By Kasey Herrera, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
5 Helpful Hints to Safely Celebrate with Your Pups
There is always pre-planning when we are getting ready to have a celebration at our home and it’s easy in all the excitement to overlook our furry family members. Any time there is going to be a change in the home (i.e. new people coming to your home to stay or many people coming over for a celebration) we need to up your pups structure a couple of weeks before this excitement begins. We all get a little lax with our pups after awhile of good behavior but now is the time to revisit the obedience training you learned in the past. This way your pups remember you are the host or hostess, not them!
- Structured Walks - Start by going back to daily walks. We want to make sure these are structured walks (not a sniff fest) so we can wear our pups out both physically and mentally, relaxing their minds to better cope with the holiday excitement. Walking is also a great way to bond with your pup and show leadership.
- Door Etiquette - We want our pups to greet our guests politely at the door. “Door Etiquette”, “Place” or “Go to Bed” are all good commands to revisit. By gaining space around the door from your pup you will learn to get to a calmer state before greeting new people and less likely for your pup to run out the door during this potentially stimulating time.
- Counter Surfing - This can be a real problem if you are having a dinner or a buffet. You can always revisit your “Leave It” command in tandem with learning the concept of “owning an area”. You definitely want to practice this well before you put that big turkey or ham on the table.
- Feeding Rituals - Creating a feeding ritual with your dog(s) is a great way to create respect through trust with your pup. It strengthens your leadership by letting your pup know that it is your food that you are letting them have. It is also a good way to get fast eaters to slow down and non-eaters to gain interest in the food they just worked for. First start by gaining space before you prepare the food. My pups eat in the Kitchen and to gain space I have taught them “Out of the Kitchen”. They all go out and stand at the doorway as I make their food bowls. I put all the food down then I call them in one at a time. They each have to work for me (sit, down, focus) before I release them one at a time to their food with a verbal cue of "Go Eat" or my personal favorite “Enjoy”. Your feeding ritual can grow with your pup but start simple. Simply starting with gaining space, putting the food down behind you then releasing to the food is a wonderful start. If you have multiple dogs, start by teaching each one individually where they should go and what to do before you try it with your pack. It will make for a much easier go of it.
2. Not All Dogs Love Guests & Not All Guests Love Dogs
Having guests over can be a stressful time for many pups so it is important to make sure they get plenty of breaks from your guests and have a safe place to relax. This is a good time to revisit crate training. When your pup is acclimated properly they will love their crate and see it as a safe place to retreat to and not a place of punishment (see To Crate or Not to Crate at 2SpeakDog.com). You can put your pups crate in a room that will have little to no guest traffic. If you can trust that your pup will not get into things in that room, you can leave the crate door open and let them get comfy wherever else they like. However, if crate trained it will probably be in the crate. The noise from the other room can still be stressful to your pup so think about leaving a radio or a TV on to drowned out the excitement coming from the other rooms (Animal Planet is NOT a good idea. The animal show sounds can often add to your pups stress. Try NPR or some other news channel).
In that same vein, not all of your guests love dogs so if jumping is one of your pups faux PAWS… then again, pre-planning and working on jumping is a great idea. Dog lover or not, no one likes a dog who jumps all over them when sitting on the furniture. When it is just you and your pup(s) and you are comfortable with them getting on the couch, it is a good idea to teach your pup(s) to ask permission before getting up. They should see sharing the furniture with you as a privilege. This way you have happier guests and a pup that won’t guard your or the furniture.
3. Safety with the Kids
The holidays can be a very exciting time for the kids and that excitement doesn’t always bode well with your pups. If your guests are coming with kids and your pup has a hard time with little people, don’t take any chances. Simply give your pup some space away from the children. You can crate or put them in the other room. Make sure you let the parents and their children know not to go in the room. If your dog is okay with kids, then they can interact but ONLY with adult supervision. This should be at all times. It only takes a second for something to happen and it will always be the pup’s fault no matter what. If it can’t be you supervising because you are cooking/hostessing then I would choose someone you know who will be an advocate for your pup and not let play that might look cute, go to far. I don’t want to sound like a grinch but your guest’s children and your pup’s safety are a must.
4. Holiday Food Safety For Your Pup
This time of year we all indulge a bit. However, most of these wonderful indulgences are not so good for our pets. Our pets are our family so it is very tempting to let your pup celebrate with the rest of the family by letting them partake in their own turkey dinner. Unfortunately this is a not good for your pup. Traditional Thanksgiving or any holiday dinners although wonderful for us are far too rich, fatty and spicy for your pup and can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, vomiting, bouts of diarrhea and possibly pancreatitis (This is an inflammation of the pancreas resulting in pain, vomiting, and dehydration). Dogs with this serious condition often require hospitalization for treatment. For deep chested dogs, the same type of food can possibly lead to bloat (gastric dilation-volvulus), also potentially fatal. To avoid these issues feed your pup like normal. If you like, you can add a special treat (a tablespoon or so depending on your dog’s size) by adding a high quality canned food such as Merrick Classic Grain-Free Thanksgiving Day. This way your pup gets to celebrate too without any of the tummy problems or more serious risks.
