Whether you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, or just a regular ‘ol dinner party, one thing is for sure: Canines can certainly complicate things!
Doggos don’t tend to be the most polite party hosts.
Pups like to jump on guests at the door, beg for delicious morsels at the dinner table, and maybe even bark their heads off at party guests.
There are a number of behavioral concerns that can make managing a party difficult and embarrassing for owners. And on the flip side, you’ll want to make sure your pooch doesn’t freak out or become stressed by all the activity and commotion.
Don’t worry! We’re here to help!
Below, we’ll provide a few tips and tricks for helping to make dinner parties and similar gatherings go smoothly, despite the challenges your dog presents.
So, take a break from baking and basting (and maybe grab a glass of wine – we won’t judge) and check out these solutions to common pooch problems!
1. Instill a Desirable Dinnertime Demeanor
One of the simplest ways to avoid four-footer faux pas during dinner parties is to instill good habits in your dog beforehand.
Some of these lessons will take weeks to install in your furry pal, but it’ll be worth it in the long run when dinner guests marvel at your polite pooch.
Teach your dog to wait patiently while you’re eating dinner.
Basically, you’ll want to teach your dog to lay down on the floor (perhaps a few feet outside the kitchen or dining room) and remain calm while you’re chowing down.
Start reinforcing this habit, so your dog will already be used to chilling out when you sit down at the table. Mat training can be helpful for teaching your dog to rest in a specific place.
This sounds simple, but it will doubtlessly be difficult at first.
Work on some basic mat training or a “go to your bed” command and reward when your dog goes to his spot. Throughout dinner, you’ll need to continuously throw Fido kibble as he sits in his spot to reinforce that – yes, this is what you should be doing!
Slowly, you should be able to go from throwing your dog a treat every few seconds, to every few minutes, until eventually, you’ll be able to just reward him a couple times during the meal.
Break your dog’s counter-surfing habit if need be.
Few things would be more horrifying than seeing your dog jump up and help himself to a drumstick during dinner.
So, be sure to check out some helpful strategies for keeping your four-footer’s feet on the floor and your entrees, apps, and deserts safe. We have an entire guide to stopping your dog’s counter surfing here!
Stop giving your dog treats from the table.
Look, people foods aren’t good for pets, and some can even be dangerous.
However, this is the real world, and we all give our pups tasty table treats from time to time.
As long as you stick to dog-safe foods and offer them in moderation (as well as with your vet’s consent), it’s not a big deal.
But don’t toss bits of biscuits or caramelized carrots to your pooch while you’re sitting at the dinner table – this will just condition him to expect them!
Remember, dogs do what works for them. If they’ve learned that hanging around the dining table means they might get a chance at a piece of chicken, they’ll take those odds.
Instead of tossing leftovers mid-meal, set aside tasty morsels and give them to Fido after dinner is finished.
2. Corral Incorrigible Canines
If your dog is simply too much of a rambunctious Rover to be trusted during a dinner party, just sequester him in a safe, comfy place.
This may also be a good idea for shy, nervous, or anxious dogs – let’s face it, not every Buster is a social butterfly.
You can separate your pooch from the party in a few different ways:
- Put your pupper in a room. If your doggo is unlikely to get into mischief when left unattended, you can simply put him in a spare room with a bowl of water, a frozen toy or a long-lasting chew to keep him occupied. Just be sure to give the room a once over and make sure there’s nothing dangerous laying around (like chocolates or enticing plastic items).
- Use a crate if your canine can’t be trusted. If you fear that Fido would rip your room to shreds if cooped up in a room, you may want to use a secure dog crate to keep him safe and out of trouble.
You may even want to put your pooch in a crate if he’s just shy or anxious – he may handle that better than being exposed to a bunch of strange people in your home.
- Use dog gates for dogs who want to see what’s happening. If your pooch can’t quite be trusted to roam freely through the house, yet he’ll still want to keep tabs on the social situation, you can use dog gates or play pens to keep him contained.
A lot of dogs prefer this option, as they can begin to feel anxious when isolated and unable to see what the household commotion is all about.
