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Thanksgiving: Holiday Stress Reducers

     Greeting Guests
     Stress-Busting Strategies
     Holiday Travel Stress Savers
     Related Articles


Are you having visitors for the holidays? Or will you be visiting other folks and bringing your dog? Following are ways to reduce anxiety for people and pets alike. You'll also find links to helpful articles online that detail how to cope with stressful situations as well as prevent calamities. Many of the safety tips also can be applied to safeguard children.

Greeting Guests:

Does your dog greet visitors in a calm and friendly manner? If not, don't wait for guests to arrive -- start teaching and practicing good behaviors now.

For example, if your dog is overly friendly and jumps on visitors, take this advice. First, teach your dog the basic commands of Sit and Stay. Practice in a variety of locations. Then for the guest-greeting training, enlist a friend to help. As handler, you tell the dog to Sit. The other person approaches the dog. The moment the dog stands up, turn and walk him away from the other person. Then put him into a Sit again. Repeat. Praise and treat him when he remains calm at the person's approach. Keep practicing. As part of the reward, the friend can gently pet him...as long as he remains calm. If he lifts his rear or otherwise shows excitement, stop the attention and praise, and have the other person walk away. The dog will learn to associate calm behavior with the reward of getting attention from the visitor (and praise from you), which is typically what he craves. You can also have the visitor give the dog small treats for exhibiting calm behavior. Have a treat jar ready by the door.

For more ways to help dogs cope with visitors, along with tips for managing unsociable dogs, see the tipsheet listed below.

Stress-Busting Strategies for People and Pets:

  • When having visitors or when there is any change or disruption in your household (wedding planning, new baby, holiday preparation, new person or pet moving into the home), pets can get very anxious, and even frightened. Reduce stress levels for everyone by keeping feeding and exercise on a regular schedule. Keep in mind that too much excitement or disruption may cause stomach upset or trigger or aggravate illness.
  • Exercise your dog before you have guests over. Exercise will reduce stress for you and your dog...plus, a tired dog will likely be less rambunctious when visitors arrive.
  • Rescue Remedy, a Bach flower essence available in most health food stores, is a natural stress reliever that many folks keep on hand at home and in travel kits. It can often help both people and animals recover from injury, fright, illness, travel fatigue, chocolate ingestion and irritation. Put a few drops in the dog’s water bowl or portable water container. For stressed or injured animals, rub a drop on their ear or put a drop on the towel in their crate or carrier. Flower essences are free of harmful effects and can be used along with conventional medicines. Another safe, nontoxic Rescue Remedy-like product is Animal Emergency Trauma Solution, available from www.greenhopeessences.com, where you can also get Flee Free to combat fleas nontoxically. Other flower essence sources include anaflora.com and perelandra-ltd.com.
  • Set aside a safe, quiet room in which the dog can escape holiday activity and guests.
  • During holiday activity, changes in the household and travel, dogs may need more water since they pant more when they feel stressed. So always keep fresh water available for them to drink.
  • Anticipate guest arrivals. Consider confining your dog to prevent escape out the open door. Make sure visitors know not to let pets escape out the door. Don't leave anything to chance - monitor all doorways closely, and make sure pets are wearing a well-fitted collar and current I.D. in case they dart out a door when visitors come and go. Make sure the I.D. includes your current phone number and mobile phone number if you have one.
  • The tether station approach to teaching your dog to sit and be calm around guests: Set up tether stations in approximately 3 places in your home. Instruct your guests to say sit and then treat.
  • Approaching new people with your dog. First, observe new people from a distance, instead of letting people approach too quickly. Hold your dog on leash beside you. Dont force introductions.
  • Meeting a new dog ... or introducing a dog and guest ... using good body language: When introducing yourself to a new dog, take a sideways stance instead of looking at the dog head-on. Canines perceive the sideways stance as less threatening in general. Avoid direct eye contact until the dog displays signals that he is comfortable. Look at the floor nearby, or in another direction. Pretend to be uninterested in the dog. The sum total of this body language serves as a 'calming signal' to the dog. (Excellent insight can be found in the book 'Calming Signals' by Turid Rugaas.)
The dog will realize through this body language that you are not planning to threaten, lunge at, grab at or chase him. A nervous person makes dogs feel nervous. A calm person is likely to make the dog feel secure.

