Turkey Day is here!
Normally, I am a huge sap and write a Thanksgiving blog where I let my inner love-child rip free and shout to every corner how awesome my staff and clients are and how intensely grateful I am for the existence of dogs and other pets in our lives. I love you all! Well, consider the sappy part of the blog done.
This year, I am going to chide you and nag you about management with your naughty and not-so-naughty dogs. Why? Because every year, after a holiday like Thanksgiving, I usually get several calls about horrendous events that occurred and now the owner is scared of their newly anointed Aggressive Dog.
It doesn’t have to go that way. So, read this, be dutifully chastised and send this to your friends and family who have That Dog or That Party that you know will lead to mayhem and possible bloodshed.
The crux of the issue is that you have forgotten that your dog is an animal, evolved and domesticated but still AN ANIMAL. He is capable of ripping through flesh with those flashy teeth. You’ve been going about your routines for weeks, maybe years, and the dog has been absorbed into the family fabric and everything is smooth sailing. That’s great! But do not forget that you are not normally hosting huge parties…or going to huge parties where everyone wants to bring their dog.
Your dog, who doesn’t understand English, has suddenly been thrown from his normal sitcom life into an episode of Scandal. Tension is in the air, he sees his people rushing about, delicious food things are sitting on the counter, strange people are flooding into the house. DRAMA.
Wow. I’m already feeling a wee bit over-stimulated from just thinking about it!
Basking in the aroma of roasting meat, having strangers absentmindedly petting him and slipping him snacks under the table – he’s feeling very excited and it’s wonderful and crazy and stressful all at once.
But wait, this is not the whole picture. We’re missing pieces. What about your brother’s dog? The 1 year old Lab who loves everyone and is coming for the weekend? What about your aunt’s elderly Shih Tzu who doesn’t like anyone and sometimes pees on people’s shoes but has to come because she can’t be left alone for too long? What about the five nieces and nephews under the age of 10 who, newly reunited, will be tearing around the house with an energy level high enough to intimidate a six pack of Red Bull?
What about your dog-loving friend who decides to surprise the resident and visiting dogs by throwing a handful of meat and bones on the porch?
Now we have a fight. Now you are picking up one dog and another dog is lifting off the floor, still attached to your dog’s neck and refusing to let go. Or worse, you have a relative with a gash in his arm because he thought he could break it up.
Folks, fighting over bones is only one scenario. We also have dogs biting because they have never been touched by so many people and are totally overwhelmed. We have dogs snapping at kids, baring their teeth in an effort to express their stress (to no avail). It’s a mess.
You expected your dog to somehow intuit that life was about to change dramatically and he should adjust accordingly. Well, or maybe you just forgot your dog in the business of the holidays.
So, here I am to help you remember.
Your dog is an animal. Evolved and domesticated but still AN ANIMAL (sound familiar?). He is capable of ripping through flesh with those flashy teeth. Whatever quirks or limitations his temperament has will not magically disappear at a party because it’s socially unacceptable. On the contrary, they will be in full bluster thanks to adrenaline and cortisol.
Be smart so you don’t need to call me in a week, crying, because your beloved dog put holes in you or your child or your niece or your aunt’s Shih Tzu.
- If your dog is not used to any element of your holiday on-goings (big crowds, little kiddos, food everywhere), arrange to have him somewhere else. This could be a crate in your bedroom, a boarding facility, the car, the basement – wherever is safe and relaxing. Make sure he’s practiced being there before so it’s not an unpleasant surprise and he’s miserable.
- Load him up with enriching chews and toys so he is not bored. (ahem, I don’t need to tell you that he should be separate from unfamiliar dogs if he has toys/food, right?)
- Exercise him before the festivities begin.
- Don’t expect your guests or hosts to understand or be compliant with your requests regarding the dog. Everyone is running full octane with the holidays and the ability to follow instructions is flimsy at best. It’s your responsibility to make sure your dog is safe and behaves safely. Telling people not to pet him or not to feed him is a recipe for disaster. Don’t open the door for “Oh, don’t’ worry, dogs love me”, “I’m not scared of dogs”, “but I can tell he wants me to pet him”, “just let the dogs work it out…they’ll be fine!”.
- If you are hosting multiple dogs, have a plan. Arrange a space where dogs can be crated separately. Rotate them out individually or with other dogs they have great relationships with.
- And don’t forget, large amounts of fatty meat (like turkey skin) can lead to pancreatitis in dogs. Chocolate, onions, raisins, grapes, caffeine and alcohol are all toxic for dogs.
Keep ‘em safe, people. Then, on Friday, you can really be thankful that your holiday did not include a trip to the ER for any family member – canine, feline, porcine, or human!