Help Your Dog be a Pawfect Guest During the Holidays

By Joan Hunter Mayer

With the holiday season fast approaching, we want to share some tips to help you help your dog be a courteous guest. After all, visits should be fun and festive for everyone — especially the host! Follow our lead and you and your well-mannered canine will not only enjoy holiday outings but will likely get invited back for more pet-friendly celebrations in the future.

Remember Your Etiquette

  • First, make sure everyone is on board with hosting a pup. Consider leaving Fluffy at home if she doesn’t play nicely with new people or other animals, or if your hosts’ pets are not happy with furry guests.

  • Next, be mindful about keeping things clean and tidy. No matter how gracious your friends and family are, creating extra work for them shouldn’t be part of your visit. 

  • Bring your own supplies – even cleaning supplies to help tidy up after Fluffy’s stay. (Maybe a lint roller too?) Pack what you need without relying on your host to provide anything for your dog.  Depending on the length and nature of your visit, you may need a leash, harness, collar, bowls, food puzzles, toys, food and treats, medications/supplements, grooming aids, waste bags, a bed or crate, and towels. Remember to plan ahead for the types of enrichment you’ll be providing Fido while you’re catching up with your pals.

  • Positive reinforcement isn’t just for pooches. We love folks who welcome guest dogs into their homes! Show gratitude from the get-go by bringing them, and perhaps even their pets, a little gift.

Remember Your Petiquette:

Some dog behavior skills are always likely to be needed no matter where you go, such as sitting, lying down, going to his or her bed on cue and leaving/dropping/trading items when asked. Being well-versed in these skills can help keep your dog and your hosts safe and relaxed. And while the ‘day of’ is not an optimal time to start training new behaviors, it could turn into a wonderful opportunity to show off that your fur kid is at the top of his or her manners game! (No pressure…)

Pet parents have many wonderful options for learning how to teach their pups these basics (sit, down, stay and so on). There are blogs (including some of our previous Edhat posts!), private training options, books, e-books, and YouTube videos galore to choose from. Whichever route you choose, when it comes to training, just be sure to be a best friend and advocate for your dog by sticking with techniques that are positive, force-free and fun! Then build from there. On that note, let’s dive in.

Sit – Multiple successful repetitions of Sit in your living room means you have successfully helped Fido learn to sit – for you – in your living room. That’s great, but to get the most out of your valuable training time, help your inquisitive canine learn to generalize. Once Fido is responding to your requests under one specific set of circumstances (same handler, same location, same level of distractions), start to practice the Sit cue in a variety of locations and situations. This would be a good time to encourage other people to give the cue and reward as well, so Fido learns to Sit when others ask. Even 2-3 times a day for 2-3 minutes can be very helpful. Generalize any new skill in this way so you can take it on the road!

Going to a Mat on Cue – If you’re visiting friends, will your dog be allowed on furniture? If the answer is “yes,” designating a special blanket, mat or towel from home (“place”) for her to use will keep things clear and consistent for your dog and protect the furniture. It’s a simple way to convey to your hosts that you respect their home and appreciate their hospitality. 

Settle – You can train your dog to perform a settle or down-stay on the bed, towel or mat you have designated. Remember to reward Fido for being on his “magic carpet.” Dogs are very clever and soon learn, “Hmm, if I stay on my magic carpet, I get treats and toys and I get to hang out.”  Just try to avoid creating an unintentional ‘time-out’ by sequestering your dog to an area without anything to do while everyone else is having fun.

Potty Breaks – You’ll want to keep a close eye on your pup to help prevent any unfortunate incidents.

When nature calls, take your dog to the requested outdoor spot to do his or her business, and then positively reinforce the appropriate behavior — so that he or she learns where to go in this new situation. Keep in mind that when routines change, bathroom routines and bodily functions can change too. This means it’s even more important to keep a watchful eye on your canine companion and ensuring he or she is given plenty of opportunities to go potty. 

Leaving Things Alone When Asked – Does your dog know, really know, the cue for those times when the roast is resting too close to the edge of the counter, or a box of chocolates is left on the end table? ‘Leave it’ is a cue that takes tons of practice (via repetition) and high-value rewards. And it’s more than worth the effort! A well-trained ‘leave it’ can be the difference between your dog stealing a turkey off the counter and your dinner being safe! To reinforce this cue, make it clear to dogs that there is consistently something wonderful (super-duper extra special) to be had if they move away from the tempting item they are considering. It’s kind of a “treat in the guardian’s hand is worth two on the counter” situation, if you will.

 More Pro Training Tips:

  • The key to success in teaching any behavior is to start easy and go slowly. 

  • Remember to use the cue word only once, then wait. If Fido doesn’t respond, think about ways you can help your pup succeed, perhaps by making adjustments in the motivation, environment and/or level of difficulty. 

  • Need help? A qualified, force-free dog trainer can walk you through teaching your pup positive, practical solutions to everyday challenges (while enhancing the bonds you share!).

  • As with all your training adventures, have fun, be patient and remember that reasonable expectations at the beginning will lead to great results later. 

  • Go easy on yourself and your furry friends. The behavior of stressed-out pets – which may include eliminating indoors, vocalizing repeatedly, and seeming to forget every bit of training you ever did with them – can exasperate even the most calm, collected human. It’s okay. Take a deep breath and then try to accommodate your pet’s need for stress reduction however you can. 

  • Make sure your dogs (and you!) are getting enough quiet time, enough you-time, and enough exercise and playtime to help shake off any anxiety that comes with holiday festivities. 

Whether at home or away, most importantly, remember all the ways you are thankful for your best fur friend. And, while we’re on the topic of gratitude, to all of you – compassionate pet parents, dog lovers and animal advocates – Thank You! We wish you a magical holiday season!

The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!


Written by Joan the Dog Coach

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer who founded "The Inquisitive Canine." More information can be found at

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