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!
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.
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!
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).