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The Dog Trainer's Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

Dog Begging at Thanksgiving

Put on your stretchy pants and pass the pumpkin pie. It's time for Thanksgiving! Whether you're hosting or visiting, there's always a few things that need to be addressed prior to the feasting:

  1. How you're going to deal with Uncle Bob's rants about insane conspiracy theories; and

  2. What's you're going to do about your dog(s).

Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about Uncle Bob, but there is plenty you can do to enjoy a safe, happy holiday with your dog.

Start off Right

Always, always, bear in mind the Darwin Dog's mantra:

Control yourself;
Control the situation; and then
Add more stimuli and repeat.

So let's see how that may apply to Thanksgiving. If you're traveling for Thanksgiving, first, ask yourself, should you even be bringing your dog. If you just adopted your rescue dog, or they are timid and shy to begin with, do you really want to have one of their first outings to be to a stranger's house on a day when everything is already full of chaos? Even if you're not traveling, ask yourself if you're kitchen is going to be a place of quite calmness on Thanksgiving.

Um vee ger NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!!!!

If you are able to board your dog, or leave your dog at home where they can safely enjoy the sanity of their own surroundings, do so. If you're hosting dinner, or have no choice but to bring your dog, there are a few things you can do to make life easier on everyone.

Exercise your dog

I am constantly extoling the virtues of activity on a dog's mental wellbeing, and this is especially important right before a huge amount of stimuli (i.e., Uncle Bob) hits them. Start prepping the day before by:

  • Taking a longer walk;

  • Taking a longer walk with a dog backpack (this is the one I use);

  • Doggie day care the day before;

  • Play date with dog friends;

  • Treadmill training;

  • Playing with a flirt pole for 15 min intervals. (WTF is a flirt pole? Glad you asked: this is the one I have it's not what you think!);

  • Play a game of fetch, only make obstacles for your dog to jump over to make it more physically challenging.

Whatever you do, make sure you are doing more of it. You have a big day coming up, and the more physical activity a young hyper dog gets, the easier it is for them to remain calmer in a chaotic situation.

Dogs playing together
Playdates are a great way to exercise your dog

Mental Work

Though just as important as physical activity, mental work is the one of the cornerstones to addressing unsavory behaviors from your dog before they start. A bored dog is a destructive dog. Help your dog out by mentally exhausting them before any huge amounts of stimuli coming at them. Things such as:

  • Enrichment feeders (if you haven't been using them yet, start now. Here some of my favorites are the Kong Wobbler and the Nina Ottosson ball feeder );

  • Agility (nothing fancy, just jump over and go under something). Check out this video to learn how

  • Start learning a new trick. In this short video Ellis learn the basics of scent work in 15 minutes:

Piloting Your Dog

Now that you've addressed your dog's need for physical activity and mental work, let's move on to the crux of the matter: You're going to have to take a crash course in Piloting your dog. In short, Piloting means answering your dog's questions. Different than training your dog, it's based more upon Q&A and communication rather than dominating your dog or "training" them. You can train your dog not to beg at your table, but Aunt Karen's Thanksgiving turkey is sitting on her you really want Fido to fuck up Karen's turkey?

Better to have a communications system in place prior to the main event. That way you can answer any question your dog may ask, from "Can I jump on everyone?" to more oddball requests, like "Can I chew on Uncle Bob's tinfoil hat?".

You can read all about Piloting your dog here and here.

Addressing Common Thanksgiving Dog Issues

Okay, you've taken care of most of your dog's needs prior to the start of the festivities. Now let's go over some of the problems your dog may face.

Your Dog is an Introvert

Just like humans, not all dogs are extroverts. Some are really not fans of mingling with humans at all.

Personally, I'm an introvert...I'm just not good at it. After any kind of social situation, be it a Pack Walk or a birthday party, I really need alone time. By myself. Maybe for a few weeks.

Let's normalize your dog being allowed to be introverted, too. Just because your Aunt Karen wants to pet your adorable Shiba doesn't mean she needs to. Let Queen of Shiba decide for herself if she wants to socialize, and if ain't having none of Aunt Karen, then the answer is a resounding "No".

Stand up for your dog, and don't force affection on them. Allow them to retreat. And that goes for children as well. I don't care if little Dameon wants to pet Queen of Shiba, the answer is no. And if the little hell spawn throws a temper tantrum, well...

The Power of Pilot will compel his spoiled ass.

Seriously, though, standing your ground with little Lord Joffrey and not forcing Queen of Shiba to be pet will prevent Joffrey from getting potentially bit, and Queen from having a bite record.

If your dog has high anxiety/aggression around people, then do not force the issue. Your dog will be happier in a back room, isolated from all the chaos. Allow them to relax away from everyone, and maintain watch over them: they are not to be disturbed.

If your dog is interested in meeting people, but just a little shy, follow the guidelines below on how to allow dogs to meet people.

Dogs greeting people
Learn to Greet Dogs Appropriately and Safely

Your Dog is an Extrovert

Excitable dogs, and dogs who just love people can be a bit of a problem when around even more energy and activity. Issues such as jumping on guests and greeting guests politely can be a huge issue. And let's face it: your 95 year old grandma doesn't want your Great Dane jumping on her. Yes, it bothers her, and she's terrified of being knocked over. She just loves you too much to tell you that.

Your dog begging at the table is handled in much the same way. Again, you are Piloting your dog and answering their question: "Can I beg for food at the table?" Your answer is a calm, gentle negative.

Now Finish Strong (and Make Your Life Easier)

Don't forget to give your dogs things to keep them occupied. Obviously boredom can be a problem when you're all sitting in the dining room eating and Fido is by himself in another room. You can't be giving him mental stimulation the entire time, so bring things that he can do to amuse himself. Swap as needed. Just watch out for resource guarding, especially around little nephew, Dameon.

  • Kong filled with peanut butter that is plugged with a baby carrot on top (it makes it last longer)

  • A brand new chew toy.

  • Enrichment feeder with their favorite treats inside.

  • Favorite toy

And don't be afraid to take your dog for a brief 5-10 minute walk just before everyone sits down to eat. It can make all the difference.

Final Thoughts

Corgi Dog Sitting

If you find yourself stuck on a problem with your dog, just always bear in mind the mantra:

Control Yourself

If you find yourself getting frustrated it's okay to walk away for a few minutes. Or to realize that something might be beyond you at the moment; ask for help.

Control the Situation

Always be asking yourself if there's a better way to control the situation. If you're dog is friendly, but a bit...energetic, perhaps you may need to keep them on a shorter leash for a bit so they aren't stampeding through the house. If your dog is showing signs of stress, remove them from the drama and let them decompress. For that matter, if Uncle Bob and Aunt Karen are making your eyeballs itch, maybe you need to decompress, too.

Keep Calm and Pilot On

C'mon... we got this. Now pass the pie.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio


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