Each year, from October 31 through January 1, our lives are punctuated with special events, festivities, and merrymaking. While we as humans can understand concepts such as, “It’s Halloween, so the doorbell is going to ring 100 times tonight, yet there is no cause for alarm,” our pup Sommer does not have the same capacity. If only I could explain the reason and assuage her fears! But alas, the same goes for lovingly wrapped gifts under a tree. Anything on the floor is fair game and a potential plaything, right? And while we’re at it, I can imagine her asking herself, “What’s up with having a spruce tree inside the house? What is this madness?” It’s fascinating to try to see the holidays from a pup’s point of view.
As we rounded the corner and headed into the last few months of the year, our family was nearly giddy with anticipation. Sharing the holidays with a pup would mean memorable moment after memorable moment. Imagine our pup in a Halloween costume! Playing with ribbons from discarded Christmas wrapping! Tasting a bit of the Thanksgiving turkey! At the same time, I realized that the holidays would be full of potential pitfalls. (Remember the dreaded emergency room visit that happened when Sommer mistook a bottle of Advil for a delicious treat? No one needs a repeat of that episode!). I didn’t need Sommer breaking into a bag of chocolate Halloween candy – that much is certain – and I was determined to not only enjoy the holidays with our pup but to keep her safe, too.
Our first stop on the holiday gauntlet was Halloween, and to be honest, it was the one that filled me with dread. As I’ve mentioned, answering the door has become a two-person job in our house, as one person manages the dog and the other greets our guest. The prospect of the doorbell ringing incessantly was not an appealing one, to put it mildly. And I wasn’t the only one concerned: Many dogs don’t do well at Halloween. According to Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company, Halloween is the time that they hear more about dogs dying or straying. That makes sense because if Halloween is intended to scare or startle us, it will certainly do the same to a pup.
In our house, Halloween also meant guests, as our kids often would invite friends over for dinner, followed by trick-or-treating and then a scary movie, which would engender delighted screams and howls. All of that excited energy could be overstimulating for Sommer, and that wasn’t even considering the doorbell ringing and costumed kids yelling “trick or treat!” Chocolate too is toxic to dogs and must be avoided at all costs. When the kids got home from trick-or-treating, I made it clear that they were welcome to empty their bags and trade candy, but that it had to be done on the dining room table rather than the family room floor.
My goal was to make sure the kids had their fun while keeping Sommer as calm and protected as possible. Fortunately, Sommer has been around kids her whole life, so despite the fact that kids can be unpredictable, loud and aggressive in their behavior, groups of kids don’t faze her. Still, the last thing I wanted was for Sommer to get spooked and dart out the front door!
Sommer was able to greet the kids’ friends and enjoy being around the dinner activity. Once the kids headed out trick-or-treating, I took Sommer upstairs where we relaxed in the master bedroom while my husband handled door-answering duties. She whined and paced a bit at first, but then settled down with a chewy stick. Once the heaviest period of trick-or-treating passed, Sommer and I came downstairs and she was able to greet the occasional group of kids at the door without incident.
The remaining holidays of the year were less treacherous than Halloween, thank goodness! Whether Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or Boxing Day, the holidays mostly involved managing a pup’s manners around guests and steering clear of potentially toxic items. Now, I have friends who close the dog off in another room when hosting guests. Or, they might even send the dog to someone else’s home for a playdate or overnight. And believe me, I understand! Either option makes sense if your dog is likely to be overwhelmed by visitors or could get underfoot in the kitchen. (One thing you do NOT need is to trip over your dog while carrying a platter of Thanksgiving turkey to a table of guests).