No matter which of these strategies you choose, be sure to check in on your floof regularly. Make sure he’s comfortable, isn’t getting into anything dangerous, and has plenty of water to drink.
3. Give Your Guests Some Guidelines
Your pooch won’t be the only source of stress during dinner parties; your guests may actually cause trouble too.
Some may play too rough with your retriever, while others may try to offer your otterhound forbidden people foods.
So, be sure that you give your guests the run down before the party or as they arrive. Talk about things like:
- Open doors, if your pooch may make a break for freedom.
- Acceptable vs. unacceptable people foods they can share.
- The proper way to meet and interact with your pupper.
- Things your doggo likes, such as haunch-scritches or lap-sittin’.
- Any hard-and-fast rules you may have for your pooch, such as staying off the couch.
Also, remember to keep in mind that some people aren’t especially comfortable with dogs – especially big ones. Try to keep their feelings in mind and do whatever is necessary to ensure a good time for all.
If you have an easily-stressed pup, there is nothing wrong with having a blanket “do not interact with my dog” rule. It’s your responsibility to keep your dog safe and happy, and sometimes that might mean disappointing would-be dog cuddlers.
You might also consider brushing up on dog body language and simply keeping tabs on your pup’s state during the party. If you can tell your dog is getting overwhelmed, then it’s time to put your pup away.
My dog Remy loves guests, but once he’s had his fill of visitors, he’ll put himself to bed in my bedroom. After that, guests know they need to leave him alone and let him be.
4. Wear Out Your Woofer Beforehand
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.
So, consider taking your terrier out for a vigorous game of fetch or letting your spaniel go for a long swim.
Any type of exercise will help put a smile on your pup’s face and reduce his energy level, thereby making him easier to manage.
In fact, not only will a burst of exercise ensure your pooch is in a good mood, but it’ll also wear him out and increase the chances of him sleeping through the bulk of the party.
On a separate but related note, running around with your floof for an hour or so before dinner will help offset some of those calories you’re about to enjoy. Just sayin’…
5. Establish a Meet & Greet for Your Mutt
No matter how well-behaved your pooch is, it’s a pretty good idea to establish a “meet and greet” as each of your guests arrive.
This is a great time to go over those guidelines we mentioned earlier, and it will also give your pupper the chance to meet, sniff, and inspect all these strange people showing up in his home.
Try to keep these introductions fairly calm and be sure that you encourage your dog to accept his (well-deserved) praise and scritches while keeping all four feet on the floor and not jumping all over guests.
It may be advantageous to conduct these introductions outdoors, though it’ll work better in your entryway or living room in other situations – just be sure to consider your dog and his needs when deciding.
6. Feed Fido While You Feast
One of the simplest ways to keep Buster at bay while you’re eating is to feed him at the same time.
Now, most dogs will wolf down their food quicker than your guests will, so this isn’t a foolproof strategy, but it will help a bit.
While dogs often seem willing to “make room” for people foods no matter how stuffed they are, dogs with full bellies will usually beg less than those who’re hungry.
If you need to stretch out your pup’s dinnertime, you may want to consider using a slow feeder.
Alternatively, an interactive, kibble-dispensing toy or a stuffed kong may keep him mentally stimulated while he gobbles up his dinner.
7. Incorporate Your Dog into the Itinerary
It’s important that you don’t neglect your dog’s needs while you’re distracted and entertaining guests.
We’re guessing you didn’t give your pooch a vote about having the dinner party, so you should do your best to ensure he has a good time during your next shindig.
One great way to do so is by including your dog in the celebration. You’ll just have to do so in a thoughtful way, keeping in mind your pup’s individual temperament and feeling about strangers.
Some of the things you may want to do to keep your bestie in on the fun include:
- Let your four-footer accompany you in the backyard while you’re tending the grill. This will let your pooch sniff, socialize, and zoom as necessary, while allowing you to mingle with guests and keep an eye on those ribs. Just be sure that your dog won’t be able to run off – if your backyard isn’t fenced, you’ll want to put him on a tether or trolley.