Other calming signals include: approaching the dog by walking in an arc, which is typically the way friendly dogs greet each other; sitting or squatting (again, sideways is best); licking or smacking your lips; yawning; and pretending to sniff or examine something innocuous. By showing the dog that you are directing your attention elsewhere, you help set him at ease and signal that you mean no harm. Thus, the dog has no reason to feel defensive.

  • Advise visitors, as well as all household members, of the house rules for canines and to abide by them. Otherwise, the dog may end up spoiled, sick or in the emergency room. For example, no table scraps or playing fetch with holiday ornaments. And no rough-housing or other activities that will fire up the dog. If you're trying to keep your dog from jumping on guests and furniture, explain this clearly to guests to enlist their cooperation.
  • Tell guests and remind household members to keep medication, toiletries and other potentially harmful items out of the dog's reach - and NOT to feed the dog any unauthorized foods. Remember, fatty foods can make a pet extremely ill.
  • Have healthy pet treats handy so that your guests can indulge your pet safely. And if you want to share holiday flavor with the family dog, add a bit of white turkey meat or defatted broth to her bowl.
  • Now's the time to teach your dog to "go to your place" or "go to your spot." You can designate a place, say, in the far corner of the kitchen or family room, and place a mat or dog bed there. First, teach your dog to associate that place with a special word, such as "place," "spot" or "bed." Then, using positive reinforcement, incorporating praise and small treats as rewards, teach him to "go to your place." This gives the dog something good he can do instead of distracting you from cooking or pestering guests. It also gives him a safe spot away from the crowd - just be sure to inform visitors that the designated space is the dog's own special place. The dog can observe the activities from this vantage point without getting in the way.
  • If the dog is fearful or wary of guests, protective of his turf, ill or stressed, it is best to situate his "place" in an area off-limits to guests. You may want to keep him in a quiet bedroom with the door shut or in a crate in a quiet room while you have visitors.
  • Keep the garage closed off to pets. Otherwise, pets may lick up antifreeze, gas and other toxic substances, or step on debris.
  • It's best not to have unfamiliar pets visit during the holidays or other busy times due to the added stress for people and pets...and the reduced ability of preoccupied people to supervise pets. However, if your visitors are bringing pets...or you are bringing your dog home for the holidays...introduce resident and guest pets on neutral ground. Have treats available to reward positive behaviors and interactions; use verbal praise as well. Be prepared to remove your animal if there is any chance of a fight. Don't leave newly introduced animals together indoors or in a yard unless actively supervised by at least one very experienced, adult dog owner. Find tipsheets about pet introductions at
  • To discourage a visiting dog from chewing electrical cords, spray cords with Bitter Apple or hairspray.
  • Don't leave the dog in the kitchen unattended if something fragrant is cooking or sitting on the counter. Dogs have been known to pull whole turkeys off ovens and tables, putting an early end to Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Never leave dogs and children alone together. Always have an experienced adult supervise, no matter how well behaved the dog is. Anything can happen, especially with kids.
  • Keep a pet first aid kit accessible.
Holiday Travel Stress Savers:
  • Get a tag listing your temporary location and cell phone number. You can also create a temporary tag for each of your destinations using waterproof tape and an indelible marker.
  • Planning to crate your dog while visiting? Get your dog used to being in a crate before leaving on your trip. Crate at family member's house, then at a friend's. By practicing in two or more locations, the dog can learn to be calm when you're away when in a new location. See crating tips on PAW and other webpages.
  • Pack a flashlight for night-time dogwalks, along with lots of plastic bags.
  • When traveling, bring along Rescue Remedy, which is a Bach flower essence available in most health food stores. This gentle, natural stress reducing liquid can often help both people and animals recover from injury, fright, illness, travel fatigue and irritation. Put a drop in your water bottle and in their water. To help prevent travel sickness, a common dosage is four drops in the mouth about ten hours before the trip, repeating every four hours as needed. For stressed or injured animals, rub a drop on their ear or put a drop on the towel in their crate or carrier. Flower essences can be used along with conventional medicine.
  • Remember to take a first aid kit. You don't want to get caught in a road or other emergency without one...you can use it for people and pets alike. The First Aid link below lists what to pack in your kit and describes emergency techniques.
More Advice and Essential Information:

Helping Dogs Cope with Visitors to Your Home


Preventing Escapes

Car Safety and Travel Tips

Travel with Pets: Packing, Preparation and Other Trip Tips

Dog Tip: Petsitters and Boarding Kennels


For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:  www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php

Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport