By Tracie Korol
The holiday season opens this week with all the rich foods, relatives, decorations and happy chaos. As we settle into the hustle, let’s remember our Best Friends appreciate a happy, safe holiday, too. When planning a festive occasion, consider the following:
Train, don’t complain: Our dogs don’t come pre-programmed; they rely on us to teach them acceptable behavior. Jumping up, stealing food, counter cruising, idiot barking and digging are all perfectly normal behaviors — to our dogs. Unfortunately, they are also behaviors that irritate owners. When holiday houseguests arrive, when there’s an excited energy in the air and when the household is completely off schedule, it becomes the perfect time for our dogs to engage in unwanted activities. Help remind your dog to remember what is expected of him by practicing and rewarding desired behaviors on a daily basis before the big day arrives. Even your old, well-trained been-around-forever dog will welcome the attention of a brush-up of basic skills.
The gift of management: In a perfect world, our dogs would behave like those robot-dogs in the Hallmark specials. However, in the real world we need to affect our management skills to out-think or pre-think our beloved pets. Use your dog tools — baby gates, tethers and x-pens are extremely useful in keeping Barney out of the high-level distraction entertainment zones. Whenever possible, give your dog something to do rather than let him get creative and find something to do. Pre-gift your dog a stuffed Kong or a Buster Cube. Working a food puzzle or a chew is the dog equivalent of “sit and color.”
Cooking or catastrophe? On Thanksgiving Day + 1, where would you rather be: lounging on the couch with your dog, hitting the Black Friday sales, or at the vet’s office praying that your dog makes it to T-day + 2? The best safety tip for Thanksgiving is: Keep Barney out of kitchen! Not only will this prevent his unwanted interaction with highly desirable contraband, accidental injury from falling pots or knives, but it also prevents you from tripping over him and finding yourself in the ER. Remember dogs are not discriminating when it comes to yummy foods; they are happy to eat greasy turkey-flavored baking string, napkins, toothpicks, shrink-wrap, popup timers, roasting bags, skewers, tin foil and Styrofoam plates. Plus, your vet is happy to fish it out of your Best Friend for a hefty fee. Push cooking gear to the rear of the counters and put up the trash cans before you sit down to dinner.
Leave the leftovers: While it’s nice to think we’re going to maintain a good diet through the holidays, the solution is not peeling off the turkey skin and handing it to the nearest dog. Rich, fatty foods will cause stomach problems ranging from simple upsets all over the carpet to pancreatitis, a serious condition often requiring hospitalization. At your holiday table, provide tiny bowls of kibble or baby carrots for guests, who might feel guilty in their own personal gluttony, to slip to the dog lurking under the table.
Respect each other: Avoid forcing your dog on non-dog people and do not let your guests force themselves on your dog. Some folks become very uneasy upon getting “haired up,” and conversely, some dogs do not care to serve as pony for the rodeo-grandchild. Set clear ground rules for how your dog is to be treated and, if necessary, be prepared to remove your Best Friend if guests are unable or unwilling to follow them. Watch your dog for signs that he’s uncomfortable — yawning, lip licking, turning away or actively trying to get to anywhere else. Keep an eye out for “the freeze,” a clear dog sign that someone is about to be bitten. If you know your dog has a fear or aggression issue, do everyone a favor and park him, with his Kong, in his crate, away from the action.
And, finally, be grateful. Your Best Friend provides companionship for your most mundane activities, cuddles when you’re blue, a warning bark for the noise in the night, a playmate and exercise partner, and he doesn’t snicker when he sees you naked. That’s a really good friend.