Hosting an event with an anxious or excited dog

Having guests over with a dog that has behavioral issues can be quite challenging. Sometimes even seem downright impossible at times. You may be far better off having the event elsewhere and leaving your pup at home or with a sitter. But we know that’s not always possible. Let’s go over all the different things you can do to help make your evening a success.

While the advice is for stuff happening at your home, most of these tricks can also be adapted when you’re the invited guest.

Most of the work needs to be done ahead of time, so get started right away!

Safety for all, first and foremost

If you have a dog that is scared of strangers to the point of biting, the first thing to do is consult with a trainer. While the advice in this post may still be of use, you’re taking an immense risk doing this without professional help. Family dinners become a bit awkward after a child gets bit in the face. I apologize for the graphic imagery, but these things happen and you need to be aware of it. All dogs can and will bite if pushed too far.

If your jumping dog weighs over 100 pounds and you’re expecting fragile guests, that’s also a recipe for disaster. You can still host your event, but it would be risky to let the dog greet people at the door.

Your dog should also be able to feel safe throughout the event. We’ll go over several things you can do to help, but keep this general rule in mind. Keep your dog away from things that make it nervous. For instance, a dog that feels uncomfortable around children shouldn’t be left in the middle of a birthday party, supervised or not.

Before your event

Where will your dog hang out?

If you’re reading this, odds are that your dog isn’t the “laying down calmly in the living room while things happen” type. Having one (or more) places where your dog will be allowed (and heavily encouraged) to stay during your evening is going to make things much, much easier. With an anxious dog, this is more a matter of them being able to relax and feel safe than it is preventing them from being disruptive.

In both cases, you’ll want somewhere safe and relatively calm for your dog to be. Some dogs will only need to be in this space for a few key moments (dinner, charades, Twister). Others will be better off simply spending the entire time there. Put simply, your dog should only be out of the calm space when you’re absolutely sure it will go well.

Here are a few ways you can create a safe space:

  • A crate or exercise pen
  • Closed off room
  • Baby gated area

Pick the most practical strategy, then start training. You’ll have to teach your dog to be okay with being confined and away from you. Otherwise they’ll likely just bark their lungs out and that won’t be fun for anyone. We have a guide for crate training and for learning to be alone to help you get started on those.

Is your dog is okay hanging out in the safe space when nothing is going on? It is a really good ahead to invite one or two people over! Work on your dog being okay with people around, but at a lesser intensity than the party you’re actually planning. This will also help you practice before the stressful night when the whole family shows up!

Do you need additional safety measures?

You have your safe area, but you need more. You may want to have other ways to control its behavior when it interacts with your guests.

Depending on your dog’s issues, it may be very wise to have it on a leash or wearing a muzzle at all times. In some cases, a simple leash hanging off your dog’s harness is enough. For some dogs though, someone will have to hold that leash at all times.

How will your dog keep busy?

How long will your event last it last? Can your dog be okay not going out that entire time? If not, who’s going to take care of the puppy when it needs to relieve itself?

The best way to buy some time and keep your dog busy during the event will be through mental stimulation and chewing. Fill out some interactive toys with part of your dog’s meal and some canned food. Put it in the freezer. Voilà! Buy some bully sticks or beef ribs. Find the stuff that lasts the longest and have them ready.

Warn your guests before they arrive

Telling people not to pet your dog when it jumps while they have the beautiful puppy trying to say hi very rarely works. They’re so happy to see the dog that your words fall on deaf ears. This is why explaining to your guests what the rules are before they even step through the door is important. Whatever the rules and challenges for your dog, make them clear to everyone. This part varies a lot based on the type and severity of your dog’s challenges as well as your own household’s rules, but here are a few examples:

  • Don’t pet the dog unless all paws are on the floor
  • Do not give the dog table food, especially not when it begs
  • When playing with the dog, take frequent breaks to avoid overstimulation
  • Never approach the dog while it has a toy, a bone or food
  • Text before you arrive so that I can come open the door, no ringing the doorbell
  • Completely ignore the dog, at all times, even if it comes to sniff you (if you’re thinking of using this one because your dog is afraid, consult a trainer before you attempt this)

Two things that should be made mandatory and clear regardless of what your dog’s issues are:

1 – The safe space is off-limits:

No one but yourself is allowed to go interact with the dog in any way, shape or form when it is in the designated safe space. The goal of that area is for your dog to relax and understand that we’re not going to pay much attention to it now. If people are round-the-clock going to say hi, there will be no relaxing and your dog may get frustrated when the visits stop.

2 – Children should be supervised around the dog at all times

Children should be told that trying to ride, pick up, hug, pull on or hit the dog is absolutely out of the question and they will not be able to interact with the puppy if they cannot follow those instructions. There should always be an adult actively (not out of the corner of their eye) supervising interactions with any dog. Children have silly ideas quite often and a dog bite can happen in a matter of seconds.

Tire out your dog

Try to burn off as much energy as possible before your guests arrive.

A really long walk, going for a run, playing fetch, going to the dog park, some training, whatever works best.

Pick the activity that exhausts your dog the most and do more of that than you normally would. A tired dog has less energy to be a bother and is less likely to care about stuff that bothers it (up to a limit).

During your event

Arrival of guests

You should only have your dog greeting guests if it can handle it. If your dog can’t stay calm when someone arrives or is very scared of strangers, it should be in the safe place you’ve prepared for this part.

One way to help reduce the stress and excitement is to have people come in one at a time and let the dog calm down a bit before the next person comes in. This can help your dog succeed at greeting everyone politely!

Main activity

Whether you’re inviting people over for dinner, to watch a game, to play board games or to just have a chat, that’s the moment where you pull out all the stops to keep your dog calm. Your dog has had some time to interact with guests (if that’s safe), you’ll send it over to the space you’ve prepared for it with an interactive toy to keep busy. Ideally, you’ll pop by to say hi, praise and give something to chew to your dog throughout the event.

After you’re done

Once everyone’s done eating or the game is over, it’ll be a good time to let your dog out to interact with people and have a blast (once again, if that is safe).

Make sure that the rules of conduct for both dogs and guests are still respected when you give your dog more freedom.

You don’t necessarily need to do this forever

While all the advice here is useful at multiple times in a dog’s life, your long-term goal should be to train your dog so that it doesn’t need to be managed at all. I strongly advise you work on the complex issues, such as fear of strangers, with a trainer. But there’s a lot you can do to help your dog be calmer. Keep an eye out for those guides in the coming months!

Still need help? Get in touch with us!

written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer

Mis à jour le January 1, 2024