I was at a new Home Dog Training client in Roswell last Friday working with him and his one-year-old Catahoula named Caleb. As with so many Catahoula puppies, Caleb was very active and highly inquisitive. The major issues that we were going to address that day were Caleb’s constant jumping on everyone, complete lack of wanting to listen, never coming, or sitting when commanded, and horrible leash manners. The good thing was that my client understood that a great part of the problem lied with himself and a lack of understanding of what he needed to do. I began the session by teaching my client everything he would need to know in order to be Caleb’s “loving parent and lifelong teacher”.
My client was a very fast learner and was excited to put his new-found knowledge into practice. With that said, he was able to swiftly turn Caleb into a well-focused and obedient canine companion. As I was wrapping up the lesson, my client told me that this would be his first Thanksgiving with Caleb. He then asked me if I had any suggestions that would make sure the holiday will be calm, happy, safe, and uneventful.
I began by telling my client that the best thing he could do would be to be consistent and to continually reinforce what he had learned today. He needed to establish and maintain his clear rules for what Caleb could and could not do. Just because it may be Thanksgiving and there may be a lot of people in the house doing a whole lot of things that don’t happen on a normal basis, rules are rules. He must maintain the consistency that he established with Caleb today.
My client was completely onboard with what I was telling him. With that said, there are some actions that are related to holidays like Thanksgiving that will need his special focus. I started to go through “some classic holiday issues”:
When Guests Arrive at the Front Door:
Just about all holidays include some sort of family gathering. You will either be traveling to a family member’s home or there will be friends and family coming to your home. If you are the “holiday host”, there will be a bunch of people coming to your home and knocking on the front door. You will experience the infamous “knock, ring, bark, run, jump” scenario.
If, for some unknown and probably not well thought out reason, you have given family members their own set of keys to your home, they will simply enter unannounced. If your friends and family members don’t have keys, they will annoyingly ring the doorbell or pound on the door. Once you open the door, they will “go all crazy about how great you look, how big the kids have become, the traffic on the interstate, etc.” In some cases, they could leave the front door completely open as they enter.
None of these are “good things” when it comes to your dog. They create uncertainty, fear, chaos, and the elimination of natural boundaries. To take care of the “When Guests Arrive at the Front Door” problem, I would like to provide some simple solutions:
- Always keep the front door locked so that you can manage when the door is opened and the activities that will take place at the front door. If you have one of those “door chains”, use that as well.
- Make sure that the area immediately inside the door is not being used as a meeting place or gathering place. This will keep the area as “calm and quiet” as possible. Get people into the family room, kitchen, etc. If family or guests have luggage or “other stuff”, don’t leave it in the front hall. Get everything stowed away as quickly as possible.
- Appoint a “door greeter”. It is this person’s responsibility to get everyone coming to your front door “inside and processed” as quickly as possible. This will minimize potential adrenalized triggers that could negatively impact your dog’s behavior.
- Always keep your dog on a leash and have someone assigned to watch your dog during the period when people will be arriving. The person assigned to your dog could either be holding his leash or be close enough to quickly step on the leash if it is on the ground.
- When a new guest arrives, your dog’s handler should redirect the dog’s focus away from “the newbies” and back to the handler. If this can’t be accomplished and the dog starts to become excited, the handler should walk the dog to a quiet room or outside until the dog is calm. When the dog is calm and respectfully focusing on the handler, they can return to their prior location. Once all are calm, the dog can then politely and slowly greet the new arrivals.
Maintaining the Appropriate Relationship between Your Dog and Your House Guests:
You will never be able to have your guests “follow the rules” you have created for your dog. Instead, create an environment where they do not have the opportunity to engage your dog that will cause rules to be broken. This will help minimize any inappropriate behavior from your dog. Some recommendations we often discuss are:
- Your guests should completely ignore your dog when they first arrive. Their “passive avoidance” will communicate to your dog they are not new “play toys” arriving for his entertainment. Have them come in, put their suitcases away, and sit down. Once all is calm and settled, they can calmly call your dog to their side for a pet.
- Always have a family member who has gone through our training assigned to be with your dog. If your dog “breaks one of your established rules”, they must perform the appropriate correction or redirection to let the dog understand they have done something wrong and guide them to the appropriate action.
- Never allow your guests to correct the dog unless they “know what they are doing” and you have given them permission. Inappropriately correcting a dog can do far more harm than no correction at all.
- Do not allow your guests to energetically play with your dog in the house. (No fetch in the living room!)
- Do not allow your guest to feed your dog or give him treats.
- Do not leave your dog unattended with small children.
