The holidays are here and it’s time to celebrate the joys of the season with friends and family. But have you taken all the necessary steps to ensure your pet is well-behaved during the holiday festivities? Do you even know where to start?
We reached out to Lizzie Post, the co-president of the Emily Post Institute, author of “Higher Etiquette“ and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast to get all the dos and don’ts of holiday petiquette for both guests and hosts.
Holiday Petiquette For Hosts
The Pet Parent Petiquette Dos
Do create a Plan B for in-laws who love feeding pets human food.
No matter how many times you politely remind friends and family to please not feed your pets people food, they do it. Every time. But there is a way to enforce the rule politely, and in a way that will delight your furry and human guests alike.
“I arm my [guests] with little baggies of treats that are approved for my dog,” Lizzie says. (These dog-friendly icebox cookies, for example, are easy to make and one or two make a perfect pooch treat.)
To ensure it’s not a feeding feast, take it a step further and ask that guests make the pet do something—like a trick—before getting a treat.
“Food is a reward,” Lizzie says. “So, I would rather proactively give [my guests] the connection they want—to give my dog a treat and see those big brown eyes and feel close to him—in a way that is OK with me.”
If people still break the rules once the dog treats run out? (Because don’t they always?). Educate from a place of understanding. Here’s Emily’s suggested talk track:
Mom, I love that you think [INSERT PET’S NAME] is just the cutest little thing, and I know you have zero willpower against those big brown eyes, but I really have to make it clear that he can’t have people food. If I see him eating people food, I’m going to be upset because it’s not good for him. It’s hurting the training that I’m doing with him and it can be dangerous for his health. If he gets a taste of it, he’s going to want a taste of other things. So, there are a lot of good reasons not to feed people food to him, even though he looks cute.
Do prep your home.
According to Emily, there are a couple non-negotiables when getting ready to host guests.
- Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Your guests don't want to feel like they're going to be eating food surrounded by pet hair or sitting on furniture that’s going to make their clothes a furry mess.
- Know your pet’s etiquette and socialization capabilities. And then plan accordingly. If your pet likes to greet guests loudly (aka bark), consider putting them outside or in another room until the excitement settles down. If your pet is a jumper, put a leash on them so you can control them as people enter the door. “You need to know your pet and manage behaviors that are undesirable or could hurt or throw people off,” Lizzie says.
Do know it’s OK to decline other furry guests.
This can be hard. Pets can be a real blind spot for people. “Why wouldn’t you want Fifi at Thanksgiving?!” But the truth is, you’re the host. You get to set the rules—politely, of course.
If struggling to request that pet relatives or acquaintances be left at home, here are a couple of Lizzie-approved statements:
- If someone asks to bring their pet: “I really appreciate that you bring [or travel] with your pet to lots of places, but I don’t think our home is a good fit. I hope you’ll understand.”
- If the furry friend just left—and isn’t welcome back: “I’m really glad we tried having [INSERT PET NAME] over this afternoon. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for a comfortable visit. It was a bit too much at our house, so I’m going to say, in the future, I think just humans would be better.”
Of course, some people will understand and some people won’t. But that’s out of your control.
The Pet Parent Petiquette Don’ts
Don’t forget to tell your guests that you have pets.
This is the biggest no-no. Make sure that all of your guests know that pets will be around. That way they can inform you on whether they have allergies or are afraid of animals or choose to decline the invitation entirely.
Don’t let your pet be a distraction during mealtime.
The meal is usually the main event at holiday gatherings, and you want your guests to enjoy it. A pet can usually get in the way of that if they’re not distracted with their own favorite treat or tucked away in their kennel.
For dogs who love to beg at the dinner table, Lizzie recommends putting them in a separate room.
Don’t love the idea of secluding your furry family member during the holiday festivities? Put them in a crate and give them something that they like so it’s clear it’s not a punishment.
“I like to give my dog a marrow bone when we’re all sitting down to a holiday dinner. That way he’s focused on the bone and not the turkey on the table,” Lizzie says.
You’re the one in charge, reminds Lizzie, so you’ve got to manage your pet’s behavior at mealtime. And that doesn’t mean spending the whole time saying, “Stop… no! … sit down… lay down!”
Don’t assume everyone will love your pet.
All pet parents think their furry children are the bee’s knees. True.
All future guests will really enjoy spending time with your pet. False.
It doesn’t matter how cute or sweet or well-behaved your pet is. Maybe it’s the shedding, the breathing, the drooling—animals just aren’t for everyone.
“If you invite people over to your home, it's your job to make them comfortable and do everything you can [within reason] to ensure they have a good experience,” says Lizzie.
Try to gauge how comfortable your guests will be with your pet ahead of time, and then remain aware during the festivities. If you observe someone starting to get agitated, it’s best to intervene and do what’s best for all humans and pets involved. That’s just good holiday etiquette.
