The holiday season at the end of the year brings a whole bunch of festivities and celebrations that it gets busy fast. All the additional activity and excitement can be a lot to handle. For you and your dog.

Then there’s the extra guests and visitors, numerous deliveries, sights, sounds, smells. Weird decorations that apparently aren’t for peeing or chewing on.

It’s easy to get swept up in the stress of all the preparation for the humans and forget that not only is your dog likely picking up on your stress, but it may well be adding to their own. Getting ready for Christmas or any other festival with your dog doesn’t have to be a big pile of hassle though. By just considering a few things you can make your, and their life a lot easier.

Prepare a Dog Zone

I advocate hard for a dog zone all year round, but I think it’s especially important when you are expecting guests. Not everyone is dog savvy, some people will think they know your dog better than you, and others just couldn’t follow instructions if their life depended on it. 

I like to take the guesswork and stress out of the situation and have a safe space for my dogs where the rules for guests are simple. Leave the dogs alone when they are in the dog zone. 

The dog zone should be a space that is specifically set up to keep your dog safe and happy while guests cause havoc in your home. Even the most well adjusted dogs who love people can feel overwhelmed when Aunt Fiona has had too many sherries and is lurching around finding unsuspecting victims to hug up on. 

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Even if your guests are teetotal and keep their arms and hands to themselves, having a crowded house with more noise and activity than usual can be a bit much. 

For those dogs that find people hard to begin with, or who dislike a change in routine, the dog zone is an essential part of your Christmas planning. 

It doesn’t have to be difficult. At a minimum you will need:

  • An area that is cordoned off, either a different room, or a penned-off area within a quieter room. 
    • I don’t recommend a pen in the room with all the activity or a crate and avoid placing the area on a thoroughfare. The point is for your dog to be able to switch off and relax.
  • A comfy bed or resting place
  • Toys and/or chews that are safe to leave your dog unsupervised with. 
  • Activities like interactive puzzles or stuffed food toys. Again, safe for them to be left unsupervised with. 
  • Fresh water. 

Things you might want to consider:

  • A clear sign, that even drunk Aunt Fiona can’t miss, telling your guests to stay out and leave your dog alone. 
  • A camera so you can check on them without bothering them. This is particularly useful for those dogs who want nothing to do with your guests. 

Remind your guests about the dog zone and that it is out of bounds. 

It’s totally OK for your dog to interact and socialise with your guests if they are up for that, and if you are willing to monitor and supervise as is required. But do expect that even the most social of dogs will need a break, and I’d always recommend using the dog zone if you or someone else who is as familiar with your dog as you are is unable to supervise. 

Dogs who find guests more difficult will probably need longer in the dog zone. Don’t feel bad about having them separate, they probably don’t want to be in with all the shenanigans anyway. 

For us our dog zone tends to be the conservatory and kitchen area. We can move the dogs into one or both of those rooms as needed. They hang out in those rooms most of the time so they have plenty of their usual resting places and toys available without much extra work.

The most I do if we have many guests and I don’t know if I can trust them all to stay out is lock the doors to the conservatory. One of my dogs is super social but *a lot* and the other is not keen on people she doesn’t know and finds lots of them in her house at once a little overwhelming. She would not react well to someone she didn’t know coming into her space if someone she trusted was there. So I make sure that can’t happen.

Watch those open doors and gates

Guests leave doors and gates open when coming and going. Remind your guests to be aware of where your dog is when they come in and out. You might want to think about a “airlock” system so your dog can’t get to the front door easily. 

Get your activity toys prepped now

If you plan to use stuffed Kongs, Toppls and similar toys and you freeze them, prep them well ahead. If you keep them fresh, you can still prep a day or two ahead and keep them in the fridge. 

For lickimats and the like, set up a prep area if you can so you have everything organised. All you have to do is smear the good stuff on the toy and give it to your dog. 

Do you have guests who are asking what they can do to help? Are they are a little bummed to not be able to spend so much time with your dog? If yes, rope them in to help. 

Get several activity toys ready in the morning before it all gets hectic. Then you just need to remember to pull the next toy out and give it to your dog at the right time.

If you’ve got spare time or you know someone who has, you could set them the craft project of making a snuffle mat or snuffle ball.

I’m planning on using lickimats for breakfast this year, their usual stuffed Kongs for dinner time. I’m also prepping treats and chews hidden in toilet roll tubes stuffed inside a box and plan on giving those out while we sit down to eat. Since I plan on using dried food and treats, I can prep those well ahead of time. 

Maintain your normal routine as much as possible

Some dogs find it hard when their usual routine is broken. Keep as much of your usual routine as you can so they can anchor themselves in the familiar. 

For instance, do you normally walk them first thing? Can you keep to that schedule?

Keep to your normal feeding schedule too if you can. 

Make sure you’ve planned when you will be taking them out for a walk and any toilet trips. It’s easy to get caught up when you’re entertaining guests and have a lot to do. You could set reminders or put the kids in charge of letting the dog out to pee regularly. 

This is Not the time for training

Don’t expect to be able to train your dog in the moment. 

Christmas day is probably not the time to test how well your “not jumping on visitors” training is going.

Management should be your key strategy. 

Block access to certain rooms or areas if your dog is likely to self service to food, presents, guests socks. 

Keep your dog on lead if they are up for socialising but are too enthusiastic for some. 

There are plenty of Christmas decorations, plants,  food and whatnot that are toxic to dogs. Keep them well out of the way. 

Guests, particularly those that don’t live with canine gluttons can leave food and drink around. If your dog is likely to partake, use their safe dog zone when you can’t be actively supervising.

Consider what your dog needs and what they are capable of behaviour wise. Be honest about their proficiency level and put management in place if your dog is likely to find something tricky.

Set your dog and yourself up for success so you can all enjoy the holidays together.