Holidays, in their purest form, are about spending time with loved ones — family, friends, and, if you’re a pet owner, your furry dependents. But large gatherings can prove difficult for dogs, who get overly excited by all the new people and, during Thanksgiving especially, the smells of so many tasty eats. (Honestly, same.)
There are steps you can take to keep your pup calm and comfortable during the holiday, though, as opposed to barking like crazy as each guest arrives or obsessively begging for table turkey scraps. Dog trainer Annie Grossman, founder of School for the Dogs in Manhattan, gives us practical tips for taming your beast at the feast.
Keep them busy with “work to eat toys”
Grossman is a fan of what she calls “work to eat toys,” products like Kongs, Toppls, slow food bowls or Buster mazes, which conceal treats your dog has to dig out, or contain obstacles it has to navigate to get to the food. (You can even make your own, Grossman suggests: Fill an empty ice cube tray with kibble, or put food inside two plastic cups and fit them together.)
Giving your dog these tasty toys during the Thanksgiving meal will keep them entertained and less likely to badger guests at the table for handouts. As a break from the same tired dry food, fill the toys with Thanksgiving scraps, which contain plenty of dog-friendly eats like turkey, yams, potatoes, and string beans. As a bonus, turkey contains tryptophan, which has a sedating effect on dogs as well as humans.
Make the floor the focus
Whether you’re hosting the meal or you’re a guest at someone’s house, establish a designated place for your dog, be it a crate, dog bed or a towel on the floor, to keep them from overwhelming guests.
“You want them to have a spot where [they know] good things are going to happen,” Grossman explains. Make that positive association by giving them treats or praise while they’re sitting in their spot. Encourage your guests to approach your dog if they want to say hi, rather than waiting for the dog to greet them.
Distract them from the doorbell
If your dog is the type to go nuts when guests come to the door, barking at the bell and jumping up on them when they enter, Grossman has a tip for diverting their attention using the Treat & Train, a remote control operated treat dispenser that works at a distance of 50 feet. Set it up far from the door, and as your guests arrive, trigger the remote control to release a treat. Although it’s a bit pricey, “it’s a great way to keep a dog in one spot without having to tend to them constantly,” she explains.
Show your dog you’re thankful for him
“We have a tendency to focus on what we don’t like instead of communicating to the dog all the things we do like,” says Grossman. A dog clicker is an easy positive reinforcement tool. When your dog obeys, you press the button on the plastic device and it makes a clicking sound, which you then follow with a treat or praise to create a positive association.
During Thanksgiving, Grossman suggests using the same tactic but with your iPhone camera. The snap of the camera as you take a picture, followed by a treat or praise, will convey that same message of “I like that you did that.” And as a bonus, you’ll have a set of photos capturing the moments you’re thankful for your very good doggo.