Thanksgiving is around the corner, and after surviving a pandemic, the elections and all things 2020, I think the one thing we can all agree on is how THANKFUL we are for our four-legged family! I can’t imagine getting through the past year without my girls, Penelope and Delilah. Our socially-distant hikes and adventures have been the highlight of my year!
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate our friends and family, whether together over a delicious feast or, maybe this year, more safely via Zoom. However you plan to give thanks, the more we prepare to safely include our furry family, the happier everyone will be.
Here are five tips to make a turkey day game plan!
First, you’ll want to think about your plans. Ask yourself a few questions:
- How friendly and reliable is my dog around new people?
- Has my dog already met the guests who will be visiting?
- Does my dog think chaos is fun?
- Or does my dog seem anxious and scared with a lot of people and commotion?
- How good is my dog’s impulse control?
- Is my dog a flight risk with the front door opening?
- Are kids coming, and how does my dog do with kids?
- Are any of my guests afraid of dogs?
- Can I supervise a dog that has free-range of the house?
- How has my dog acted during past family & friend gatherings?
Be honest with yourself! Discuss these questions with your family.
Together, YOU will know the best management choices to make for your dog.
Think about ways to manage your space so your dog remains safe and controlled.
- Crates are ideal safe places to keep your dog when things are especially busy, they are nervous or they just need a nap.
- Baby gates are movable, easy ways to section off space. Great for separating kids and dogs or to make sure the dog can’t sample the turkey when you’re not able to supervise.
- Calm, quiet rooms away from the festivities can give a new puppy, anxious adult or delicate senior dog the space to rest comfortably, with enrichment games while enjoying DogTV.
It’s nice to have our friends and family to visit for the holidays, but not everybody knows your house rules or how to interact with your dog. To set your guests up for success, think about your dog’s needs and how your guests can help. Maybe you can put a sign at the door to text that they’ve arrived, instead of knocking or ringing the doorbell, to avoid setting off a symphony of barks every time.
Take note of who you’re expecting. If you have elderly guests or young children, you can keep your dog on a leash, attached to their harness, while guests arrive to avoid door dashing and prevent an exuberant dog from jumping. You can also let guests know ahead of time that your dog is in training or they need space.
Better yet, why not assign someone the job of keeping an eye on your dog? It could be a spouse, or a responsible niece or nephew. Let them know where the crate, leash and treats are!
If you are thinking ahead, you can train to prepare for the day. Here are some excellent, simple behaviors to start training NOW!
Teach mat work
First, pick a special mat, like a dog bed, bath mat, or even a blanket. Then, with NumNums, lure your dog directly onto the mat. Reward rapidly, yet calmly, to motivate your dog to stay on the mat. Work in a quiet spot, free from distractions, and reinforce your dog laying down and settling. Keep reinforcing your dog for quiet, relaxed body language.
Once they have lots of value for the mat, start to gradually increase duration, distractions, and duration. Pick a release cue, like “Free!” Or “Break!” and then toss a treat off the mat.
This behavior is great for having your dog relax with guests or giving your dog a dedicated safe place to go to while everyone eats!
To dive deep, check out these audio files to support Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol.
Teach sit for guests
Jumping on guests isn’t very polite, so let’s teach our pups a better way to to get treats and attention! You’ll want to keep your dog on a leash, safely attached to the back of their harness, while practicing.
Recruit a friend or family member to help! While you approach your practice person, treat your dog for looking at you. Keep doing this as you move forward. Stop if they decide to pull or jump. If they keep four feet on the floor as they greet the person, treat them! That’s what we DO want.
As they practice being calm around people, you can start to have higher expectations and look for a sit before they greet a person.
Love the crate
The crate can be a safe space for your pup to hang out during festivities. Spending some time adding value to the crate can make it a positive experience for our pups.
You’ll first sit by the crate and toss some treats in. When they come out, toss more treats in. On the next round, once your dog enters the kennel, build some duration by having treats delivered quickly to the bottom of the crate. Start practicing closing the door.
At this point, your dog may be rushing into the crate! Treat that! Other ways to encourage good feelings about the crate is feeding them with a stuffed, frozen feeder toy or giving them a Chillin Chew in the crate.
To make sure your dog doesn’t have ALL the energy on Thanksgiving day, make sure they get a reasonable amount of exercise the day before, as well as the morning of. Think about planning a hike, arranging a play date or playing fun games like tug, fetch or flirt pole.
Thanksgiving day will be busy with prep work, so set a time in the morning to dedicate to getting some of your dog’s wiggles out. That way, when feast time rolls around, they aren’t bouncing off the walls.
For the day after, keep in mind that the excitement of yesterday may have them exhausted. Let them rest if they need it and continue your normal routine in the evening.
For Thanksgiving day, think about preparing frozen enrichment toys ahead of time, like a Num Num stuffed Toppl toy or frozen marrow bone. Have a few of these ready to go, so if your pup gets a little too interested in kids table, you can keep them busy with healthy enrichment.
Other ideas to keep your dog mentally stimulated and busy on turkey day are healthy duration chews, like bully sticks or salmon skins. You can also offer a snuffle mat with your dog’s meal, or a lick mat covered in yogurt or peanut butter. Another easy thing would be to have a cardboard box full of treats hidden inside.
Now that you have some tools, create a custom plan for you and your dog. Along with your baking schedule, write out a dog management schedule so you have time to train, prepare enrichment, and exercise your dog.
Also, plan how family and friends can help! You can ask someone to pick up bully sticks or frozen marrow bones at the store or have a family member make sure the dog has a quiet, comfy space set up. If one of your guests especially loves your dog, consider putting them in charge of supervision while you are busy with hosting duties. The 10 year old me would have LOVED that job!
Thanksgiving Day Success
I hope this helps you plan a special way to include your dog in your holidays.
If you’re one of the countless Americans who welcomed home a “pandemic puppy” and you’re worried about your dog jumping on guests, begging for leftovers, and doing zoomies in the middle of dinner, you might not be feeling as much gratitude as those of us with older dogs. But Thanksgiving can actually be a perfect opportunity for training. With some really simple preparation, you can enjoy a relaxing Thanskgiving and create even more memories together to cherish for Thanksgivings to come!
Post written by and sent with Love & Licks, from Laura Nativo, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP