Upcoming Workshop: Join us IN PERSON August 10th-11th in Carnation, WA — Click here for details!

Advocating for Your Dog During Holiday Gatherings

by | Dec 22, 2011 | 2 comments

I was going to write about something heavy and controversial, but as the snow falls outside my window and my dogs snooze peacefully in my office, I just couldn’t.  Rest assured, you will get that post, just not today.

Instead I got to thinking about how many dogs bite people this time of year. Not exactly a “peaceful” topic, but so very necessary right now.  It really is tragic because most of the time these poor dogs are put in unfair situations, and too often it is children who are bitten.  When dogs bite kids everybody loses, period.

It’s classic, really.  Family gathers for the holiday. Dog is included because everyone loves the dog and the dog is always “fine.”  For hours on end the dog greets incoming guests and accepts petting from people he hasn’t seen for a year.  Dog is probably ok at first but as the social event drags on his stress levels rise.  He might get yelled at for trying to sneak a snack, causing his stress levels to rise even further.  Then, finally, as everyone is leaving, the dog hits his boiling point and bites someone.  What the trainer hears is that he was “fine” the whole party, why did he bite?  He is such a sweet dog, this was so unexpected.  And the trainer bites her tongue, because this is the third call like this she has received this week.

The moral of the story is this: your dog does not want to deal with your party, no matter how sweet and social he is.  A long social gathering is stressful for everyone, and the family dog doesn’t know why this gathering is happening or when it will end like you do.  He also doesn’t have the luxury of easing his holiday stress with alcohol like many people choose to do.  He can tolerate a little bit of your party if he is a well-socialized, well-rounded animal but he should not be expected to tolerate it for hours on end.  Just think of how exhausted you are once everyone clears out for the night. Can you imagine being unable to communicate that you’re tired, and unable to understand what the party is for?

A better option for your dog is to be left in a quiet room with a lovely raw bone to chew.  Let him outside periodically and give him some attention then, but do not expect him to roam the party for hours.

What about the family trip scenario?  When you and your extended family rent a cabin for the holidays and choose to bring the dog along, understand how tough that is for a dog.  Depending on your dog and your family, boarding your dog at a great kennel might be a kinder option.  If not, be sure that your dog has his own place to escape to and try to keep to your dog’s regular routine as much as possible.  Be sure your dog gets plenty of opportunity for rest, and if your dog isn’t used to being around children it is best not to allow the kids to interact with the dog at all.

I understand people who want their dog to be part of the holidays because like you, my dogs are very important family members.  But being sure that they have what they need during these times, and not insisting that they be part of the party is actually the kindest thing you can do for them.  If you have that rare dog that is the life of the party, it is still best to give him breaks throughout the gathering.

Give your dog the gift of his own place to feel safe this year, and happy holidays everyone!

Kelso enjoying his favorite thing about winter (here’s a hint; it’s NOT holiday-related!).


  1. Jen Robison

    I’ll be honest here, as much as it shames me. I just had this happen at my holiday gathering with my own dog. I had some family and friends over for dinner. But before this, I removed my dogs bed from the dining room where it normally sits and put it in the basement (mistake number 1). My dog is a large breed and cannot get up and down the stairs super easily, so I should have known that he wouldn’t seek refuge down there on his own. Mistake number 2 is now my dog has had his “quiet place” removed and there are a house full of people and no where for him to go. He lays quietly on the rug in the middle of the kitchen instead. My kids start rough housing with each other and my daughter pushes my son who trips over the dog. The dog in turn “mouth punches” my son on the leg and then looks at me, fearful of retaliation.
    No skin was broken, but my son’s heart was (and my dogs too). He felt so bad. It was then that I felt the shame. I knew better, I know better. I took away all of my dogs comforting quiet places and forced him to join my party. It’s terribly sad to me that I didn’t even consider the stress and discomfort this made him feel. And, I see this often when visiting other family members homes during the holidays. I am so grateful that you wrote this. It opened my eyes even further into what my dog must have been feeling at the time. I think this is a huge issue that needs to be brought to the attention of dog owners. Thank you.

    • cogdogtrainer

      Thanks for your honesty, Jen. Fenris will have happier holidays from now on, and no one was seriously hurt, so don’t beat yourself up about it!



  1. Dogs and the Fourth of July « The Cognitive Canine - [...] general holiday rules for dogs apply here, and if you haven’t done so you should read my blog about advocating for…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for more help from Sarah?

Pricing Starts at $47.00

Webinars & Courses

By Sarah Stremming

Choose from a variety of self-study courses and webinars ranging in topics from reactivity to crate training.

Adolescent dogs, multi-dog households, and even ringside sport skills are all here.

Pricing Starts at $79 Per Month

Cog Dog Membership

With Sarah Stremming

Can’t decide which course is for you? Want to see what the classroom has to offer and then some?

Valued at over $2500 with exclusive live events and access to community advice (and mine!), join the membership!

Custom Pricing

Private Coaching

With Sarah Stremming

For folks ready to do the deep work, who need help from me. Major behavior concerns, complex issues, and dedicated people come here to transform their current experience to more closely match the one they imagined. Availability is extremely limited, but the results are worth a wait.