From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, it can seem like one party after another. It’s fun and festive, of course, but, let’s face it, also a bit stressful. And when you’re the one hosting, it can feel that way to your pet too. Even a normally social dog or friendly cat can get overwhelmed as one merrymaker after another arrives. Plus, traditional party trappings can pose a hazard to your pet. We’ve got expert advice on how to calm a dog down to keep your best friend happy and safe during any holiday gathering. Here are eight tips from Annie Angell, CPDT-KA and co-owner of My Two Dogs in Brooklyn, NY, on how to make your next soiree more fun and less stressful for your pets—and you.
#1: Start early. Angell’s main strategy with her own pets at the holidays is simple: “I consider their well-being first and work with that.” Beyond that, it’s always easier to have a plan in place than to try to solve a problem when you’re already rushed getting into party mode. “My best advice is to start to train your dog in basic manners early in your relationship. It’s a nice way to strengthen your bond. It’s also nice to have friends over for a celebration and have your dog be able to handle it and participate.”
#2: Beware of the buffet. Keep your pet away from party food. A typical holiday spread often contains several foods and drinks that can be harmful to pets. Chocolate is perhaps the best known, as well as all forms of alcohol, of course. But nuts, in particular macadamia, can be poisonous, olives are choking hazards, and grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs. “Remember, if it smells good to us, it smells doubly good to our dogs!” says Angell. Above all, make sure everyone at the party is on board. Make it clear that your pets are not allowed to have any of the party food. A healthier alternative to table scraps is a treat or chew specifically designed for your pet’s needs. Pet Naturals of Vermont Calming Dog Chews, for example, do double-duty: it’s a treat that contains natural ingredients to help your dog relax and can even help with separation anxiety in dogs if you need to keep your dog in a crate.
#3: Watch the door. With guests coming in and out, saying hello and goodbye, a cat or small dog can sneak out before anyone notices. This happens more often than you might think. Don’t linger in the doorway welcoming or seeing off your company, and ask others to take a quick look around before opening the door.
#4: Secure the tree. A Christmas tree can be lovely to gather around, sipping eggnog and chatting. It’s also, essentially, a cat magnet. “No tree is safe from cats!” warns Angell. Kitties have been known to climb up a tree, sending the whole thing crashing down, sometimes more than once in one season. If it’s a fresh tree, a dog may try to drink the water. Angell recommends bending the ornament hooks around the branches to better keep them on, and avoiding glass ornaments. “You might also consider putting a small exercise pen around the tree,” she says.
#5: Consider your options. You know your pet best. Many dogs and cats get over excited or skittish when company arrives, but soon calm down and go with the flow. If you have doubts as to how to calm a dog down and if the calming part will actually happen, it may be worth asking a neighbor or relative your pet likes to take him or her for a few hours. If that’s not an option or your pup seems to suffer from severe separation anxiety, it may be a smart move to board your pet for the night and let the experts that know how to calm a dog down care for your four-legged friend. If neither is feasible, then give your dog more frequent, longer walks the day or two leading up to the party, and shower your kitty with extra play sessions. Both will tire out your pet. Then, as guests begin to arrive, putting your dog on a leash can help keep him focused and restrained, says Angel. If your pet is okay with being left alone for a short time, you might want to set him or her up in another room away from the noise. A dog crate such as the Frisco Fold & Carry Double Door Dog Crate, may work out well, whether you’re putting him into a room away from the action, or transporting him to a friend’s house or kennel. This may take some getting used to, though. “If you have never trained your dog to stay alone in a crate, a party is not a good time to start,” cautions Angell.
#6: Protect the purses—and your pet. Handbags, gifts, coats and leather gloves might all be chewed up or urinated on, especially if your pet is anxious or suffers from separation anxiety. This is obviously a problem for your guests, but also for your pet. Dogs have been known to eat candy, hair elastics, even lipsticks they ferret out of purses. The obvious answer is to make sure every last belonging is put into a room your pet can’t get into. The more realistic approach, says Angell, is to get creative. “We once laid a sheet on top of a hope chest, put the coats and bags on top of the sheet and then folded the sheet over and tucked all corners as much as possible! It kept our cats from burrowing into the coats and stealing scarves.” Strategic placement of chairs or other furniture can also be thought out ahead of time.
#7: Appoint a cat monitor. Cats seem to fall into two camps at parties: the ones who just disappear somewhere for the entire night, and those who, well, don’t. “We had one cat who thought he was running for mayor! He had to say hello to everybody, sit on a few laps and even beg for food. We would try to keep him away from the table,” recalls Angell. She suggests asking a cat lover in the group to act as kitty monitor, keeping an eye on your feline, whether she’s hiding in a closet or trying to get a taste of the dip. Some cat parents turn to products designed specifically for keeping felines calm in stressful situations, such as Comfort Zone with Feliway Cat Diffuser Double Refill or Sentry HC Good Behavior Pheromone Cat Calming Collar.
#8: Tote your tootsie! If you have a toy breed dog, it might be easiest on both of you—not to mention pretty darn cute—if you put him in a pet sling and let him hang out with you the whole night, suggests Angell.
Keep your pet safe and calm and learn how to calm a dog down so that you, your pets and your guests can all enjoy the party.