Holiday Petiquette For Guests
Express when you’re uncomfortable or afraid.
Bring your pet as a plus one—but only with permission and asking the house rules.
Acknowledge when damage is done (and fix it!).
Bring furniture-loving pets to another person’s home without a plan.
Correct or handle another person’s animals without asking.
Correct or handle another person’s animals without asking.
The Guest Petiquette Dos
Do express when you’re uncomfortable or afraid.
Fears are real and completely OK, but it is your job—as the one who is scared—to manage the problem in the way that’s best for you.
If you know ahead of time that you’re going to feel uneasy around a host’s pet, be honest and direct.
Unsure what to say? Try this:
I would love to come to the party, but I do have a really big fear of dogs. It can be quite debilitating… I want to discuss it with you and how we might be able to handle it.
Once you’ve let the host know, it’s up to the both of you to compromise and find solutions. But be aware that your host doesn’t have to completely change their lifestyle for you.
“The host might generously offer to board their pet for you to come over for dinner, or to get a neighborhood kid to take it for the night,” says Lizzie. “If it sounds easy, then you could say, ‘Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful. Thank you so much!’”
But if it sounds like the person is really stretching to figure out how to handle it? Lizzie suggests you say:
It sounds like too much heavy lifting. How about we get together another time in another place where pets aren’t of concern?
Do bring your pet as a plus one—but only with permission and asking the house rules.
Your host has agreed to allow your pet to join in on the holiday festivities. Well, that’s nice! But make sure you ask all the questions so you’re fully prepared. Some questions to ask the host include:
- “Are there going to be times during the night or extended stay when my pet will be left alone in the house?”
- “Are there things in the house or environmentally that may easily trigger my pet?” Think: rambunctious children, loud traffic, fireworks, other people and dogs walking outside, or even everyday items that may trigger your pet, like vacuums and trash bags.
- “What are the pet and furniture rules?” If your pet is allowed to sit on your couch or sleep in your bed, that doesn’t mean that same behavior will be welcomed or appreciated somewhere else.
- “Will there be other animals, and if so, how do you usually welcome and play with other animals in the home?” Tip: It’s always safest to introduce new furry friends outside on neutral territory, so if possible, plan to meet out front or in a park first. If your pet is calmer or more playful than other animals in the house, keep a close eye on their dynamics and body language.
Also, if your pet is a baby (kitten or puppy) and loves to scratch or chew, let your host know ahead of time, so they can put items away or pet proof accordingly.
Do acknowledge when damage is done (and fix it!).
It can be so uncomfortable to tell a host that your pet just spilled red wine all over their white couch (no, really, it was the pet!), but it must be done. Apologize immediately, clean it up (with products the homeowner would appreciate you using), and offer to repair or replace anything that’s damaged.
Did your pet do some more serious, costly damage, and budget is a concern?
“Be really honest,” says Lizzie. Share what your budget is and how much you could realistically contribute to the replacement.
“You always want to speak from the perspective of what you can do within your means,” Lizzie says, “because you don’t want to get committed to something that you can't afford.”
The Guest Petiquette Don'ts
Don’t bring furniture-loving pets to another person’s home without a plan.
If you're bringing your pet to the holiday festivities and know they are a regular couch surfer (like, all of mine), it can be hard to stop that habit for a night or a couple days.
“When I'm at a house where [my dog isn’t] allowed on furniture, I keep him on a leash so that I have really good control over him,” shares Lizzie. “I'm really with him and responsible for him all the time.”
If you’re worried your pet will sprint for the couch the second you drop the leash or turn a blind eye, ask the host if you can bring your own covers for the furniture.
Don’t correct or handle another person’s animals without asking.
If you’re experiencing issues or annoyed with a pet in the home, ask the host to please intervene or ask them how they’d like you to approach the pet.
“I had a friend who would always use his leg or his foot to push my dog away,” Emily shares. “I found that really distressing. It's not a way that I treated my dog, and it felt dismissive in a way that was [demeaning].”
While it’s the hosts’ job to make sure you feel comfortable, sometimes they may not observe or pick up on things that are going on. Communicate with them, and understand that the pet parent must also protect the integrity and dignity of their furry child.
Don’t bring a dirty pet into another person’s home.
Whether you get your pet professionally groomed or you groom your pet yourself, it’s always nice to ensure your pet smells nice, is free of dirt and has filed-down nails. This can help to prevent any damage to furniture and floors.
If your pet tends to shed a lot, consider buying a shedding brush and giving him a comb-down before heading to the holiday festivities. Hey, you made time to look nice. Your pet should get the holiday pampering treatment, too.
Here are the shedding combs we recommend:
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