How to Prep Your dog for Thanksgiving Guests

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. It means eating! Good food! With friends! And these days, if I have family as guests, then it’s just that more special!

But for our dogs, Thanksgiving, like some other high-human-volume holidays, can be quite stressful. There are more people than usual in the house. People are behaving out of the ordinary. And there might even be someone else’s children and/or pets who do not follow the usual protocols and who change up the energy in the home considerably.

Here then are some ideas you might employ to lessen the stress for your dog.

Consider the guest list:

Are the guests your dog considers part of his pack-family? For example, my friend, Betsy has been my long term partner-in-Big-Projects and my dogs have come to accept her as part of our primary pack. There is no stress in her coming into our home.

On the other hand, I have had guests in my home (not necessarily for Thanksgiving) whom the dogs had never met before. Their energy was more the determining factor for how relaxed the dogs were, and adjustments had to be made in order to make the dogs feel comfortable and/or the guests feel safe.

In these cases you have to anticipate how your dog will feel, how he will probably react if given no intervention by you, and what adjustments are therefore warranted in order to make him feel safe and to keep your guests safe and/or comfortable.

Dog Personalities: (Learn to “read” your dog”)

Hanna was a Golden Retriever who loved people –and I do mean LOVED people. One day, Alice was sitting in the living room from which she had a direct view of the dining room when our friend Helen arrived. Hanna began to sob, “Helen, I LOOOOOVVVVEEEE you.” Over and over the dog howled her love for Helen. Alice, who has loved so few people you could count them all on one hand, looked at Hanna, then snapped her head around to look at me- then snapped around again to look at Hanna, then once more to inquire of me: “All this about a HUMAN?!” I nearly died laughing.

For the Hannas of the world, Thanksgiving is a fine holiday indeed. Old friends and new are gathered under one roof. There are hands that will pet her and food that will be delivered to her (Danger, danger, Will Robinson, DANGER!!!

For the Alice’s in the world, guests will arrive and will be ignored or even shunned… until food is present, at which point she will rise to the level of mooch that directly corresponds to the weakness of a guest to give in to her insistence that she be the Food Taster. Again: Danger, danger, Will Robinson, DANGER!!! Not all food for humans is safe for dogs!

See the blog post entitled, “Six Common Substances that Regularly Poison Dogs” and add to that list:

  • Raisins and grapes
  • Chocolate (dark is the most dangerous)
  • Avacado (especially the pit and skin)
  • Persimmons
  • Pits of pit-fruit (peaches, apricots) and seeds (apples, pears) etc.
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Raw fish
  • Yeast (as in rising dough)
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Onions and Garlic (though not in small quantities.

For several years I had a little Jack Russell Terrorist name Molly-Cule. When I got her at age 10 months she was a whirling dervish of energy. She zoomed everywhere she went at full throttle until she keeled over, took a nap, then woke, fully charged and created a whirlwind of trouble again. Suddenly her batteries would wear out — at which point she fell over into a comatose sleep for a period that was not nearly long enough. The first morning we had her, she jumped up on the dining room table as we sat down for breakfast and said “Oh boy! BREAKFAST! I’ll have YOURS!”

Over the years I got her to where she was a polite house pet, UNLESS there were guests. The first thing she did to a guest was get up and try to extract his tonsils with her tongue. It was much better to put her in her crate until guests had settled in, then put her on a leash and introduce her in a controlled fashion. This subdued the whirling dervish in her and brought her down to just reasonable enthusiasm.

Then there are the Wils of the world. When I first got Wil he was off-the-charts aggressive. In fact, the day I met him, he got out of his van in attack mode. I was quite thankful that he was on a leash, otherwise I would have been punched full of holes by an 88 pound Bovier.

As I worked with Wil over the next 1.5 years, he finally softened. But sometime in that time frame, a friend and her man-friend came to visit. The man was a Dog Lover and “there wasn’t a dog in the world that did not love him back”. Agggggg!!!! Wil was downstairs, when the man approached him. Wil faced two options: attack or flee. He chose to flee, and dashed upstairs to my bedroom. The man pursued Wil. “Come on, Wil,” he said, “Let’s be friends.” Fortunately, I was there to intervene. I ushered the man back downstairs and closed the door so Wil would feel safe.

Before Thanksgiving guests arrive, consider how your dog will regard the guests. Some possibilities are:

Hanna: I LOVE you!

Alice: Yeah whatever: Oh! You have FOOD?!

Wil: Stay away from me: Chief, I need a HIDING SPOT!

Molly-Cule: Let me lick your tonsils! Oh, you taste so GOOD!

… and then there’s your dog…

The Game Plan:

Scared or “sharp” (snapping dogs) are best confined to quarters while guests arrive and depart. It may be that the dog can join the people once everyone is settled. But for some dogs—it’s best that they be away from guests either because the stress is too much or because guests are like my friend’s man who thought that the “rules” of “Don’t Touch the Dog” should not apply to him.

Overly enthusiast dogs may be a bit too much for some guests. Not everyone likes her tonsil’s licked, after all. And when you’re entertaining those who are not terribly fond of dogs to begin with, you’ve just set up your holiday gathering for hours of tension or discomfort. Confine the dog to his crate or in a room at least until people come in and get settled. Then if your guests are okay with his enthusiasm, invite the dog in. But you might need to use a leash to control the dog’s behavior.

Even friendly dogs can be overwhelming to non-dog guests. If your dog is obedient, simply ask him to go lie down until the guests are ready to receive his calling. There is a really good “go to your mat” protocol described in my e-book, The 3 Essential Commands. It’s a little late to use this for Thanksgiving, (given that it’s just 2 days away), but there will be dozens of other situations where this would be a great skill for the dog to have.

For the aloof dog, there is little reason to put the dog up – unless there are kids who want to ride him like a horse. Otherwise, the dog will mind his business and leave the guests alone.

A little planning will go a long way toward keeping your dog safe and your company at ease.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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