Avoid Thanksgiving Theatrics - Keep pets and people safe and happy during the holidays

The guests are coming, the prep work’s done. Now all you have to do this Thanksgiving is prepare the meal, set the table, and enjoy. You truly are the picture of preparedness. You have got everything under control . . . except your dog. A wayward hound who counter-surfs, begs, jumps on new arrivals, or is just plain rude to houseguests can be quite the nuisance when you’re trying to be a good host or hostess.

Here are a few pointers for a day you’ll remember . . . fondly.

First thing’s first — Incoming. 

No one appreciates getting dressed up only to have a dog, large or small, jump on them at the door. If you’re expecting a lot of people to arrive around the same time, it can be easiest to put your dog in another room until everyone settles. If your dog is a rambunctious greeter, guests appreciate a dog on leash to keep him from jumping up or getting too excited.

When I’m expecting people who will be trickle in over time I keep a leash dragging on a dog in training so I can get her under control before opening the door. A treat stash by the door can help get your excited pooch’s attention: show him you have a treat before opening the door, but don’t reward him until the guests are inside and the dog is focused on you.

If your dog is constantly begging for or hovering around food, two simple things can really help. First, teach your dog a command like “Out,” which means outside the dining room but still in the gathering. The other option is putting your dog away — a polite move if you have a guest who is uncomfortable with dogs. It’s also a good option for dogs who are uncomfortable with crowds or children. A dog closed in a room with a Kong full of frozen peanut butter and chicken isn’t likely to complain. Conditioning a dog to stay in a crate or room should be a process, not an event. Start with short stays and gradually increase the time spent there. A special treat that comes out only for those times can ease the process.

Naturally you or your guests might want to share the bounty. It’s important to ask guests not to feed your dog; they may not know what could be harmful. Chocolate can be deadly for dogs. Many guardians know this, but knowing won’t keep your dog from eating a piece of chocolate dropped by a child or guest. Keep your eyes peeled if risky foods are part of the spread.

Most dogs are drawn to the tasty smells from the garbage. Take care to dispose of skewers, strings, and other refuse out of Fido’s reach. All dogs love bones, but not all bones love dogs. Brittle poultry can shatter, and shards can not only cut your dog’s mouth, but do damage all the way down. A lesser-known risk lies in fatty foods, like turkey skin. A spike in the fat in a dog’s diet can cause inflammation of the pancreas. In best-case scenarios Pancreatitis can be horrific, painful, and expensive to treat; worst-case it can be deadly. Avoid fatty snacks like skin or fat trimmings and drippings.

Start preparing your dog for company before everyone piles in. Invite friends over beforehand to give your dog plenty of rehearsal time. As the holidays draw nearer, note things that can help make everything go smoothly. For example: will you have time to take your dog on a long walk Thanksgiving morning? If not, perhaps the day before you can spend some time on obedience activities to help stimulate him mentally, then wear that hound out (carefully, of course). Take a longer or faster walk, a run or bike ride, or invite that crazy neighbor dog that always runs yours into the ground over for a play date. Whatever you do, a good physical workout the day before will increase the impact of any exercise the day of. I like to take my dog for a walk after dinner and invite guests to come along. Usually we’re all stuffed, and a nice walk is an excellent way to give your dog a break from the chaos and make room for dessert.

Just like a perfect family feast, a little prep and planning around the pup can help make holiday gatherings at your place a piece of cake . . . or pie!

Pet Etiquette: Getting ready for company

While there are many ways to address bad doggy dinner manners, there are two basic approaches:

  1. Teach your dog to remove himself
  2. Teach your dog to accept being removed by you

It’s hard to believe, but not everyone appreciates that wet nose inches from their plate. To train your dog to keep an appropriate and polite distance in the presence of food, start by deciding what you want. Is three feet enough, or do you want the dog out of the room? Without a goal the training will fail so make sure you have a set line in mind. I prefer my dogs to stay outside the room while people are eating. My training session starts as soon as the dog catches a whiff of what I’ve got and comes to investigate. Immediately, I point to the exit and say “Out.” Then I drive the dog out by simply walking toward and blocking him from going anywhere but out the door. Once he’s out, I usually tell him to sit or down and stay, then walk away. The first few times, your dog may hop right up and follow you. Be persistent and consistent. If no food is given and the dog is never allowed to get comfy and relax in the room with you, eventually he dog will choose to stay at the doorway to enjoy tasty smells. If you want to give your dog scraps, that’s fine, but only after the dog has been obedient and calm. Give the scraps while your dog is in position outside the room. If you make this part of the family routine, your dog will accept it as just a part of life, no fuss, no muss.

Like people, dogs have varying levels of self control. If your dog is easily excited, young, prone to overexcitement, or especially if your dog has aggression or fear issues, teaching your dog to be removed from company might be your best option. My ideal setup for this route is a room where the dog can see what’s going on. Baby gates work well, easing the anxiety some dogs feel when confined. However, properly prepared, most dogs should be comfortable being alone in a closed room whatever your situation. I don’t mean just any old room. This will be the most magical, amazing, delicious room your dog has ever sniffed! Get the thing your dog loves most — a favorite toy, a yummy snack — and make whichever room you choose the only place your dog can have that toy or snack. Give the reward and close the door or the gate, but don’t walk away just yet. In the beginning, you’re only going to let your dog have that wonderful reward for a few minutes before you go in and take it away. You can do this a few times in a day, gradually increasing the amount of time your dog gets to have with the best reward ever. Taking the treat away creates a higher level of focus on the treat. Once your dog realizes it has a limited amount of time to have this special reward, it will be more apt to ignore noises (such as guests coming and going) and other distractions. It is always a good idea to practice this when the house smells like food, such as dinner time, so your dog won’t be swayed when powerful dinner party smells waft into the room.

Kelley D'Agrosa is a horse trainer, riding instructor, and avid animal lover. She is a recent graduate of the University of Portland with an eye towards law enforcement. With her background in horse handling, adopting and rehabilitating a skittish dog seemed a perfect fit. She and Simon (dog) continually search for new adventures together, often accompanied by the other four horses, two cats, rabbit, and goat residing at her farm in Warren.