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The holiday season is always a stressful time for pet parents. Now add dogs plus the most tempting Thanksgiving meal ever and it may make you want to rethink hosting this year.
But fear not! I have seven tips to help you have the well-behaved dog and family members we all dream of for your holiday. And hopefully keep your thanksgiving feast on the dinner table instead of in your dog's stomach.
Here's how you can keep your dog safe and set him/her up for success during Thanksgiving:
Tip 1: Have a plan
Make a plan for the before, during, and after of Thanksgiving. Where will your pets be? Where will your friends/family be? Most importantly, where will the food be? Discuss your plan ahead of time with your family, so everyone is on the same page, and everyone knows what their roles are. This will help alleviate any stress during the big day. Even though you'll be busy preparing thanksgiving foods it's important to keep the well-being of your dogs at the forefront of your mind.
Make a plan. Write down who is responsible for what and when. Most importantly, note where and what your pets will be doing at each point.
Tip 2: Prepare enrichment toys
Have some ready-made enrichment items to keep your dog busy and give him/her before, during, and after the thanksgiving feast to chew on. Don't wait until you're basting a turkey, putting the finishing touches on the pumpkin pie, and trying to remind your friends how to get to your house.
Get some enrichment toys stuffed and in the freezer to give your dog to chew. You can even stuff an enrichment toy with dog thanksgiving type of food with small amounts of mashed sweet potatoes, turkey breast, and apple slices - just be careful to not overdo so it stays a healthy treat for your dog. Bully sticks and/or cardboard destructibles are also great to have ready on hand a few days before the big day.
Purchase enrichment toys you can stuff treats and food inside. Get in the habit of preparing enrichment toys with yummy treats to give your dog to eat and put in the freezer every few days (or as frequently ahead of time as needed).
Tip 3: Burn off steam
Turkey day has arrived - start off your dog's day with a long sniffy walk, a hike, some training, breakfast from a food puzzle, etc. Get your dog moving and exercised both mentally and physically. It's going to be a busy day, so making sure it begins with a relaxed furry friend is an important step to a well-behaved dog! Many pet parents get wrapped up in prepping and cooking and forget to mentally and physically exercise their dog. No surprise, counter surfing ensues and the green beans end up on the floor! Make exercising your pup a priority on turkey day.
Figure out a great source of mental and physical stimulation for your dog and do it a lot the day of Thanksgiving! Put it in your plan. Know who is responsible for exercising the dogs and make sure you don't forget!
Tip 4: Set up your pup and guests for safe greetings
Where will your dog be as your guests arrive? This is part of Tip 1 - have a plan. Using management during this point is a great idea for most families. Many dogs find the arrival of guests to be very exciting, and may not be able to be on their best behavior when it's happening over and over again. Plus, the door is opening and closing a LOT. That's downright dangerous for flighty pups, especially when not all family members are dog savvy enough to remember to close the door quickly.
Baby gates are a good tool for this, and many dogs are happy to relax in a back room with a chew and some white noise (here's where having that enrichment prepped is helpful!). Some dogs can be happily crated, too. Decide which you'll use ahead of time, and assign putting your pup into their success station and providing enrichment to a specific family member.
Combine tips 1 + 2. Plan where your pup will be when guests arrive and give him/her an enrichment chew to stay occupied.
Tip 5: Management during mealtime
If your pooch isn't used to having kiddos in the home, again, management may be the best bet while you're busy. Delicious turkey smells are going to be tempting for many dogs, and not all guests are going to know which food is healthy for dogs vs which foods they should avoid giving your dog as a treat. Or if it's even acceptable to feed your dog a treat.
Some guests may even take liberties when it comes to "disciplining" a dog that's tempted by human food on the table, which can also be very awkward. It's okay to bring your dog out for brief hellos and then bring him/her back to a safe space like a quiet room or success station. Your dog may prefer to get some breaks from the commotion.
If you do choose to have your dog hanging out with the family during the meal, make sure one person in the family is in charge of the dog - making sure your dog is comfortable, making sure guests are interacting appropriately, etc. This person should not have other important tasks (like making dinner!) and should be able to provide, full, active supervision. If they are called away to another task, they should either place the dog in a success station or back room, or designate someone else to take over dog duties.
Tip 6: Guide interactions
No one knows your dog better than you do. If you're going to bring your dog out for some social time, prep the humans ahead of time with any specific instructions that will help your dog feel comfortable. For example, if your dog will do better without a lot of direct eye contact, be sure to let everyone know ahead of time to please "ignore the dog" initially.
Giving guests instructions on what to do is much more helpful than waiting for mistakes to be made. Keep in mind that most small children are not capable of fully following instructions. Enlist the help of parents if needed, or use management tools like baby gates if there's any concern.
Advise guests how to interact with your dog before meeting your dog. If kids are involved, make sure parents hear the instructions and baby gates are being used if needed.
Tip 7: Reward your dog
Holidays are challenging, even for adult humans! Look for moments when your dog is offering behaviors you like (four paws on the floor, relaxing on their bed, etc) and pay them for those wonderful choices! The more we look for the good our dogs do, the more likely they are to repeat those desirable behaviors.
What measures are you taking to ensure your dog has an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday? I'd love to hear your ideas in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel here on Dogly! And if you ever have questions on which foods are dog friendly like sweet potatoes and canned pumpkin vs not like onions and butter, please get in touch with a Dogly Nutrition Advocate for help. Putting your pet's health above all else during the holiday season is top priority!
Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly
Great news! Your dog now knows how to "drop it," not steal food, not beg for food, and now you and your dog both know how to successfully prepare for a dinner party like Thanksgiving! If you haven't gone through all of the guides in the Food Manners channel here on Dogly yet, I highly suggest you do that. If you want to teach your dog other manners related behaviors, the Manners Channel also has guides for you on Basic Manners, Travel Manners, and Leash Manners. Start your training in the Manners Channel or sign up to work with me 1-1 if you need more personalized help.