This year, no matter what you have planned, we encourage you to enjoy pet-friendly holidays by preparing in advance. Your pawliday prep might include teaching new skills or refining existing ones, strategizing management of your dog’s environment, communicating pet safety guidelines to family, friends (and guests) and, most importantly, carving out some quality time to savor with your inquisitive canine. So, from The Inquisitive Canine family to yours, we would like to share some tips for keeping dogs safe this Thanksgiving:
Brush Up Any Rusty Cues
The possibility of visitors at the door and surprise plates of treats (for people) beautifully displayed at a dog’s eye level are just a couple of examples of why it’s important that your canine companion has been encouraged to make the best behavior choices – or to at least listen to you when you ask him or her to do something. Even if you have many training tricks up your sleeve already, now is the time to brush up any rusty cues, such as:
- Greeting people and other dogs politely: Decide on a strategy for how you’d like your dog to greet visitors. Divide that into specific behaviors, each of which can be taught and practiced independently. Then keep rehearsing with short sessions that are fun and upbeat. For instance, when the doorbell rings, or there’s a knock at the door, would you like your pup to go to a dog bed or mat instead of charging the door?If so, ‘place’ training, targeting the entire body onto a specific mat or bed, is a great skill to review. Once your inquisitive canine has a solid ‘go to your place,’ practice asking pup to ‘stay’ until you give a release cue, such as “Go say hi!” This can be a challenging step. If you have two sets of hands, you can have one person stay with the dog, giving rewards, while the other answers the door. Training tip: Keeping your dog’s harness and leash on during this step can help prevent breaking the stay or door-dashing. For the “Go say hi!” step, please refer to Surefire Strategies to Teach Your Dog to Greet People Nicely.
- “Leave it!”: The all-important cue for those times when the roast turkey is too close to the edge of the counter or a box of chocolates is left on the end table. Like polite greetings, ‘leave it’ is another cue that takes tons of practice (repetition) and high-value rewards. And like good door manners, it’s more than worth the effort. A well-trained ‘leave it’ cue can be the difference between your dog stealing a pot roast off the counter and your dinner being safe (and delicious!). Training tip: To reinforce this cue, make it clear to dogs that there is consistently something wonderful to be had if they move away from the item they are considering going for. It’s kind of a “treat in the guardian’s hand is worth two on the counter” situation, if you will.
- Coming when called: Recalling your dog from another room, a new park, or if he or she has made a dash out the front door can be a literal lifesaver. Training tip: When practicing this cue, remember that the sound of your voice should be music to your dog’s ears, predicting fantastic cheers and rewards. This cue is especially important to practice until he or she responds without thinking (what is known as a conditioned response).
Need help? A qualified, force-free dog trainer can walk you through teaching your pup these valuable skills. However, if by the time the holiday rolls around, your dog can’t yet be trusted to respond reliably, crating or tethering when appropriate are better, safer options. (More on that in a bit…)
Brush Up on People Training
The holidays are hectic, making it easy for family members and friends to occasionally forget pet safety. People may not be able to pay as careful attention as they would otherwise – sometimes it’s hard to pay any attention at all! This leads to some more of those practical dangers: food being left around for easy canine access, doors and gates being left open so pets can wander off, confusion regarding pet care arrangements, and more. Be proactive by:
- Making sure everyone in your home is aware of what is and is not safe to feed your pooch! (Read on for details.)
- Reminding everyone to make sure that doors are fully latched as you come and go, including crate doors, gates to your yard, and the doors to your home.
- Getting in the habit of double-checking that the counters and tables have been cleared before your dog is allowed free access to the kitchen and dining areas.
- Having a schedule posted somewhere obvious that allows those who are feeding and walking pets to mark off what has been done and when.
What Is and What Isn’t Safe to Feed Your Pooch
Sadly, there are many foods and other household items that are toxic to dogs. During this time of year, dogs are more likely to have access to food items that are unsafe for them or larger quantities of nontoxic food than usual (also unsafe). ASPCApro recently posted an article detailing 4 Harmful Thanksgiving Foods for Pets: onions and garlic, cooked animal bones, bouillon cubes, and baked goods. In light of these various hazards, the key to pet safety is management.
Managing Your Dog’s Environment
As we’ve noted, managing your dog’s behavior and environment goes a long way in keeping everyone safe and happy during the holiday season – and throughout the year! This Thanksgiving, along with your other holiday preparations, consider the following:
- Even if you have an adult dog, go about puppy-proofing as though you have an actual puppy in your midst again.
- Know when to tether your pup somewhere safely. Attaching a lead to a comfortable dog harness can help keep an inquisitive canine out of trouble when you can’t be there to supervise directly. (Note: Don’t leave a tethered dog alone! Consider this option if you can be nearby but can’t keep a close eye on the dog’s every move.)
- Know when to use your dog’s crate for confinement that is safe and fun for brief periods.
- Use baby gates to restrict access to potentially risky areas (front door, food prep and dining areas, etc.).
- Be prepared to provide plenty of enrichment: food stuffed toys, bones and chewies all come in handy here.
Dig Deep and Have Patience
The behavior of stressed-out pets – which may include eliminating indoors, vocalizing repeatedly, and seeming to forget every bit of training you ever did with them – can exasperate even the most calm, collected human. It’s okay. Go easy on yourself and your furry friends. Think about the various kinds of upheaval this holiday season will bring to your pet’s world. Accommodate your pets however you can and do your best to prepare them for potentially stressful times. Make sure your dogs (and you) are getting enough quiet time, enough you-time, and enough exercise and playtime to help shake off any anxiety that comes with holiday festivities.
Knowing ahead of time that you’ll have to try to be a little more patient than usual with your pet can go a long way toward reducing your own frustration. Lowering your own stress level in this way will, in turn, help decrease your dog’s stress.
Enjoy the Simple Things
Try to find some small moments of joy in this hectic time of year. Buy your inquisitive canine a special toy or treat and take a moment to enjoy watching him relish your gift. Ideally, the holidays are a time for celebration and merriment, but life isn’t always ideal, especially during a pandemic. Happily, you can turn to your canine companion to bring more light into your life. Dogs are good reminders that it’s the simple things – a game of fetch, a little walk to get some fresh air, a sunrise or sunset together, cuddle time – that make life that much more fun.
On that note, we wish you, your family, and your inquisitive canine a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!