Top Five Turkey Day Survival Tips

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Catching up with family that you don’t see often. Eating delicious holiday food that you only have this time of year. Eating too much delicious holiday food that you only have this time of year. Naps on the couch after eating all that delicious food. Did I mention the delicious food?

All this delightful chaos can pose some difficulties for your pooch. Dogs can become over excited or nervous being around unfamiliar people, or even around familiar people! If your pooch has a habit of stealing food, they can often take advantage of the chaos to grab a big snack (remember what happened in A Christmas Story?).

Use the following tips to make Thanksgiving as stress free as possible for you and your pup!

1. Exercise.

Before guests are due over, or before you travel if you’re not hosting, make sure to give your dog adequate exercise. Be careful not to overdo it - while in general a tired dog is a happy dog, an over tired dog is as cranky as a toddler! Take your dog on a long leisurely walk, allowing him to stop and sniff the roses, as it were. Sniffing pee is your dog’s equivalent to checking their social media, and it takes a lot mental energy to parse out all those smells. If your dog is social and enjoys the company of other dogs, bring him to the dog park or send him to daycare for a half day.

 Photo by  Patrick Hendry  on  Unsplash

2. Introductions

If there are going to be multiple dogs at the dinner, make sure that any introductions happen in a neutral territory and on loose leashes. If the area is fenced in, off leash introductions are best. Make sure to go slow! Initial meetings can set the tone for the rest of the dogs’ lives. If the dogs get along, allow them to play a bit before bringing them inside. Monitor and supervise closely to interrupt any negative interactions before the escalate, and praise any positive interactions.

3. Busy Toys.

Have several kongs, busy buddies, and other stuffable toys ready to go for when guests come over. Busy toys help keep your dog occupied doing something safe, rather than jumping on guests, counter surfing, or running around like lunatics. Stuff them with high value food items that will keep your dog focused. I like to use hot dogs and cheese in the bottom of the kong, followed by a layer of canned food (Merrick Thanksgiving Day Stew is a good choice!), a layer of kibble, more canned food, kibble, and then peanut butter, cream cheese, or liver paste to finish it out. I then freeze them so they take a little longer to excavate. If your dog is not a kong pro, make sure that you take the time to teach them. Check out Smart Dog University’s blog for tips on how to introduce your dog to the kong, and Check out Kong Company for ideas on what to put in it!

4. Confinement.

 SSDT Doodle Student Milo practicing Place

SSDT Doodle Student Milo practicing Place

When you’re not able to keep a close eye on your dog to ensure they’re being well behaved, or when your dog starts to get overstimulated, a crate or a quiet room is helpful. Make sure that your dog has been adequately crate trained before doing this so that you don’t stress him out. To help make your quiet space calming for your dog, try using a DAP diffuser and playing calming music (classical music works great!), while giving your dog one of the kongs you made.

5. Turkey Time!

During the meal itself, have your dog lay out of the way. Teaching your dog the place cue is fabulous for this. Set up your dog’s mat or bed a few feet off from the table and have them stay there. Avoid allowing your dog under the table, especially if there are multiple dogs, and don’t give your dog table scraps. Some of the food we love at Thanksgiving can be toxic for dogs (onions, grapes, raisins, nutmeg, chocolate).

Happy Thanksgiving from Shelby Semel Dog Training!

Sidewalk Encounters: Feisty Fidos

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You’re out walking with your well socialized, friendly dog when it happens: Another dog out for a walk with his owner sees you and your dog and goes ballistic. This dog is lunging at the end of his leash, teeth bared, growling and barking at your dog. What do you do?

The most important thing to realize is that the majority of dogs that react this way upon seeing another dog are usually doing so out of fear or frustration. Dogs that are fearful are likely to have lacked proper socialization during their puppy stage, they may have some genetic component that influences their fear, and/or they may have been traumatized by an attack by another dog. Frustrated dogs, on the other hand, are usually social and friendly when off leash, and may have developed these behaviors as a result of owners shortening their leash around other dogs in response to over exuberant greetings, being pulled away from other dogs after greeting, or just frustration and over arousal from being restrained. Rather than being “mean,” think of these dogs like toddlers having a meltdown and responding the only way they know how.

Dogs rely on loud and dramatic displays to try to influence the approaching dog to move away. These are termed “distance increasing signals” and may include obvious signals such as the barking, growling and lunging described above. They may also include more subtle signs, such as:

  • High “flagging” tail (where the dog is carrying his tail up and over his back, and may be accompanied by slight wags)
  • Piloerection (raised hair along the dog’s spine)
  • Lowered head
  • Hard, fixated stare
  • Forward pricked ears

When you see a dog displaying any of the behaviors listed above the best thing you can do for your dog, and for the approaching dog, is to move away. If these signals are ignored, the dog may escalate their aggressive reaction. It can be quite scary, stressful, and traumatic for your dog to experience these displays, and they may start reflecting these behaviors back on their walk as they try to keep other dogs away from them. Call your dog’s name so that he doesn’t stare at the other dog. Direct eye contact, whether dog-dog or human-dog, can seem very threatening to the dog on the receiving end. Eye contact should be avoided or stopped as this can escalate the aggressive behavior. Use the Touch cue to encourage your dog to change direction and walk away from the other dog, or to walk quickly passed the other dog while preventing eye contact. Practice emergency u-turns to quickly move away when you come across a reactive dog unexpectedly.

Often, owners of reactive dogs will be working  with their dog on walks, trying to minimize their aggressive outbursts. In this case, you'll usually see the owner feeding their dog treats while you walk by with your dog. This helps their dog associate your dog with things he really likes, and will over time help decrease their dog’s fear or frustration caused by seeing your dog. Make sure to give this dog lots of space! Close and/or extended contact will likely still trigger a reaction in this dog.

Some dogs further in their training will no longer react to another dog unless they are within close proximity. To make sure that you are protecting your dog from a negative experience, the best practice is to always ask the other owner whether or not their dog is friendly, and if your dog can say hello. Be prepared to receive some nos! And make sure that your dog is prepared to hear no as well, and practice politely walking by other dogs without greeting.

Happy walking!