Welcome to the special edition holiday post! There are two things we’re going to cover today:
1. How much your dog loves turkey, and how to keep them away from it
2. How much your dog loves your family and friends, and how to keep them from leaping on people.
Let’s get started!
1. How Much Your Dog Loves Turkey, and How to Keep Them Away From It
Ahhh, Thanksgiving. That time of year when delicious smells come out of the kitchen and dogs everywhere grab giant legs of turkey off the table and go careening through the house with their kill. When reasonable humans turn into screaming banshees, yelling, “Don’t let him swallow it! That turkey bone’s been cooked!” and “Someone call the vet and see how dangerous this is!”
It’s safe to assume that your dog probably shouldn’t be eating Thanksgiving food (and especially not cooked turkey bones), so let’s just say he shouldn’t grab food off the counter or table and go from there. Now, if your dog doesn’t tend to grab stuff off the counter or table anyway, then your job is much easier. Here is what you do:
a. Get a squirt bottle and put it on stream.
b. Every time your dog gets interested in the counter or table, squirt them.
You can start this Wednesday night while you’re prepping, and they’ll have the idea by Thursday.
If, however, you have a chow hound, the rules needs to be changed a little. First off, start TONIGHT. No, really. If all you’re eating is a TV dinner, set it on the table and turn away. Set it on the FLOOR and turn away. Turning away is key, because most dogs are smart enough not to grab things when you’re looking. (If your dog does grab things while you’re looking, start there.)
Now, the basics are the same: get a squirt bottle and put it on stream. The details change a little. First off, squirt your dog when they look toward the counter/table/plate. Don’t even wait for them to sniff. What you’re doing here is applying consequences to being interested in something inappropriate. If they aren’t interested, they aren’t going to grab it — and let’s face it, for some dogs it’s one quick bound from interested to running away with the whole turkey on their head.
Second off, admit you’re probably going to fail at some point. When your dog manages to grab whatever they shouldn’t have grabbed, chase them down. Now you need a bridge. A bridge is a noise that connects one bad behavior (grabbing food) to the consequence (getting squirted and having the food taken away). You can use a litany of words (“Bad dog no stealing! Dang it, that was my turkey, you bad dog!”) or a noise (“Hiiiisssst!”), but it has to continue THE WHOLE TIME. I can’t stress this enough. Most people say it, stop saying it, and pick it back up again when they find their dog. SAY IT THE WHOLE TIME. Say it while you leap up. Say it while you grab your water bottle. Say it while you run into the back yard, discover your dog isn’t there, run back into the house and search every room. Say it while you’re looking under the bed. Say it while you start squirting your dog.
So you finally find Rosie the Retriever with the other half of your grilled cheese sandwich. Now is when you start squirting again. Hopefully she drops it; in that case you stop squirting and take it back. (Eating it is optional.) If she doesn’t drop it, pry open her mouth and drag it back out. If she’s already swallowed it, pry open her mouth and look. The goal here is to make the experience so miserable for Rosie that it’s not worth the tastiness of the grilled cheese.
Note: If your dog is food aggressive or possessive, don’t approach. Squirt until either they leave it alone, or until it’s eaten. It can be a miserable experience via water bottle.
Now, the argument is over. Let it go, and go back to dinner. Start all over again. Rinse and repeat.
When your dog can leave food alone while you’re sitting there, start walking away a few feet. When they can manage that, walk away a few more feet and turn away (use your ears or glance over your shoulder periodically to see what’s going on.) Then leave the room. Then practice in other rooms (your guests may carry plates to other parts of the house), and so on, until your dog is looking at you like, “Jeez, okay, I won’t steal your food…”
Congratulations! Your dog is no longer a counter surfer.
(This sounds really easy, but once you get to the leave-the-room stage, training slows way, way down. No supervision at all is very difficult for dogs.)
2. How Much Your Dog Loves Your Family and Friends, and How to Keep Them From Leaping on People.
First off, if your dog is actually leaping on your company, I’m going to tell you right now you probably don’t have time to fix it before Thanksgiving. Start practicing and hopefully you’ll be ready by Christmas. If your dog isn’t totally determined to leap on people, then you have a shot.
Okay, here we go. There are several ways to solve this problem.
a. Get yourself a squirt bottle. You’re getting the idea already, right? Put it on stream. When your dog starts getting too close or too pushy, squirt.
b. Put your dog on a leash. When they start to move ahead of you or jump, tug sharply sideways to knock them off balance.
c. Teach your dog to go to bed. Start now: toss a treat in their bed and say, “Go to bed!” Repeat until you think your hand will fall off. When they’re leaping at their bed as soon as you say it, withhold the treat until they actually get there, then toss it to them. Then toss them another to encourage them to stay there. Once they’re good at that, withhold the second treat and when they start to come out, physically put them back. When they start to settle down, then give them another. This process takes a while, in part because it’s time consuming to teach a dog to stay put (they don’t remember well that you told them to do something five minutes ago), and in part because when people come over it will be SO EXCITING that your dog will forget everything — so they have to know this really well, and even then assume they won’t be great about it.
You can also combine these techniques to your hearts’ content, and I would strongly suggest that you get a kong or a hollow bone, fill it with peanut butter (or other goodies of your choice, freeze the sucker to make it hard to get at, and then give your dog that in their bed. It will make them much more likely to stay there, chewing on their icky treat, and leave your guests alone!
Finally, practice with your loved ones. If you have a spouse, a partner, a roommate, kids — anyone — tell them not to just walk in the house when they get home. Tell them to call, say they’re coming in, and then knock. They can wait while you practice with your dog. Without practice it won’t work: you need someone to knock at the door!
And now… enjoy your turkey!