Keeping our Dogs Calm During Thanksgiving Get-Togethers

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings, scrumptious food, goodies and football cheering! This, however, is usually not the normal atmosphere for your dog.

Dogs can get over-stimulated, very excited, and sometimes even a little fearful with all of the added commotion that comes with family get-togethers, especially if they don't happen very often.

Here are some things you can do to help your dog handle what can be an over-stimulated day for your dog.

1. Einstein Brain!

Spending some time doing some obedience training for 10-15 minutes before your guests begin to arrive can go a long way in helping your dog be calmer and make better choices. Setting aside a couple of 10-15 min time slots a couple of hours and again, about 30 minutes before guests arrive can help put your dog in a state of mind that allows them to be less excitable.

Doing games and exercises that causes your dog to think and problem solve are best. So, if your dog knows sit and down, repeating what they are already know may not be enough. Stretching their knowledge, their problem-solving skills and ultimately working their brain more will provide more stimulation and thinking on their part. For example, if your dog knows down, play a game where you begin to move your feet side to side, back and forth, rewarding your dog for staying in the down each time you move your feet. You can do the same with the sit.

Or, work on your dog staying in a sit at the door while you touch the door handle, turn the handle, then begin to open the door, then open it part way. As long as your dog is sitting during each of these behavior chains, reward your dog.

2. See Spot Run!

Burning mental energy may not be enough for some dogs. Many dogs will also need to burn physical energy as well.

Take 10-15 minutes and get outside with your dog for a fun game of chase while working on recall. Or tossing a tug toy, a ball or Frisbee and play a retrieve game. How about a fun game of hide-n-seek to practice more recalls.

If your dog has a front foot target cue, set out a few target discs, rubber bowls, or square patio stones and give your dog their front foot target cue word. Send your dog from target to target and then call them back to you for a reward.

You can even combine obedience training with outdoor fun to get the benefit of both!

Send your dog to retrieve a toy and when they bring it back to you and drop it, go right into a sit, then a down, then back to playing with the toy. The next round add in some heeling and use the toy as the reward. Add in a couple of spins in each direction, a shake and a bow and a game of hide-n-seek for recall games!

3. Keep Them Occupied!

Having food puzzle toys and/or good chew toys for your dog to keep him/herself occupied with while you and your guests are enjoying catching up and laughing will give your dog something to do. When dogs get bored, they tend to make poor choices, so be sure to have a couple of frozen Kong toys stuffed with their kibble mixed with a little peanut butter, or whatever their favorite recipe is.

A bully stick inside a busy toy will also provide a lot of enjoyment for your dog and keep them from getting too overly excited with guests.

Before guests arrive, you can hide their favorite toys or food in different areas of a room or a combination of two rooms and let them have fun finding their toys or the food. This is a great way to keep your dog occupied while you finish getting things ready! Be careful not to make it too challenging or your dog may get frustrated and give up.

4. Gates and Personal Space

Sometimes it can be helpful to have gates and/or crates to not only keep dogs from sneaking food off a low coffee table or chair that someone set their plate on, but can also help with dogs who may still have some trouble with all the festivities.

Some dogs may be a little fearful of the noise and extra people and giving them a place to be where they can still see what’s going on but not feel the pressure of the environment can make your dog feel much safer and more comfortable.

Giving them the option to go in another room when they need to can help them feel less pressured.

You may be thinking that you don’t have time to do training or get outside to play with your dog on Thanksgiving Day but with a little planning ahead and knowing how happy your dog will be to spend the time with you, I know you can do it!

Isn’t it better to spend a couple of 10-15-minute sessions with your dog helping them be in a better state of mind when the festivities begin? Think about the alternative.

A dog is much happier and makes better choices when training – mentally and physically – is part of their day. And we all know that spending time with our dogs makes us feel better as well!

Here's to a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving for you all!

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