Thanksgiving is a day to indulge — in food, in family time, and in fido time. That’s right, this holiday is as much about giving thanks for our furry friends as it is about historical reflection and chowing down on mom’s homemade cooking.
To make sure your beloved dog is appreciated by the rest of your family, friends and guests, PEOPLE Pets invited celeb dog trainer Robert “Dogboy NYC” Haussmann to our studios for a few quick tips and an expert demonstration on proper doggie etiquette this holiday season. He helped Spoon the puppy put her best paw forward; now check out his recommendations for a safe, smooth, drama-free Thursday for your canine family member.
1. How do you make your dog comfortable with a bunch of guests (some of them strangers) in the home?
First of all, if you have a puppy, exhaust him or her before the guests arrive. Schedule some time in the morning or prior to mealtime to exercise or play with your dog. Go for a long walk, a trip to the local dog park, or play an extended game of fetch in the backyard. But there are steps you can take prior to Thursday to help acclimate your dog to all the new people she’ll soon meet. Try to get your dog accustomed to people coming in and out — even if it’s just you and your immediate family — and used to the doorbell ringing multiple times. Haussmann suggests using your phone and making a video recording of your buzzer or doorbell. Then, using food treats and that trigger-sound, you can condition your dog to “go to her place.”
2. If a number of your Thanksgiving guests are children, what’s the best way to prepare your dog for socializing with them — particularly to prevent jumping and nipping?
For starters, keep the dog’s leash on. That gives you the control, and keeps her from running around the room, knocking kids over or tackling them. Once again, using food as a training tool, approach your little guests with your hand firmly on the leash and a stash of treats in the other hand. That way, your dog is focused on you and eating her treats, and kids can act like kids by petting and talking to her under your supervision. “Once she gets used to the kids, she can drag her leash around and if she does happen to do something inappropriate, you can reel her back in,” says Haussmann. “You can also utilize time-outs and downtime … and if she’s jumping on you, you can give her information by ignoring her.”
3. Once the guests arrive and everyone is ready to eat, how do you keep your dog off the table and keep her from begging?
Hold off on giving your pup lunch, and maybe even breakfast, so you can pair your mealtime with hers. But, says Haussmann, “If you have turkey and stuffing on the table, that’s going to be more enticing than kibble on the floor. So, mix wet and dry food together. You can also use yogurt. I use canned pumpkin for my dog; it has the added benefit of binding up their stool.” A Kong is a hollow toy, but you can also use a hollow bone, and stuff it with the kibble/special treat concoction. Consider freezing a number of these treats in your fridge in advance.
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4. What are some dangerous Thanksgiving foods to keep away from your dog?
Dogboy lists stuffing as a no-no, as it often contains onions, raisins and certain types of nuts (he mentions almonds, but macadamia nuts are very bad for dogs) that can be hard to digest or even toxic. Chocolate is never OK for dogs. Check out PEOPLE Pets’ full list of Thanksgiving food dos and don’ts for dogs here.
5. For dogs whose families are traveling this holiday how can pet parents ease their separation anxiety or destructive behaviors that may occur while they’re away?
First of all, a sitter may be necessary for certain dogs, and particularly young puppies who aren’t meant to be left alone for long stretches of time. In cities, especially, separation anxiety is a big deal. The best advice is to teach the dog how to “stay” for long periods of time, to teach the dog to be comfortable being alone. “Teach them to be comfortable with you leaving, but also with you coming back,” says Haussmann. For severe cases, work with a trainer, behaviorist or consult a vet. Learn more by watching the video above.