I was at a new Home Dog Training client in Snellville last Tuesday working with him and his one-year-old Catahoula named George. George was a very active and inquisitive puppy. Being young and a hunting dog breed, that is something I would naturally expect from a young dog such as George.
My client’s biggest concerns with George were that he jumped on everyone, didn’t listen, would not come or sit, and always pulled on the leash. This was my client’s first dog and he understood that most of the issues focused on his lack of knowledge. I started the lesson by teaching my client everything he would need to know regarding how to be George’s “loving parent and lifelong teacher”.
He took the information to heart and George quickly turned into a well-focused and obedient canine companion. As we were finishing up, he mentioned that this will be his first Thanksgiving with George and wondered if I had any tips to make sure everything would be great.
I told my client that the best way to make sure George would have a great Thanksgiving was to follow what he had just learned today. He needed to have clear rules for what George 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 George today.
And then I reinforced, “…And that just isn’t for Thanksgiving or any other holiday, that is for every day starting today and forever.” He understood. With that said, there are some actions that are related to holidays like Thanksgiving that will need his special focus. I continued to go through “some classic holiday issues”.
Guests at the Front Door:
Most holidays include family gatherings. This means that you are either going to a family member’s home or a bunch of your family and friends are coming to your home. If they are coming to your home, you will have a great deal of “front door activity”.
If you have extended family members with keys to your house (never a good idea on so many levels!), they will simply walk in haphazardly unannounced. If they don’t have keys, they will ring the doorbell and pound on the door. Once you open the door, they will “go all crazy about how well you look, how big the kids have become, the traffic on the interstate, etc. Also, some of them will walk in and leave the door open because Aunt Jane is moving a little slow up the front walk.
These are all “bad things” when it comes to your dog. They create chaos, uncertainty, fear, and a breakdown of natural boundaries. To take care of the “Guests at the Front Door” problem, I offer some simple solutions:
- Keep the front door locked so that you can manage when the door is opened and the activities at the front door.
- Keep the front door area clear so that the general area can be as “calm and quiet” as possible. Get people into the family room, kitchen, etc. Don’t leave luggage or other “guest stuff” in the front hall, get them to their respective “final destinations”.
- Assign a “door greeter”. This person is responsible for getting everyone inside as quickly, quietly, and calmly as possible. This will minimize adrenalized triggers that could negatively impact your dog’s behavior.
- Have your dog on a leash and have someone assigned to watch your dog. They should either be holding your dog’s 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 direct the dog’s focus back to them. If they can’t calm the dog down, they should walk them to a quiet room or outside until they are calm. They can then return with the dog to appropriately greet the new arrivals.
Appropriate Interactions between Your Dog and Guests:
There is no way that you will be able to have your guests “maintain all the rules” you have established with your dog. The best you can hope for is to suggest a form of engagement that will minimize your dog’s inappropriate behavior. Some suggestions we often provide are:
- Have your guests ignore your dog when they first arrive. This will let your dog know that they are not new “play toys” arriving for his amusement. Have them come in, put their suitcases away, and sit down. They can then calmly call him over for a pet.
- You must always have a family member who has gone through our training or who understands our training to be around your dog and your guests at all times. If your dog “breaks one of your established rules”, they must correct, direct, and praise in accordance with what you have been taught.
- Never have your guests correct your dog unless you have given them permission and you are sure they will follow the appropriate methods. Inappropriate correction is often far, far more damaging than no correction at all.
- Your guests should never actively play with your dog in the house.
- Make sure that your guests do not give your dog treats.
- Never allow your dog to be left unattended with small children.
Watch Out for General Holiday Clutter:
It is hard to keep our homes free of clutter when we are there by ourselves for most of the year. When holidays like Thanksgiving arrive, things start to get out of control. There are Thanksgiving decorations placed on tables, walls, chairs, and on the floor. Pots and pans are now out and the amount seems to just keep growing.
Guests bring all sorts of their own stuff and seem to take our stuff out of drawers and off shelves and put them all over the place. We can’t stop all of this, but we need to watch out and manage a few things.
- Make sure your house guests keep their bedroom doors closed. There are way too many “new and fun things” your dog could steal or eat in their rooms. A closed door fixes all these issues.
- Pick food up from coffee tables and chairs so that your dog can’t take it. Many snacks that we love can be hazardous to our dogs.
- Don’t allow your guests to leave their sweaters or shoes scattered around. Your dog will pick up on the “new scent” and want to use them as play toys or chew toys.
- Always make sure that you do not leave “hot pots” unattended on the stove. One quick jump and spill could easily burn your dog.
Poisons “That We Love”:
I just mentioned that you should not leave food unattended because many snacks we love can be very dangerous for our dogs. We would never want to poison our dog, but many family members and house guests who “aren’t dog owners” may not be aware of the extent of “bad food for our dogs”. We need to educate them on things they should never leave out. Some include:
- Turkey Bones
- Corn on the Cob
- Bread Dough
- Turkey Skin or Gravy
- Fat Trimmings
- Garlic and Onions
- Raisins and Grapes
The Thanksgiving Table is for Humans:
The one thing that we don’t want is our dog bugging us, jumping up, and begging at the Thanksgiving dinner table. With so many of our crazy relatives and friends with us at the table, trying to keep them and our dog under control can often be a challenge. We like to provide a possible option through a boundary control solution.
- Assign two or more family members as “lookouts” to keep your dog away from the table. Position them at different locations of the table in such a way that “they are covering” every angle of approach your dog may use to approach the table.
- They should have water bottles with them and be seated in such a way that they can easily stand and face your dog if he starts to approach from their angle.
- Have everyone else calmly sit around the table and start to enjoy the dinner. They should not engage with your dog, encourage him to approach, and definitely don’t hold out food for him.
- Define an area out from the table where you do not want your dog to encroach during the meal. This is the boundary of the “don’t be here zone”.
- Make sure your dog is being fed his normal food in his normal spot during your meal. You can include additional play or food toys to divert his attention.
- As everyone is enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, your lookouts are watching to see if your dog will enter the “don’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, while simultaneously giving him one or more quick squirts of water from the water bottle.
- Your dog should be startled by the tone and squirts and observant of your lookout’s tall and domineering stance. He should back up.
- Your lookout should continue to stand until your dog is out of the inappropriate area. Another one of your lookouts can now come around the table and redirect him with a play toy or food toy.
- Once your dog is refocused, both lookouts can return to Thanksgiving dinner.
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.
Children and Play:
One of the hardest things to control during Thanksgiving or any other family holiday are the kids and the dog. They naturally want to play and go nuts. Why not? Kids and dogs are born to run, jump, roll, and play. The problem is that this can be massively disruptive when the family is getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner or just trying to watch the game.
One solution to this problem that never works is to try to keep the kids and dog calm together in the house. In knowing that, we need to come up with a simple and quick “Plan B”. Well, if not in the house, how about outside? Remember when our mom always yelled at us “No rough housing in the living room! Go outside!”?
We aren’t preparing Thanksgiving dinner or watching the game in the backyard. There is nothing breakable in the back yard. Send the kids and the dog in the back yard! The one thing that I suggest is that you assign “a responsible adult” to watch them.
Even though you have solved the problem of having them inappropriately “under your feet”, you still want to keep them safe. You want to make sure that your dog is not getting too rough with the kids or the kids are getting too rough with your dog. Your assigned responsible adult can act as referee during their play time so that everyone, including your dog, has fun.
With a little bit of planning and responsible execution, everyone, including your dog, will have a great Thanksgiving Holiday experience!
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.