Be Aware of How Overly Cluttered Your House Can Become during the Holidays:
It is pretty difficult to keep our homes neat and tidy when we are the only ones home. When holidays like Thanksgiving arrive, our tidy house starts to turn into a “clutter castle”. We have Thanksgiving decorations covering tables, chairs, and walls. The holiday clutter even spills over onto many parts of the floor. Our once clean kitchen is now filled with pots and pans. It is simply amazing at just how much stuff is appearing.
It is impossible to stop this holiday explosion of stuff in our home, but we can take some steps to mitigate and minimize the problem:
- Ask your house guests to always keep their bedroom and bathroom doors closed. They have brought along a lot of “new and fun things” that are now in their bedrooms and bathrooms. Keeping the doors closed will eliminate your dog’s ability to “get them”.
- Always “bus your food”. By this, I want to make sure that you always pick up your plates when done and take them to “the dirty dishes place” in the kitchen. This will ensure that your dog won’t “clean the plates” you have inadvertently left around the house. Many holiday foods aren’t good for dogs and could cause an unplanned visit to the 24-hour vet.
- Don’t allow your guests to leave their clothes indiscriminately tossed around the house. Your dog will eagerly discover the “new scent” and “acquire new chew toys”. I am sure your guests didn’t bring their favorite holiday sweater to give it to your dog as a chew toy.
- Do not leave “hot pots” unattended on the stove. Your dog may jump up to follow the smell and turn the scalding food onto him. This would entail another visit to the 24-hour vet.
There Can Be a Lot of Poisons Lurking in Plain Sight in Our Home:
There are all sorts of snacks and goodies that we commonly enjoy that are very dangerous for our dogs to consume. As dog owners, we would never conceive of feeding anything bad to our dogs. Unfortunately, many family members and house guests who “aren’t dog owners” are not aware of all the foods that could be bad for our dog. We need to let them know what not to give our dog. Even better, we may want to simply eliminate them from our home’s holiday menu. Some of the dangerous canine foods include:
- Turkey Skin or Gravy
- Fat Trimmings
- Turkey Bones
- Onions and Sage Garlic
- Grapes and Raisins
- Corn on the Cob
- Bread Dough
The Thanksgiving Table is not for Dogs:
With everything else going on, we really don’t want to be sitting at the Thanksgiving table with a dog begging at our feet or jumping onto our lap. The problem is that our “crazy guests and family members” may think it is funny and condone this activity. This will ultimately ruin our dinner, so we must put a stop to it before it starts. I suggest using a “boundary control scenario” to mitigate this issue. Here is how it works:
- Designate two or more family members as “lookouts” to keep your dog away from the table. Place them at specific locations around the table so that “they are covering” every path your dog may take when approaching the table.
- Give them water bottles and have them seated so that they can easily stand and face your dog if he starts to approach their part of the table.
- Allow everyone else to calmly sit around the table and start to enjoy the dinner. The “non-lookouts” should pay no attention to the dog or any unfolding events. They should be focused on the meal only.
- Establish a boundary around the table where your dog can’t cross”. This is the “my dog can’t be here zone”.
- Now that everyone is sitting and getting ready to enjoy the Thanksgiving Dinner, feed your dog and provide him with toys so that he has something to eat and to engage his attention.
- While everyone is enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, your lookouts are carefully watching to see if your dog will enter the “my dog can’t be here zone” around the table.
- If your dog starts to approach, the closest lookout will calmly and quickly stand up, face him, say “Back” in a low toned, firm manner. At the same time he will give him one or more squirts of water from the water bottle.
- Your dog will become startled by the lookout’s increased stance, dominant voice tone, and annoying squirts. He should now stop his approach and slowly turn away and out of the “my dog can’t be here zone”.
- Have your engaged lookout remain standing and facing your dog until he has departed the “my dog can’t be here zone”.
Your dog may challenge one or two more times. Your lookouts’ consistent, calm, and dominant demeanors should communicate to your dog that he should stay away.
Your Dog’s Interaction with Children:
It is always exceedingly difficult to control the interaction of your dog with children during holiday events. They instinctively want to engage in playful and energetic activities. The problem is that this can be extremely troublesome when the family is getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner or just trying to watch the game.
The “solution” that adults always try and never works is to try and keep the kids and dog calm in the house. We need to throw this idea out the window and come up with a “Plan B”. Remember when our mom always yelled at us “No rough housing in the living room! Go outside!”? I suggest that our “Plan B” is to “take it outside”.
Since we probably aren’t preparing Thanksgiving dinner or watching the game in the backyard, this is “available space”. There is nothing breakable in the back yard. Let the kids and the dog “go crazy” in the back yard.
I suggest that you assign “a responsible adult” to referee them and make sure they don’t find that one “muddy area” in which to jump and play. Also, make sure that the kids are not “ramping up” your dog to the point where he may start to unknowingly play a little too rough with them.
With a little bit of planning and responsible execution, everyone, including your dog, will have a great Thanksgiving Holiday experience!
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.