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How to Make Your Dog the Perfect Houseguest

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Your friends with the incredible lake house just invited you and your dog to visit for a long weekend. Are you excited to go or stressed because you’re not sure how your dog will act?

Even the best-behaved pooches can have unexpected behavioral slip ups when hanging out in a new environment, but the good news is you can set your dog up to succeed by doing some planning before you leave and being a responsive pet parent while you’re visiting.

Getting Ready

First, brush up on your dog’s household manners. You want your dog to be a charming canine ambassador, and the best way to enchant your hosts is to show up with a polite pup.

Polish the basics, like “stay” and coming when called, and as you practice, remember to incorporate the obedience cues into your everyday activities. For example, work on four-on-the-floor greetings to curb jumpiness and get your dog used to holding a down-stay with a busy toy during dinner to prevent begging.

Keep in mind that it’s tough for dogs to generalize behaviors, so even if your dog is well trained at home, it’s possible he’ll have a tougher time following familiar instructions when in a distracting new environment.

Make sure to pack all of your dog’s necessities as well as some management tools that will make life easier for both you and your hosts. Bring your dog’s own bowls and food, a few of his favorite dog interactive toys to keep him occupied, high value dog treats, and his bed or crate if he still uses it. Consider bringing dog gates to keep your pup from roaming the house unattended, a white noise machine if he barks at unfamiliar sounds at night, and if you’re going to spend time on the beach or trails, old towels for clean-up.

What to Do Upon Arrival

Start the trip off on the right paw by bringing a thank-you gift for your hosts from your dog (yes, from your dog). A small token of appreciation, perhaps a set of tea towels with a dog motif or a dog-themed coffee table book, will set the tone for the weekend. And don’t forget about your hosts’ pooch as well. A bag of gourmet treats or a cute handmade dog toy is a sweet way to show that you appreciate their hospitality.

Maintaining positive canine relations is imperative for a stress-free visit, so take the time to properly introduce your hosts’ resident dog to your dog when you arrive. Find a neutral location where both dogs can engage in some friendly parallel walking and sniffing, then when all signs point to positive interactions, bring them to your host’s yard and let them get to know each other off leash. Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to encourage breaks throughout your stay, even if the dogs enjoy each other’s company. Allow the dogs time apart from each other to rest, which prevents overstimulation.

Even though your pooch might be a potty training pro on his home turf, there’s a chance he could slip up in a new environment. The excitement (and confusion) of a totally different daily routine might throw him off his schedule and might lead to a mess inside.

To prevent any embarrassing accidents, act as if your dog is a new puppy while you’re visiting and supervise him at all times. Your dog might only need a few potty trips when home, but it’s safer to double up on them when visiting.

Accompany your dog outside for potty trips even if your hosts have a fenced-in yard so that you can confirm that he did indeed go and then reward him for getting it right. And if you’re still worried about accidents despite your vigilance, bring a bottle of enzymatic cleanser just in case.

The easiest way to get an invitation for a return trip is to follow your hosts’ rules. Before you bring your dog up on the couch or in your bed, check with them to make sure it’s okay. Find out if there are any dog-free zones in their house, like the dining room or upstairs. Ask which parts of the yard are okay for your dog’s potty breaks and if there are any locations you should steer clear of, like near the prize rosebushes. If you take the time to understand what’s acceptable and what isn’t, you and your dog will fit seamlessly into your hosts’ home.

How to Handle Issues During Your Stay

But what if things get bumpy during your stay? Bringing your dog for a visit can lead to unforeseen challenges, like if he won’t stop chewing the throw pillows or he decides to treat the family room rug like a toilet despite your best efforts.

If things aren’t going smoothly, step up your management efforts. It might mean that your dog has to hang out on a tether near you when he’s inside so he can’t sneak off and potty, or needs to be crated when you leave the house to prevent pillow destruction. However, if you take the time to prep before you set off for the trip, bring the appropriate equipment with you and are mindful of your hosts’ rules, you and your furry best friend should have a fantastic vacation.


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Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.