Training and Behavior
The holidays are just around the corner, and one of the questions we’re asked most frequently this time of year is how to prevent dogs from “getting into trouble” amidst the food, friends, and festivities. It can take months to train the skills your dog would need to remain on its best behavior around delicious snacks and distracting people. With temptations of food, and bothering or begging guests to get some, and all of the new people coming and going, there are so many things dogs would need to learn in order to be wonderful hosts for our friends and families. Instead of offering last-minute training tips that we wouldn’t have time to properly reinforce, today let’s discuss how you can make a plan to help your dog be successful this holiday season. When we talk about helping a dog be successful, we mean we’re going to make it easy for them to do the right thing and avoid getting into trouble with food or guests. With temptations abound, there are so many things that your dog could do that might put a damper on holiday cheer. Standard pooch party fouls aside, there are foods, such as fatty meats, onions, raisins, and chocolate, that are certainly tempting but are also potentially dangerous. Having a plan for the day can help avoid a holiday trip to the emergency vet. Special Plans for Special Days Your dog spends almost every day of the year with a similar routine. Unless you’re unusually gregarious (especially given how much time we’ve spent indoors the past couple of years), it’s unlikely your dog is used to crowds and feasts in your home. Even a very well-trained and well-mannered dog can get into trouble at big events like these, simply because the skills have not been proofed around so many distractions and temptations. Instead of spending time trying to train for something that happens once a year, we can try to develop a plan and employ some management techniques and our existing training to set our dogs up for success. Management An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or stuffing, or pie…). Something as simple as setting up barriers to prevent your pup from having access to the most tempting areas of the party can be a great solution to potential problems. It might feel like preventing trouble is a training cop out, but it’s not. First and foremost we should be advocates for our dogs and their safety. It’s unfair to put unrealistic demands on them, and on ourselves while we’re busy and distracted with holiday festivities. If your dog tolerates separation either in a crate or behind a baby gate, simply separating them from guests and food is a great way to make sure your dog can succeed at being well behaved. Exercise Before the party (and after your meal!) take the dog for a walk. Exercise is great for us and for our dogs—especially with all of those holiday meals adding up—and can help relax your dog so that they’re less likely to fuss during the festivities. If a daily walk is part of your routine, be sure not to skip it on those busy holidays. Sticking to your usual routine will help your dog stay content and even a bit tired on these big, busy days. Stimulation When it comes time for dinner and guests it’s important to have toys and treats on hand to help keep your dog interested in something other than what’s on the counter or your guests’ plates. New toys, long-lasting chews, and treat dispensing toys are a great way to provide your pup with long lasting fun. A food extraction toy such as a Kong or Toppl will help keep your dog focused on foods that are appropriate for them. If you freeze the stuffing inside of the toy, it will last an extremely long time! Be sure whatever toy, chew, or food extraction device you’re using is appropriate for unsupervised interaction—especially if the dog will be crated or confined. Clean Your Plates While most dogs would gladly volunteer to be a dishwasher after holiday feasts, keep in mind that many of the foods we enjoy are too rich or even potentially toxic to dogs. Cleaning up leftovers quickly, including wrapping and putting any uneaten food in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, removes temptation and puts some of the bigger risks of the holiday behind you. Be sure to take out the garbage, and be sure that any bones are safely disposed of, and that any tasty smelling dishrags or cloth napkins are safely put in the laundry. Our dogs are important parts of our lives and our families, and this Thanksgiving we can show our thanks for all that they do to improve our lives by developing a plan to help keep them safe and set them up for success this holiday season!