- Take an after-dinner stroll with your pooch and a few of your friends. Your dog is going to need to go for a walk at some point anyway, and many of your guests will likely be delighted to accompany you and your doggo. Plus, this will also give your dog a little break from all the excitement and let him enjoy the familiarity of his regular route. Be sure to stay safe if you’ll be walking after dark.
- Give your pooch a chance to show off his skills! Many dogs seem to love “performing” in front of an audience and come on – we all love showing off our dog’s tricks and obedience. So, take a few minutes before or after dinner to gather everyone around and show them how your dog will smile on command or even say “I love you!”
8. Put the Kids to Work!
You’ll have to use discretion with this one, but if you’re going to have older kids at the party (use your judgement for what constitutes “older” – we’d say around 11 or 12 minimum) and your dog gets along well with small humans, let them have a blast together!
You don’t want to leave kids and dogs unattended, but as long as you go over the ground rules with the kids and your dog is normally well-behaved, you can let them play in a spacious room or the backyard.
Maybe the kids would enjoy playing a game of fetch with Fido (we already know he’ll love it) or swinging a flirt pole around. You could even let the children teach your dog a new trick!
This is a complete win-win scenario: Your dog will have a good time and stay out of your hair, and the kids will often have an even better time, instead of just plopping down on the couch and focusing on their phones.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Muzzle Up When Necessary
Let’s be real – not all dogs are party animals. And that’s totally OK!
It’s always sad to hear about folks who have stopped inviting friends over due to their doggo’s anxiety. A problematic pup doesn’t have to be the end of your dinner parties – they just might have to look a little different.
There’s No Shame in Muzzling
If you’re nervous about a potential bite happening while guests are over, there is absolutely no shame in muzzling your dog!
My dog has never bitten anyone, but when I occasionally have my friends who have several small children over, I’ll always muzzle Remy because it allows me to have a more relaxed visit.
I don’t think Remy would bite, but I don’t want to have to even entertain the idea.
With a muzzle, you can rest assured that there is absolutely 100% no chance of a bite happening, reducing your stress considerably!
Just make sure to choose a safe, breathable dog muzzle and muzzle train your dog before throwing it on.
If you just put a muzzle on your pup without desensitizing him to it first, he won’t have a good time and may even begin to associate guests with unpleasantness.
Practice Treat and Retreat
For fearful dogs, start out with just having one or two guests come over for a short hang out session. If your dog is barking his head off in terror, hand your friends a pile of kibble (or really high reward treats if kibble isn’t enticing enough) and ask them to join in on a round of “Treat and Retreat.”
It works like this:
- Have your guest throw a treat away from themselves, to the other side of the room.
- Wait for the dog to go get the treat.
- When your dog is finished with the treat and looks up at your guest, have them throw another treat – this time slightly closer, maybe half-way across the room.
- When your dog looks up this time (or even begins to approach the guest), go ahead and have your guest throw the treat to the far end of the room again.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
What Is This Doing?
First off, your dog is learning to create positive associations with the stranger. This scary person is giving your pup treats, so… treat-tossing two-footers can’t be all bad!
You’re also working within your dog’s comfort zone by not forcing him to approach the stranger. Many new owners make the mistake of having a guest hold a treat in his or her hand and requiring the dog to approach the stranger.
The problem is, this can be just way too scary for some fearful puppers.
Some dogs will muster the courage and force themselves to approach the stranger for the treat, and then as soon as they eat the treat they look up and realize how close they are to the scary stranger and freak out!
When it comes to working on your dog’s comfort with strangers, it’s always best to start slow. Don’t put your dog in a situation he isn’t ready for!
At the end of the day, it is important to realize that every dog, owner, and dinner party will be different. So, you’ll simply have to tweak these recommendations to suit your specific circumstances.
But, by putting in a little forethought and embracing the tips provided above, you will likely enjoy a fantastic dinner party while you’re accompanied by your four-footed family member.
Have you thrown a dinner party that your dog was allowed to attend? How did it go? Did you use any of these strategies? Did you devise some tips and tricks on your own?
Let us know your experiences in the comments below!