Thinking of bringing your dog with you as you travel to visit friends or family this holiday season? Proper etiquette for pet guests (petiquette?) is similar to that of humans: Don’t leave stuff all over the house, no jumping on beds and keep howling at night to a minimum.
But for pet owners, there is always an element of uncertainty, says Sean Sheer, who writes for the Urban Dog blog. Take Sheer’s dog Bodhi, a mellow eight-year-old Weimaraner. Bodhi has partied on Fire Island and at the Jersey Shore and enjoyed woodsy walks in the Adirondacks, all as a perfectly charming guest. But one Thanksgiving in Palm Beach, Florida, Bodhi could not resist counter-surfing while the humans were having dinner in the next room.
“Our hostess went in to the kitchen to get the vanilla cake, but it was gone,” says Sheer, who lives in New York. “There was frosting on Bodhi’s mouth. The lesson is that as well as you think you know your dog, they can always surprise you.”
The first test of good manners — yours, that is — comes when you’re invited for an overnight visit: “Do not presume that when you and your family are invited for the holiday or the weekend that this extends to your dog,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm in Massachusetts. Smith says that even if these people realize your dog is an important part of your family, they might not be ready to offer lodging for your Great Dane. So if your host did not specifically include your dog in the invitation and you would prefer to bring it, you need to ask. “Don’t just show up after a six-hour car ride and have your dog pop out of the back seat to a look of horror on the host’s face,” Smith says.
Sheer has a group of close friends with dogs who visit back and forth with pets in tow, so in those cases, he just confirms that Bodhi is welcomed. But he is hesitant to ask to bring Bodhi to the homes of friends he doesn’t know as well. “I don’t like to impose on people,” he says. And it might be that these friends know their own dog or cat doesn’t really like sleepovers and it could get ugly.
Do not be offended if the invitation is for humans only, says Lisa Grotts, an etiquette expert from San Francisco who has a corgi named Elizabeth.
“A pet as a weekend guest adds a lot of responsibility for a host, even if they are dog people,” Grotts says. In some ways, asking whether a dog can come is like asking to bring an extra person to a house party weekend, she says. Owners have to be prepared to make other arrangements. “Sometimes that means getting a pet sitter,” she says.
Becky Pugh, owner of the grooming and boarding business Bone Jour in Bethesda, Maryland, realizes her dogs Tink, Fritzy and Kizzy are a big group to wrangle. “I would not bring my trio overnight unless someone was literally begging me to do it,” Pugh says. “My dogs are used to a lot of attention. It’s better to leave them at home with housesitters and to keep their routine as normal as possible.” This arrangement often means your dogs will have a better time — and so will you. “Don’t set your dogs up for failure,” Pugh says. If you’re worried about them chewing sneakers or slobbering on the velvet sofa, it could ruin the whole weekend for you and your hosts.
Once you’ve snagged the invite and determined that you are comfortable your dog can behave, it’s time to ask for a list of house rules. Your dog may be allowed on the furniture at home but maybe isn’t invited to get this comfortable in your host’s condo. Your host may request that your dog not go into certain rooms of the house, or hang around during meals begging for food or be let loose in the backyard.
Don’t expect your host to provide anything for your dog. Pack everything, including a dog bed, food, feeding bowls, toys, gates and waste bags. You could also bring a blanket to use wherever your pet lies down. If you are traveling by plane, you can ship food directly to your host’s home if they are OK with that. “It’s nice to also bring a roller brush so you can keep hair off of the furniture,” Grotts says. Researching dog parks nearby so you can entertain your pet and help him work off energy is a good idea, Pugh says.
Sleeping arrangements can be tricky, as many non-dog-owners aren’t keen on dogs nestling into the sheets. Sheer says, “Our dog sleeps with us, but a lot of people don’t like a dog in a bed. So we bring our dog bed, but I confess, our dog doesn’t always stay in it.” He also suggests you bring a blanket to lay on your bed just in case your dog decides to join you on it in the middle of the night.
Accidents do happen. If your dog pees in your room, ‘fess up, Smith says. “Apologize and offer to clean it up.” Some hosts want to do this themselves, using special chemicals they keep on hand for kind of thing so as not to damage the rug or upholstery. But you should also offer to have the item professionally cleaned.
Do your best to keep tabs on your pet at all times, says Smith, whose Labradoodle, Dory, sometimes travels with her. “I try to avoid situations that are going to be fraught with peril,” she says. That means homes with lots of breakables or kids who might be tempted to feed Dory foods that could make him sick.
When you leave, make sure you express your thanks for kindnesses extended to both you and your dog. Of course, any overnight host deserves a thank-you note. You could write a special note from your poodle to your hosts, thanking them for the treats or the nice long walk they took him on — and, if necessary, apologizing for knocking over the Christmas tree. It might go a long way in getting your dog — and you — invited back.