People understandably want to bring their pets with them when they’re visiting family this time of year because, well, those fur babies ARE family! There are a number of questions you’ll want to ask when determining if it’s worth it to pack up the family and hit the road or skies this holiday season, the biggest one being, “How will this trip affect my pet?”
Know Before You Go
Seattle Humane’s Chief of Animal Behavior Emily Keegans says it’s best to first talk with your relatives, some of whom may have their own pets, and decide whether all these furry family members will get along. Do any of them have behavioral challenges, particularly when it comes to other dogs, cats and/or people? Will introducing your pet into a new environment, especially one decked out for the holidays and full of strangers, cause too much undue stress on them, the other pets in the home and your family that just wanted to have a relaxing holiday filled with good cheer and overly personal questions about your life choices? At the end of the day, it’s up to you to be the best advocate for your furry family members.
Assuming the family is on board to have a full furry house for the holidays, then it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to ensure everyone either gets along or avoids each other during your visit. Again, this is just about pets, but could also apply to that one uncle who always makes things weird. The goal is to realistically manage your pet’s interactions and behavior challenges while still enjoying your holiday.
Go Before You Go
Ideally, you would choose a few times before the big holiday get-together to bring your pet to the household in question, so they can get used to those surroundings in a calmer environment. If you’re going long distance for the holidays, that isn’t likely. With any new person or animal in your pet’s life, it’s always good to go with a slow introduction. Now, if your dog is going to a household with a resident cat, and they’ve never had the pleasure of meeting one before, this is not the time to try that out.
If you’re bringing a dog into another dog’s home, make sure their first meeting is on neutral ground. Have them meet up outside on a leash, do their sniffing thing, and then go for a walk if things are going well enough. It doesn’t take much to cause setbacks in a dog’s development, and repairing damage done through a bad interaction with another dog or a person can take a lot of time.
There’s also the whole process of getting from Point A to Point B. If your pet doesn’t have a lot of experience traveling, and particularly long distances, that’s definitely something to consider. If they don’t like car rides or have never been on a plane, that’s added stress they’ll be carrying with them when they arrive at the holiday home.
Bring a Safe Space
If your dog is already crate trained, definitely bring that crate along. It’s always best to bring a safe space with you. It’s something familiar, has those comforting smells of home and can be placed in a room designated specifically for them to use for alone time and decompressing when the holiday stresses start adding up. If they are not crate trained, a strange, new environment is not an ideal place to start. Still, bring their bed and plan on having a quiet place for them to go. Hard up on rooms? Baby gates are another good way to create barriers, so your pets can have their own private space or something to keep the touchy-feely family members away. And don’t forget to bring chew toys, puzzles, edible toys and other things your pets need to stay mentally stimulated while they’re enjoying their alone time.
New House, New Rules
Here’s another question you might be asking: Will grandma spoil my pet and undo all that work I put into training them at home?
Luckily, dogs are pretty good at understanding that there are different rules for different places, as long as everything is consistent. If there’s one thing dogs love, it’s consistency. So, if grandma lets the dog on the couch at her house, that’s fine, but it is now an established rule. Sorry, grandma! As for cats, they’ll do whatever they feel like because they’re cats.
Training the People
One very important step you can take to set your dog up for a successful holiday excursion is training the rest of the family on how to interact with them. Make sure you bring high-value treats for them to dish out to build a rapport with those pets. Tell them if your pets have any handling sensitivities and make sure they approach them slowly and wait for signs they’re into a potential petting situation. If you’re one of the many families out there that like to introduce a little nosh into a holiday get-together, make sure your relatives know 1) there are a lot of holiday foods that are harmful to pets and 2) it’s a bad idea to try to intervene when a piece of food falls on the floor and your dog has already begun a mad scramble to get it.
For the Children
If the family member in question is a child, and you have any concerns your dog won’t do well with little humans, it’s likely best for everyone if you don’t bring your dog into that environment. Otherwise, the best course of action would be to keep them crated and make sure they get out on plenty of walks where you can manage their interactions and ensure they’re still getting that physical exercise they need. Think your dog can handle a little human under the right conditions? Make sure you show those children what to do and what not to do with your dog. Show them how they like to be pet. Make sure they understand your dog doesn’t like their ears pulled or to be climbed on like a horsey. Tough love also means telling them what might happen if they don’t respect your dog’s space.
It’s OK Not To Take Your Pets
It’s been an extremely difficult several years, and there’s a strong urge to spend more time with family. You don’t have to feel guilty if you decide to find a sitter or board your pets, especially if you know they’re not going to adjust well in that sort of chaotic environment. And, if you don’t want to be apart from your pets during the holiday, you have our permission to cancel all your plans and cuddle up with those fur babies at home with all your familiar smells and people. Just don’t tell your folks to call us up and give us the business for telling you it was OK!