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It’s that time of year once more when friends and family gather around the table and think about all the things that they are grateful for (a really good exercise that we should do more often really – have you noticed how much easier it is to have a negative thought than a positive one? )
Although Thanksgiving is supposed to be an enjoyable occasion, there are some family members that may not see it that way (and I am not referring to whoever had to sit next to Grandpa and listen to him slurp his soup.) Dogs can find the whole occasion a stressful time and – in extreme cases – the whole affair can lead to an unwanted trip to the vets. In the words of John Wayne, “Take some advice, Pilgrim…”
"We'll be thankful when this photo shoot is over..."
Some dogs hate change, including the sudden invasion of “strangers” or even when long-lost family members finally find themselves back in the fold. Questions need to be asked, and dogs have lots of ways to ask. A dog that jumps up on people as they arrive can be cute (if the dog is a Bichon Frisé, for example) but it can also create havoc (if the family St. Bernard shoves an unsuspecting auntie through the drywall). Others may offer gifts such as slobber-covered toys that make an unsightly stain on the one good pair of pants that Pop wears for just such an occasion.
If your dog gets over-excited and hyperactive when visitors arrive at the home, you can always put them in another room to calm down and let people come in. Once everyone is relaxed and ready, you can let your dog out, maybe on a leash for extra control in case they immediately wind up again. It is a great idea to ask your guests to initially pay no attention to the dog until their personal space has been respected. They can then call your dog over for a fuss if they choose. This is a really cool trick to help a dog to calm down and relax as it sees that it has nothing to prove.
Of course, another big part of Thanksgiving is eating so much food that you end up feeling like one of the inflatable balloons in the Macy’s parade. This is also a time when a dog can go around the table to see who the weakest link with a spot of begging is. It is fine for dogs to have leftover food that is not actually bad for them (more on that in a moment); the best way to give it to them is in their bowls when it is their time to eat. Adding some turkey, potato, greens or yams to their food is a nice treat but avoid giving them food that has had a lot of extra ingredients added (especially onion and salt). Nor should you give them bones from the turkey. Cooked bones can easily splinter and cause havoc on the way through. Similarly, foods like onions, garlic and some nuts can end up in a trip to the local vets (who may charge you a special holiday rate for which you will not be thankful). We all know that chocolate and alcohol are no-no’s too so make sure that one uncle isn’t trying to encourage Fido to chug some beer (we all have that one uncle…). A simple way to find out if you can give your dog some food is to check online.
If you do let thing slide and your dog gets away with all kinds of holiday antics, be ready for them to play up when everybody leaves. “Grandparent Syndrome” is something that exists for children and dogs; kids can be a pain for a little while after being spoiled by well-meaning grandparents (or maybe Mee-Maw and Pops are taking their long-awaited revenge…). The same can often be said for pooches that get pampered by (mainly) well-meaning relatives. A significant part of my job as a behavior expert is helping dog owners to re-establish calm after a big event where a dog has gotten away with all kinds of naughty behavior. Using the same technique as mentioned above when people arrive also helps a dog to relax once more should they test you to see if you will fall for the same tricks as your family.