the other hand, if your pets and guests are well behaved, then everyone can share in the holiday fun. Unrealistic expectations set the stage for failure. Prepare for the worst case scenario while expecting the best to happen.