Don’t Bring Your Dog To Every Gathering!

Many of us like to bring our dogs wherever we go. But every scenario isn’t right for every dog, and a little bit of management can go a long way toward keeping everyone safe.


Every now and then there’s an incredible dog with an experienced owner who can go everywhere together: the holiday party at the in-laws, the kids’ out-of-town soccer tournament, the weeklong group vacation house with two other unknown dogs. This dog can also be left unsupervised around the remodeling crew or the fancy cheese plate on the low table, and it’s a piece of cake for him to hang out calmly when the doorbell rings and strangers enter the house.

That dog drives me crazy.

Why? Because that dog makes everybody else think their dog should be able to do those things. Then they try it, and a Bad Thing happens. The owners now think their dog is problematic.

You know who’s problematic? We humans, when we don’t anticipate that some parts of our lives are not suitable for sharing with our dogs. Rather than thinking, “Wow, it’s amazing that my dog can navigate most of human life really well,” we think, “Dang it, what’s wrong with my dog that he can’t handle the annual holiday party without causing a disaster?”

I’d bet good money that the majority of emergency-room visits for dog bites at this time of year are a result of what we dog trainers call “trigger-stacking.” This is when a long car ride + sister-in-law’s unfamiliar house + crowded spaces + unknown people + humans weirdly stressed + no exercise + oops, kitty cat! + young people squealing = bite!

Please do your dog a favor: Stop thinking you need to (or even can!) train any and every dog to handle anything and everything. It’s not fair to impose the same set of behavioral expectations on all dogs. We don’t expect all humans to handle every social situation with equal aplomb!

Instead, with your dog’s specific skills and limitations in mind, think through situations ahead of time, and make adult decisions about whether and how to safely include the dog.

Management Keeps Everyone Safe

In some cases, leaving your dog home for a few hours, or using a trusted pet-sitter to care for her for a few days, is the best solution. In other cases, bringing her along, but using a management tool (or combination of tools), such as a crate, exercise pen, baby gate, or closed door to prevent unsupervised socializing, will be sufficient to prevent her from getting overwhelmed, overstimulated, and/or scared, and snapping at someone in order to get the space she needed.

I’m not advocating a life of separation for your dog; I’m talking about a few critical moments here and there, and sometimes just an hour or two. I love helping folks weave their dogs into as many hours of their lives that they can – as long as it’s safe and happy for humans and canines alike. However, I can’t begin to tell you how many tragic situations could be averted if owners would accept the idea that their dog isn’t currently a good fit for every single scene, and that management is the perfect way to help her through life in a human household.

For example:

  • Crate her or put her behind a baby gate with a nice marrow bone when the doorbell rings. Then you’re free to greet the guest, and your dog can get a sense of things as she sniffs and listens from a nice little distance. Most dogs can be released for a calm greeting eventually – whether that’s one minute later, or 20.
  • Choose a trusted pet-sitter for the holidays rather than forcing her into a situation that brings out the worst in her. It can be hard to find the right pet-sitter, but it’s sure a lot easier when you give it the priority it deserves. Start early! And when you find a good one, treat them so very well that they’ll drop anything to come back next time!

I think everyone can accept that it just makes sense to put up a temporary pen to keep the dog and the plumber from being in each other’s business all day – but I also understand that there’s more of an emotional component to leaving your dog out of the family Christmas or Hanukkah celebration. But it sure stinks when trying to make sure Fido “gets to enjoy the holiday” ends up with everyone thinking he’s a dangerous dog. Instead, do what all the best trainers do: Either leave your dog home, or employ a simple management strategy that will preserve the holiday peace.

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Kathy Callahan’s new book, Welcoming Your Puppy from Planet Dog, is now available wherever you buy your books. Certified as a dog trainer (CPDT-KA) and licensed as a family dog mediator (LFDM-T), Callahan specializes in puppies. She and her family have fostered 225 of them in the past decade, and her business, PupStart, is focused on puppyhood coaching. The podcast Pick of the Litter is Kathy’s newest effort to help people and their dogs live more happily together. Kathy lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband Tom. They’re technically empty-nesters now since their grown daughters have moved on, but the house is still very active thanks to the four family members who were foster-fails: Mojo the German Shepherd/Akita, George the Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd, Kreacher the Chow/Beagle, and Mr. Bojangles, the best cat in the world.


  1. Thanks for this reminder, Kathy. After 3 years, we finally got brave enough to hold our annual solstice party, but while still in the planning phases we almost reconsidered, not because of pandemic concerns (which might have been wise!), but because between the last party and now, we had added a new family member: Moki, a two-year-old Great Pyr – GSD mix who mistrusts everyone initially and maintains constant vigilance with everyone besides family and our closest friends, even barking when new acquaintances suddenly return from a two-minute trip to the bathroom, etc.

    We knew it would be unfair to ask him to be someone he’s not: a social butterfly or even just a calm guy who could wait out the evening with a chew toy in a quiet bedroom.

    Rather than cancel the chance to see friends we’ve missed these past 3 years, we decided to board Moki for one night at our trusted kennel. I’m so glad we did! It was a relief to know he wasn’t stressed out by unfamiliar comings and goings; it was also a relief for us not to constantly be trying to redirect him from barking at newcomers or convince him that the 6’4″ chap with the big laugh in full Senegalese formal wear was truly trustworthy.

    Because we hated to have a party without pups, we invited friends and neighbors who have super social dogs to bring them along. We got the delight of dog company, and Moki got the bonus fun of running around his yard when he returned the next day, sniffing every trace of his pals who had visited.

    I appreciate the compassionate guidance I often find in WDJ to treat our dogs as individuals and do our best to have realistic expectations of ourselves and our pups. Thanks so much!

  2. Thank you! I have one of those dogs who doesn’t do well in some social settings so I don’t inflict them on her (or her on them). I appreciate the affirmation that this isn’t failure. It might even be normal. As you suggest, the dog that can go anywhere and meet anyone is nice – but rare. Owners who don’t know that are more likely to fail to manage their dogs properly since they think all dogs should be able to do it all well.

  3. Thank you so much for this article! I agree with David 100%. It’s wonderful to be reassured that protecting our dogs from situations that may cause them stress is a GOOD thing, and is the only responsible thing to do. I’ve learned that I’d rather be perceived as “overprotective” and not take my dog to parties where I can’t anticipate all the things that may scare her. Knowing our dogs and managing their situations and experiences accordingly is part of loving them. Thank you again!