How To Prep for the Holiday Season with Your Dog
Step 30 of 33 in the Dogly Manners Channel
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

Set your dog up for success for the holiday season - or any family & friends gathering.

Enjoying the holidays, holiday parties, or any gathering with friends and family (of course, that includes your dog) is so much easier when we prepare in advance to make sure get-togethers are safe and stress-free for everyone.

Let's talk about what you can do to set up your dog - and yourself - to have the happiest holiday season and celebrations together.

Here are some of my top holiday pet safety tips...

Set the stage for safety & calm

Many of the same things that make the holidays beautiful also bring potential holiday hazards if not set up with an eye for safety, particularly for dogs and children.


If you’re hosting holiday festivities, here's how to see your home with a safety lens for the holidays:

1) Christmas tree

Christmas trees usually hold little interest for most dogs and are a non-issue. Tree water is another story - standing water can harbor bacteria, molds, or other agents (fertilizers, chemicals sprayed on trees, or sap and pinene leached from the tree) that can cause your dog (or cat) to become extremely sick with only a few sips.

You'll want to be sure access to the Christmas tree water is blocked with a cover of some kind (a makeshift plastic lid and tape work if your stand doesn't have a cover) just to be sure no thirsty or curious pet can get into it.

If you have a puppy, habitual chewer, or teether, be mindful that chewing on branches or swallowing pine needles can also cause serious digestive tract issues, so you won't want to leave your pup alone around the tree (actually a good idea for any dog whether a usual chewer or not).

2) Holiday lights

Nothing says holiday spirit like lights, so much so that many of us have string lights up year around or for multiple holidays. With lights come electrical cords and batteries, so we always want to keep puppies or busy chewers away from tempting cords or loose batteries.

And as always, we want to set our pups up for success by not leaving them alone in a space with temptations that could spell trouble. Your pet's safety always comes first, so it's best to be mindful of any potentially dangerous decorations.

3) Other holiday decorations

It's a good idea to look at all decorations through the lens of pet safety. Is anything likely to end up in your pet's mouth? Or present a risk to your pet's health in any other way? Keeping wrapped presents away and out of paws' reach until gift opening time also removes the opportunity for curious pets to tear into a package, ingest wrapping paper, and be exposed to a potential choking hazard.

4) Common holiday plants

Seasonal holiday plants are often mentioned as something to be aware of around dogs, and especially cats. Poinsettias usually get a bad rap for toxicity, but actually worse are mistletoe, holly berry (both the berries and the leaves), and amaryllis. Even non-toxic plants can cause stomach upset so if you have any potential plant munchers, best to keep all plants out of reach to keep your pet safe.


Designate in advance who is responsible for your dog at what times

Be sure to decide in advance of hosting any holiday guests who is responsible for your dog at all times. That means exactly which person in your family will be keeping an eye on your dog; having a general approach where everyone is watchful of your dog usually translates to no one watching the dog at any given point in the hubbub of festivities.

Make sure it is really clear who is in charge of your dog when - whether that's the whole time or divided by meals, gift exchange, etc. Communicate beforehand so everyone knows what they're doing and throughout when you're doing specific hand-offs.

1) Have a plan around guests arriving.

Arrival is potentially the most excitable time for your dog when people are coming to your door, meeting and greeting, and generally doing all the things that cause your dog to react however your dog reacts to activity at your front door, new people, people talking excitedly/possibly leaning in toward you/your dog.

No one knows your dog better than you, so make a plan around guests arriving that will be comfortable and calm for your dog (and thus, your guests).

Before holiday guests arrive you will want to decide:

  • Do you want your dog to greet guests outside first? Taking it outside where there is more space and away from the front door, which is usually a tighter space and more emotionally loaded in your dog's mind can make greetings more laid back.
  • Do you want your dog to be in a back, quiet room with a chew toy during arrivals, then brought out calmly after everyone is in and settled?
  • Will you keep your dog on leash or behind a gate or x-pen during arrivals?
  • And who is in charge of rewarding your dog during arrivals/greetings?

Thinking through this in advance will avoid confusion and set your dog up for success right from the start of holiday parties, making it so much easier to keep your dog content and calm through the rest of your gathering.

For more on managing jumping and "teaching your dog to say hi" calmly, check out this guide if you haven't already in the Manners Channel.

2) Decide where your dog will be most comfortable during festivities.

Where will your dog be happiest throughout your gathering? Some dogs love to hang out with everyone, will be frustrated if they're not, and will happily fall asleep at your feet or on their bed as long as they're where their people are.

If "go to bed/or mat" is already in your dog's skill set, this is a great time to use it. And if you'd like to add this incredibly useful and versatile skill to your repertoire, you and your dog can learn it here in my "go to mat" series.

For other dogs, it's all too much and they are happier in a cozy, quiet room with engaging toys and whatever they enjoy on their own. You can also use your gate or x-pen to block off a comfortable, spacious area for your dog to feel safe and protected, at a distance but within sight of the action.

All these choices depend on your individual dog and the nature of your event (how many people, familiar or unfamiliar people, noise level, etc). And remember, wherever your dog hangs out, you still have a designated person responsible for keeping an eye on him or her.

3) Have a plan for mealtime & food in general

Food is naturally a central part of holidays and gatherings. If you have a chow hound or counter surfer, you'll want to think through management techniques and tools to keep holiday treats out of reach.

  • If you're serving a big meal, how is your dog going to fit into that?
  • For the many snacks that may be around in various locations, how will you keep them from getting snagged by your favorite food stealer?

Especially if your guests aren't familiar with your family food practices, what's allowed, and which foods are dog-safe, you might want to put your gate or x-pen to work to keep your dog separated from tasty temptations or accidental drops of dangerous foods (like a raisin cookie or a grape).

Be sure to reward your dog behind the gate/x-pen with his or her own high value treat - a sturdy chew toy stuffed with real chicken or other meat, for example.


Know how you will manage dogs + kids

With dogs who aren't familiar with kids or kids who aren't familiar with dogs, you'll want to know how you will handle who is where etc. at all times.

Children could feel afraid or overwhelmed by dogs; some could be drawn to them like a magnet and possibly overwhelm your dog. A sudden movement or food in a child's hand could throw even your normally well-behaved dog off his or her game and create a dangerous situation.

A good conversation to have with parent-guests in advance

It's important for children to know how you do and don't behave around dogs, but not all kids have been around dogs or taught what to do.

Having a conversation in advance with any guests bringing children is a good idea so everyone has the same expectations and awareness - and you have a plan.

Get expert tips for a stress-free and safe holiday party season with your dog. Learn how to create a calming environment, manage mealtime, and handle interactions with guests and kids.

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Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly

Now that you have these holiday safety tips in mind and a plan for gatherings, guests, and your dog, enjoy every holiday season to the fullest!

For more on training and skills that make life better for you and your dog during the holiday season and every day, be sure to check out the next guide on how to make dinner parties easier as well as other guides in the Manners Channel.

If you have any questions, ask them in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel. Or, if you need more personalized 1-1 help, sign up to work with me here!

Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Tressa because she sees training as a journey to better canine communication.

Tressa guides you

Anxiety - Kids & Dogs - Manners - Bite Prevention - Reactivity - Walking

Tressa is certified

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner - & Family Paws Parent Educator