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Pets and Guests: Can They Get Along?

By: Alex Lieber

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When it comes to holiday guests and your pets, there are a lot of possible outcomes to the mixing of the two. One side of the scale is a wonderful evening for all. On the other, an unending horror for you, your guests and/or your pets.

What's the best way to entertain guests without making your pet feel unwelcome in his own home?

The first rule is so obvious that it is frequently overlooked: Make sure all your guests know you have a pet in the first place. Sure, your in-laws, siblings and parents may know, but are they bringing anyone else? You may want to contact all the guests yourself to tell them about your dog or cat.

The second rule is to always prepare a room ahead of time for your pet. This may not sound fair on the surface. It is, after all, your pet's home too. But you have some weighty responsibilities: seeing to your guests' comfort and enjoyment, while taking care of your pet's safety. Sometimes it is better for your dog or cat to spend a few hours in a safe, comfortable place. You know you'll make it up to them. Here are some situations and suggestions on how to handle them:

Allergies

Pet dander is a pernicious thing. It's not enough to tell your guests that you own a dog or cat. Tell them the breed and whether your pet tends to shed. An allergic person may do fine with a shorthaired pet. Then again, they may succumb to the slightest hint of pet hair. You'll know to spend extra time vacuuming and cleaning your home.

Some allergies are so severe that it is best if the person declines the invitation. They may have a reaction even if the pet is sequestered in another room and you vacuumed diligently.

Fears

You probably don't have to worry about your guest panicking over your tabby or bichon frise, but some people feel intimidated by larger dogs. Telling all your guests what sort of dog you have, and reassuring them he is well behaved, will go a long way to relieving fears. You should also tell them what to expect. If your dog has a loud bark, for instance, let them know to expect it when they knock.

Guests may have had some bad experiences with dogs in the past, or they may just be inexperienced. You can go a long way to overcome fears and phobias by planning ahead. If he's willing, give your guest a treat to give to your dog. Have him offer it flat on his palm and let your dog walk up on his own to take it. You may also want to give your guest a short lesson in "doggie etiquette":

  • Don't stare directly into the eyes of a dog. He may take this as a challenge. Instead, give the dog a quick glance and look away.

  • Greet a dog by holding the hand out to be sniffed, with the palm flat and upward.

  • When petting a new dog, avoid touching the top of his head, which may be misread as a sign of dominance. Speak softly and with a happy tone in the voice. Dogs can sense fear and confidence, and will react accordingly.

    Of course, if your dog has reacted aggressively to guests before, it is far better and safer for you to keep him in a room, away from guests. Prepare the room comfortably for him, with water bowl, food and toys. Be sure to check on him during the course of the evening.

    He Just Wants to be Loved ...Is That So Wrong?

    What if your pet is just overly exuberant or affectionate? Isn't your cat or dog just adding to the warm, friendly, holiday atmosphere? That depends on how your guest feels. If your cat or dog is demanding attention, your guest may feel obligated (out of respect for you) to pet them.

    Take note of whether your pet is becoming a nuisance. Remember that what is cute and normal for you may be a bother for your guest, especially if your pet is keeping him from enjoying your delicious hors d'oeuvres.

    Begging should be discouraged as well. Barking, loud meowing, jumping on guests – all should be discouraged. Dogs or cats that are just too much of a lovable handful may need a time out in his special room.

    You can head off holiday problems such as these by prepping your pet: get him used to people coming over to the house. Reward him for behaving himself. If he doesn't, tell your helpers to just ignore him until he behaves. Any sort of attention, even negative attention, is a reward. By ignoring him (which means not even looking at him), you are teaching your pet what behaviors are acceptable.

    Dealing with Exuberant Guests

    Then again, your pet may not be the problem. If your guests are feeding your dog or cat from the table, they are setting you up for problems after they leave. Or they may play a little too rough (kids often don't realize they may be putting the pet or themselves at risk).

    Guests who engage in improper feeding, roughhousing or other "illegal" behaviors will confuse or even frighten your pet. As the host, it's your responsibility to advise your guests of the "house rules" in a tactful, yet firm manner.

  • Guests should not feed your pet food, except with treats approved by you.

  • Guests should not chase your pet or make him feel trapped or insecure in his own home.

  • Pets should not be picked up or cuddled against their will. If your pet is accustomed to having his own private space, keep it inviolate.

    If they persist or your pet has become overly excited, take the pet to his safe room for the duration of the evening. If your pets and guests are well behaved, then everyone can share in the holiday fun. The key is to balance the needs and expectations of each.

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