- Provide a satisfying portion of their regular food served just before your feasting begins to reduce their inclination to begging for your food.
- Reinforce the "no people food" rule to your family and friends; don't give in no matter how cute, hungry or deprived your pet looks... or how "mean" you feel!
- Stock up on special, pet-safe holiday treats from one of your town's local pet bakeries or specialty shops.
- Have treats up high around the house and tell your guests those are the only treats your pups can have.
- Have your guests engage with your pup by making them do any obedience commands or tricks your pup knows.
Can my dog have the leftover bones? - Short answer, it’s better not to. Cooked bones such as pork (bone in ham) and fowl (turkey) can splinter. These bones can get caught in the roof of the mouth, esophagus or the intestinal track. If you are not sure if your dog should have a certain type of bone, it's better to error on the side of safety. Canned dog food like the one mentioned above does have bones in it but they are pressure cooked so they just crumble when touched so they are okay for your pup.
Foods & Plants That Can be Dangerous for you Pups - It is always fun to keep candy, chocolates and other human treats out for your guests but these items can be very dangerous for your pup. If your dog is a counter surfer or your guests are the kind that just can’t say no to your furry family members pleading eyes, then skipping this can be a life saver. Below are a few food/plant items that can be dangerous for you pups.
- Chocolate - Chocolate, coffee, and tea all contain dangerous components called xanthines, which cause nervous system or urinary system damage and heart muscle stimulation. Chocolate, with theobromine, is especially a problem because dogs love its flavor. Problems from ingestion range from diarrhea to seizures and death. Unsweetened baking chocolate and dark chocolate are the worst culprits, but all chocolate, fudge, and other candy should be placed out of your dog's reach.
- Alcohol - Alcohol can cause serious intoxications in pets, and many dogs are attracted to it. Every year hundreds of dogs die after a single bout of alcohol consumption. Clean up glasses during and after holiday parties. Dogs are often attracted by the sweet taste of drinks, especially eggnog.
- Macadamia nuts
- Yeast dough
- Holly and mistletoe
- Christmas tree and tree water
Besides the obvious, the potential danger of lights being chewed and glass ornaments being broken, the oils produced by fir trees can create discomfort to your pets mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling and vomiting. The fir needles may cause gastrointestinal irritation and potential blockage or puncture. Additionally, the tree water can contain fertilizer, anti-freeze and multiple other chemicals and bacteria that can be fatal to your pup, do not let them drink the water. If you are considering a live tree consider purchasing a smaller tree and place it on an elevated platform (i.e. side table). If you are purchasing a larger tree consider a pen around the tree.
5. Gifting a Puppy or Dog
You may think this is a good time of year to get a puppy or a dog for friends or family members but it might not be the kind gesture you think it is. Often we see someone who wants to help a friend get over the loss of a pup by getting them a new one or we see parents wanting to surprise the family with a new puppy as a gift during the holidays. Neither of these scenarios are in the best interest and well being for your dog. When gifting a pup to an individual that has recently lost a dog you need to understand that not everyone grieves the same way and for many, this process may take quite some time to get through and a new pup may be a painful memory. For the pup to thrive a person should be past the grieving stage so they try not to make overly direct comparisons to their previous dog and to see the new pup as an individual. When thinking about surprising your loved ones with a new furry bundle of joy, timing is everything. With all of the excitement of opening gifts, guests in town and overall distractions this is not the best time to acclimate your pup to a new home. Instead, opt for a gift certificate on 'how to choose the right pup' from a trainer/behavior specialist in your area and/or a training book and collar in anticipation of the new arrival. Getting a pup should be a unified decision and all involved family members need to be on board to care for their new four legged friend and have his or hers best interest at heart.
And finally, the perfect picture
We all want that perfect pic with our pups; cute hat, Reindeer ears, lights, etc. Understand that your dog does not love this as much as you do and it can cause unneeded stress. Taking pictures with other dogs is also stressful can cause contention between them. Know your pup’s limits and be aware of their body language under stress (i.e. Tongue flicking, excessive yawning or the obvious, not complying). A picture can be just as cute by adding the effects (Christmas hat, cute sayings) after the fact. Our photo apps these days are amazing!