The conventional wisdom during the holidays is that pets tend to raise blood pressure rather than lower it, but under the right circumstances, they can be tension relievers. We discovered this some years ago when several of us traveled to Oklahoma in an attempt to persuade my mother-in-law to move nearer to one of us while she was still healthy and able. Wanda was not especially a dog person, but my dog Harper was a puppy then, and I brought her along for some advanced socialization in the form of air travel, thunderstorms, staying in someone else's home and meeting more new people.
What we ended up getting, I think, was some advanced canine family therapy.
Now, all of Harper's new acquaintances on that trip tolerated - and in some cases, even liked - dogs, but certainly not to the extent that we do. There was no objection to Harper's presence, and I crossed my fingers that she wouldn't have any housetraining accidents in Wanda's house - that definitely wouldn't have gone over well.
I didn't need to worry. Not only did she behave perfectly and charm everyone, she acted as a source of tension relief. Any time things got stressful, there was Harper to be walked, Harper to throw a ball for, Harper to feed, Harper to pet. Her presence was a natural barrier to rising voices.
There are rules to being a good guest, especially during the holidays. Following them is the best way to ensure that your dog's visit will reduce tension, not heighten it.
* Ask about house rules for pets - and follow them. If your hosts don't want pets on the furniture, abide by their wishes. It's a good opportunity for your pet to practice the "stay" and "go to your place" commands. If they are OK with pets on furniture, reward their kindness by having a clean dog or covering the sofa or bed with a sheet you brought from home.
* Enforce good manners. Stealing food is a time-honored pet holiday tradition, and it's your responsibility to keep it from happening.
* Let your hosts know what your dog is allowed and not allowed to do or have so they don't allow him to jump up on them, feed him from the table or offer him forbidden treats such as cooked bones, fatty or salty foods or liquor- and raisin-laden fruitcake.
* If your hosts have pets, ensure that your dog behaves politely toward them. Keep him on his leash until you're sure he gets along with their dog or cat. Never let him chase other pets or otherwise give them grief.
* Bring your pet's crate so he has a little bit of home where he can go to relax. Confine him to it when you aren't around to supervise.
Even if they are buddies, having another animal in the house, combined with the chaos of the holidays, may be stressful for pets. Give your own pets, especially cats, a safe room where they can retreat when things get too crowded or noisy. Stock it with everything he needs: food, water, toys, a comfortable bed and, for cats, a clean litter box. Even outgoing animals can get overstimulated from too much handling and require a timeout.