Giving Thanks for a Prepared Dog

Thanksgiving is coming – it is my favorite holiday! Mainly because of the stuffing, but also because we get to gather with family, friends, and relax and enjoy some great food.

Thanksgiving for the dogs can be tricky for the same reasons though: lots of temptation and not a lot of supervision, and sometimes well meaning friends and family offering high fat “treats.” So here are some of my tips for having a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

First – educate yourself on pancreatitis – it is a serious condition that can be mistaken for less serious things, and is very common around the holidays as one of the causes is over-consumption of fat. Here is a good article from the AKC but here are the basic signs to look for:

  • Hunched back
  • Repeated vomiting (it can happen several times with a few hours or even over several days)
  • Pain or distention of the abdomen (dog appears uncomfortable or bloated)
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Fever

If you think your dog might have pancreatitis call the vet (or the emergency vet) immediately.

Speaking of vets – know the phone numbers and hours of your vet, and the local emergency vets. Not all emergency vets are always open for intake so knowing where they are and what their phone numbers are is important.

The food dangers of Thanksgiving are not limited to fat – your dogs can also get a hold of bones (we’ve all heard the story of the dogs who steal the turkey), chocolate, coffee, onions – the potential risks are many. Having a good reference for what is and what isn’t poisonous to your dog can save some panicked googling. I use the ASPCA’s Poison Control service. There is a charge, but it is worth the peace of mind for me.

If your dog does consume cooked bones, I suggest calling the vet immediately. Do not induce vomiting without a vet advising you to as sometimes inducing vomiting can cause complications.

Now I am going to confess something – my dogs will not be attending Thanksgiving. There are too many people, too much food, and the supervision required would make the holiday more stressful then enjoyable. But I am lucky to have that choice, if your dogs are attending Thanksgiving then here are some ways you can take the stress out of the day.

Plan – if you are traveling bring a crate, and a mat (perhaps a baby gate). I love the fabric travel crates as they are light and easy to set up but if you have not used one before, get one before you need it and let your dog practice being in it. Not all dogs can generalize between crates and might need to learn a new kind. Do not forget some awesome chews, an extra leash and perhaps a long line or a toy. I like take my dog outside for some breaks from the heat, food and people so a long line and outdoor toy really come in handy!

Did they bring their IDs? Make sure their ID tags are attached, up to date, and their microchips are also up to date. No one wants to deal with a lost dog during the holidays but if you do, you want to know they have the right contact info on them.

Does your dog remember their GO TO MAT skills? – reminding them that the mat is a great place to be, and that food is delivered to them there so they do not have to beg, borrow or steal. Using the mat gives your dog a way to be right, and can take some stress out of the situation for you and the dog, giving them a safe place to be while everyone is around.

But sitting on a mat while people are going to be moving around and food will be laying on various surfaces may be too much temptation for some dogs. In that case crating them with an amazing chew, away from the chaos, may be the name of the game. Get a nice fresh raw bone to freeze and use to keep them busy, or a really nice stuffed and frozen Kong. Or you can put them behind a baby gate, or a bedroom. There is no shame in just keeping them away from the food – no matter how great your dog’s skills are, mistakes happen and I believe in better safe then sorry planning.

How are your greetings? A part of why my dogs are staying home are their greetings. Jasper just is not that into people and while he does not dislike people a lot of different people wanting to interact with him and putting social pressure on him will stress him out, which will stress me out. And Wren, well, bless her heart, while her greetings start strong she does believe that if anyone makes eye contact for longer then a few seconds they MUST want her to jump up and give them a kiss. They do not Wren, they do not, at least not everyone does. Then there is Ms. Magdalina Conchetta Wrinkles, she is mostly blind, and deaf, and asking her to navigate all the people and affection is going to stress her out as well – and she’s too heavy to carry all day. So they will stay home with some nice chews, safe and quiet, and will get to enjoy some leftover roast turkey with their dinners.

If I were bringing them, we’d be refreshing our greeting skills – Go Say Hi 1-2-3! is the name of the game there. Jasper’s is great, it’s the social pressure I worry about for him. Wren, well, I’ve slacked, we need more practice! So if she was going I’d be practicing with everyone I met until Turkey Day.

Leave it? A LEAVE IT is a great skill to have, but, if your LEAVE IT ends with a question mark, then you might need to practice some more. If a hunk of cheese hits the floor you want to know your dog will listen without questioning if LEAVE IT is worth it. An easy way to practice is to go back to step one, and just get some fast repetitions of LEAVE IT in, so the skill is nice and fresh.

Fair Trade – how is your TRADE looking? If LEAVE IT fails or your dog gets something before you notice, is your TRADE up to snuff? Having a rock solid TRADE is an important skill, especially on the holidays. This video is one of my favorites, Chirag Patel teaching TRADE (or DROP as he calls it).

I could go on and on about good skills to have for the holidays (like recall) but these are probably the most important, and the ones I’d focus on for Thanksgiving.

Wishing you all a wonderful and peaceful holiday!

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