Holiday travel is mostly about visiting family, but when dogs are involved, both visitor and host will benefit by laying some ground rules. Boarding your pet or paying a sitter is expensive, but saving money could come at the cost of a human relationship. You wouldn’t want your holiday to be ruined by humans barking and growling over bad dog behavior.
If you’re visiting
Ask first. We know, we know — Your dog is part of the family and goes everywhere with you. But don’t automatically assume that Fido is welcome at Aunt Susie’s house. Dogs, like people, need an invitation. If one was not automatically extended, ask.
Even if you have visited your great Aunt Mildred in the past, that should not be a guarantee that Spot is welcome this time. House or family dynamics may have changed: a remodel or a health reason could affect the visit.
If you get the green light, thank your hostess profusely and start paving the way for a seamless visit by asking questions. Are there other pets in the home? Are they territorial about canine visitors, or do they welcome them with wagging tails? Is there a fenced back yard where pets can safely be confined? Are the children, if any, accustomed to dogs? What about cats or other pets? Make sure every person in the host family knows about the visit and has OK’d the presence of a pet. You want to know about a pet gerbil or a bird that has free flight privileges in the home. Be considerate of others.
Bring your own baggage. Bring your dog’s food, bowls, medicine, toys, grooming tools and any other items he may need during his visit. Don’t rely on your host to supply anything. Being prepared for any eventuality you can think of will help ensure a less stressful visit. Many pets are anxious when in unfamiliar surroundings. Make things easier for everyone by taking care of the necessities and bringing along some of the extra comforts your pet is accustomed to. Consider taking carpet deodorizer or spray to neutralize any smells your pet might leave behind.
Watch. Be prepared to supervise your pet, especially around children, food, breakables and other pets. Yes, your pet is a model of good behavior at home, but a new environment might set off some nervous behavior. Even if he hasn’t jumped up on a counter or peed indoors since his puppy days, he might do so in a strange house. Be sure to have pickup bags, paper towels and a cleaning product stashed in the car, just in case. Do not expect others to step in as a pet sitter for you: Prepare to have your dog at your side or in your sight at all times.
Know the house rules. Spot might love to take over the couch at home, but your host might not approve. Don’t expect your host to bend — keep Spot on a leash and make it a teaching moment that every couch is not available. If your host is OK with Spot using the couch, bring along a blanket to keep the hair and dirt corralled.
Bring along shot records and licenses. Let’s hope you have made precautions to avoid fights or bites, but carry these records along with you. Make sure your dog wears current tags and identification, and add a temporary tag using a colorful house or locker ID tag like these to include your host’s local contact information.
Have a Plan B. The way to ensure your best furry friend makes a good impression is to keep her under control at all times. If she won’t settle down, take her for a walk, leash her by your side, kennel her in a crate or have her take a calming time-out in the car. Setting high standards of behavior for your dog when visiting someone else’s home is a good way to be invited back. Be prepared to head to a dog-friendly hotel if the visit just isn’t working out. It’s best to leave on a happy note and with your relationships intact.
If you’re the host
If you would rather not, say so. You have friends who have dogs. But you would rather not have them visit with the dog, even if you have pets of your own and love dogs. You are completely within your rights to say so, and responsible dog owners will understand. If your friend has a service animal that accompanies her, you could either bend your own rule or do some legwork on finding a great bed and breakfast or hotel close by your home. Just be up front about your needs.
Be prepared. If Uncle Don and his Great Dane sidekick are coming to visit, take time to perform some preventative maintenance before they arrive. Make sure those fragile knick-knacks are stashed well out of reach of paws, tails and noses, and think twice about serving appetizers on the coffee table. It’s a good idea to remove any open trashcans or compost containers. Close the laundry-room door, too; there’s something many dogs just love about smelly socks. An ounce of prevention can save the day when it comes to naturally curious canines.
Plan the introductions. If you have a pet, you probably have a good sense of how she will react to canine visitors. But even the friendliest dog (or cat) in the world can become suddenly territorial or protective when a strange canine enters their home. I once paid a visit to a friend and her under-10-pound cat stalked my 55-pound sheepdog, even jumping the pet-gate barrier to attack her. We finally agreed to respect the cat’s territory and found alternative lodging. The last thing you want is a fight. Meeting on neutral territory—in a park or in a yard, for example—is a good way to defuse territorial tensions.
Mom says no. What if the visiting dog exhibits horribly bad manners? Don’t ruin your day scolding someone else’s pet or listening to the owner make constant corrections. Talk about boundaries or dog-free areas ahead of time. A rawhide bone or a new chew toy is a good tool for diverting and holding a dog’s attention. Think ahead and have some on hand. Talk to the pet owner to come up with ways to make the visit a happy one.
No-sniff gifts. Do you have chocolate, cookies, or other edibles ready to offer as gifts? Dogs can smell these items even when they are under wraps. Place them out of reach of visiting dogs — some foods are toxic to canines. Avoid a scene and a possible veterinary visit.
Walk it off. Unruly dogs, just like unruly children, sometimes need to chill out — in a car, in a crate or on a walk. Don’t be afraid to suggest it. Then again, maybe the obligatory post-feast football game will have as sedentary an effect on Big Boy as it does on you, and you’ll all snooze through it together.
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