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While the humans are enjoying the holidays, there are important things to remember about our furry friends. The holidays for our dogs can be overwhelming, overstimulating, or harmful to them if we are not vigilant. Try to think of it from their perspective – a dog’s natural instinct is to protect their home. Hearing Dogs are trained to alert to door knocks and bells which may be more frequent during this time. Tempting food, lots of decorations, and strangers in their home can be overwhelming to dogs. Our Service Dogs are trained to be comfortable in most situations, but holidays can still be stressful for them. Pet dogs may not have been trained to be comfortable in these types of situations, and can become even more stressed. DBL Field Representative, Laura, provides ways to keep the holidays safe and fun for your dogs – whether they are Service Dogs or pet dogs.

Holiday Foods and Your Dog

An Assistance Dog in training Kelly decompresses with nylabones and a comfortable bed.

Digestive upset and pancreatitis are the most common ailments and emergencies in dogs around the holidays, which are often related to food. It is important to keep foods out of reach that can cause your dog harm, as well as any non-food objects that could be ingested.

Common holiday foods to avoid feeding your dogs include:

  • Poultry bones. These splinter very easily when chewed
  • Seasoned meats
  • Rich, fatty foods such as butter, cream, gravies
  • Garlic, onions, leeks, chives. These can cause destruction of red blood cells
  • Desserts

Instead of these above foods, give your dog a toy stuffed with kibble and peanut butter, a pet safe chew bone, some raw vegetables such as green beans and carrots, or a puzzle toy with pet-safe treats to keep them occupied during meal times and times of busy activity.

Keep Your Home Pet-Safe

In addition to foods, you should be cautious with plants and holiday decorations that may be toxic or harmful to your dogs.

Assistance Dog in Training Annika poses next to a holiday tree

Objects for your dog to avoid during the holidays include:

  • Water in the real Christmas tree. Be sure to not add any additives to water.
  • Christmas tree ornaments, especially homemade, that can could be broken or consumed
  • Tinsel and other holiday decorations that could be ingested
  • Electric light cords that could be chewed
  • Lit candles, which can be a fire hazard

Hazardous plants that can be toxic if ingested include:

  • Holly
  • Mistletoe
  • Cedar, pine, balsam
  • Amaryllis
  • Poinsettia

For our Service Dogs, most of the above considerations shouldn’t be a problem, but it never hurts to be as safe as possible. Most importantly, have your veterinarian and emergency veterinarian contact information handy, as well as the 24 hour animal poison control number.  ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline  888-426-4435.  If you feel your dog has ingested something they shouldn’t have, please contact your veterinarian and poison control immediately.

Holiday Gatherings

Gatherings of new and/or lots of people during the holidays can be overstimulating and overwhelming for some dogs as well.

Provide a crate or bed in a quiet room when guests are over to give your dog space.

To reduce your dog’s stress when guests are visiting, you can follow the tips below.

  • Give your dog space. Shut them in a quiet room away from noise and activity with a sign on door warning guests
  • Consider a crate as a safe place if necessary
  • If allowing dog to be free and is comfortable, keep a close eye on the exits to reduce an unexpected escape
  • Ask guests not to feed dogs and keep trash secure
  • Provide treat-filled toys and soft music to entertain dogs safely and keep outside noise to a minimum
  • Make sure dog is wearing ID tags with updated information and microchip information is current in case of unexpected escape
  • Take a recent picture to have in case of emergency

Holiday Travel and Your Dog

If you are planning to travel with your dog during the holidays, it is always good to be well prepared.  Planning your travel in advance can make the trip go smoothly. When traveling with a pet dog or a dog that is not certified for public access, arrange for pet friendly lodging.

Our pets and Service Dogs that are not certified for public access are not allowed to travel on planes, especially in cargo area. Therefore, traveling with these dogs will be best in a car or RV.  Dogs that are certified for public access are able to travel in a plane cabin with their handler. Be sure to let the airline, car rental company, and hotel know you are traveling with a Service Dog to avoid any unexpected issues on the day of travel and allow for a smoother check-in. Also, some hotels may charge a pet fee, but that is unlawful for a certified Service Dog. If you are charged a fee for your Service Dog, you would be within your rights to complain or make a report about the incident.

Puppy in Training Addie meets her Puppy Raiser’s granddaughter

Keep dogs comfortable if you have a long flight or day traveling. It is best to reduce the amount of food and water your dog gets before traveling.  This will help with bathroom breaks while traveling.  When you arrive at your destination, your dog can have the remaining amount of food for the day.

Some things to bring with you when you travel with your dog include:

  • Food for the time you are traveling
  • Bowls for food and water
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Extra leash and long line
  • Your dog’s collar and tags. Be sure your contact information is up-to-date before traveling
  • Bags for clean up. Paper towels can be helpful just in case
  • A recent photo of you and your dog in case you get separated
  • Paperwork for airlines if you are traveling by plane with your certified Service Dog


The holidays are a time of fun and celebration. With a few considerations, your dog can have a safe, healthy and happy holiday season by your side! If you are a current Service Dog team and have questions about keeping your dog safe during the holidays, contact your Field Representative for guidance.


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Dogs for Better Lives is an award-winning national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focusing on the training and placing of Hearing Assistance Dogs, Facility Dogs, and Autism Assistance Dogs. Accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and recognized for ten consecutive years by Charity Navigator as a 4-star nonprofit, Dogs for Better Lives has been rescuing dogs, bettering lives, and providing Assistance Dogs since 1977.

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