The holidays are here and as you’re making your Thanksgiving plans don’t forget about your dog! If your Thanksgiving plans involve spending time with friends or family, be sure to think about how you can help your dog have fun and stay safe during the festivities.
Holiday Travel: Should You Bring Fido With You?
If you plan to travel for Thanksgiving, consider if going with your pup is what is best for your dog. Will you have a private place to stay? Will there be other pets in the home? Be honest with yourself about what your dog can handle.
Many dogs love to travel and visiting friends and family is a lot of fun for them. However, for other dogs, traveling for the holidays can be stressful and exasperate behavioral challenges they already have.
If your dog would be happier at home, plan early to find a pet sitter who can care for your home. Many dogs, especially anxious dogs, do best when staying in their own homes with a sitter staying with them vs. being boarded in a kennel environment.
Advocate & Set Boundaries
Tensions can be high during the holidays, but it’s important to risk offending family or friends by setting boundaries on behalf of your dog. If your dog is uncomfortable with people, it’s perfectly OK to not ask your dog to be the center of attention at holiday gatherings.
Sometimes we can put our dogs into situations where they are overwhelmed or uncomfortable by trying to prove to others (or subconsciously ourselves) how good our dogs are, but that’s simply not fair to our dogs.
The definition of a good dog isn’t a dog who is comfortable being around groups of people or interacting with strangers. It’s completely appropriate to tell people (yes, even your family!) how to engage or not engage with your dog.
Your dog is looking to you to keep them safe and communicate to others what their needs are. People, especially other dog lovers, sometimes like to think they “know better” about what an individual dog wants or needs. This can be extremely dangerous as they may get into your dog’s space, which can make your dog feel threatened or afraid. This can result in your dog lunging or even biting the person out of fear.
At the end of the day, you are the expert on your dog and have a right and obligation to make sure your dog’s boundaries are being respected.
Give Your Dog Space
If you’re going to be gathering with others for Thanksgiving either at home or in someone else’s home, it can be helpful to give your dog space to get away from the hustle of the holiday. If you can bring a crate or a calming dog bed that your pup likes that can be helpful. This way your dog knows they have a place to retreat to if they become overstimulated. Remind people, especially any children in attendance, that if your dog is on their bed, they are looking for space and shouldn’t be bothered.
To help encourage your dog to spend time on their bed you can pack (dog safe) chews, or stuff treat-dispensing toys with (dog safe) peanut butter, treats, and/or their kibble. For an extra challenge and added enrichment, you can freeze these toys. Giving your dog a toy or chew can be especially helpful to give to your dog on their bed or in their kennel during Thanksgiving dinner, so they are occupied away from the table.
Get some fresh air
Even if you love your family, you might need a little break from them, and that space is good for your dog too. Try to make sure your dog gets some quality 1:1 time away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday, as well as some time outside. Getting some physical exercise and space from busy holiday gatherings can be helpful for dogs who are feeling anxious.
If you and your dog are feeling particularly athletically inclined, you can even sign up to do a virtual turkey trot 5K. There are lots of options available, and this year the American Kennel Club even has organized a walk or run virtual Turkey Trot (open to dogs of any breed or mixed breed) benefiting the AKC Humane Fund which provides funding to women’s shelters that accept pets.
Set your dog up for success
When making Thanksgiving plans, think about how you want to involve your dog. If you know your dog is nervous about people or loud noises, it might be best to leave your dog out of holiday gatherings. Your dog is an important part of your family and it’s completely OK to prioritize their needs during the holiday season. To do this you could choose to spend the holiday home with your dog and not attend larger family gatherings, or attend without your dog but plan to leave early.
If you do have a dog who is comfortable being around your friends and family, be sure to set your dog up for success during the Thanksgiving gathering by helping them to make good choices. For example, if you know that your dog tends to get overly excited or nervous when people first arrive at the house, have your dog in another part of your home when people are arriving or keep a pocket full of treats and have your dog tethered to you as people arrive. This way you can praise and reward your dog for being near you and prevent any unwanted jumping.
Whether you and your dog are home for the holidays or traveling to visit friends or family, a key to making the time successful for your dog is to maintain routines as much as possible. This can be challenging if you are traveling to visit friends/family or have houseguests, but dogs thrive on routines.
Finding ways to maintain your dog’s routines for grooming, feeding, play, etc. can help your dog to feel calmer during the holidays. As stressful as it might feel to find time to maintain your dog’s schedule, it will likely help your dog to feel more relaxed during the rest of the holiday which may end up giving you more time to focus on the festivities.
Thanksgiving as a holiday for many of us centers lots of yummy and delicious foods. Although Thanksgiving foods are delicious to people, they can be very dangerous for our dogs. Particularly dangerous foods include bread dough, turkey bones, and baked deserts which can include things like chocolate or raisins. These can all make your dog very sick, and nobody wants to spend the holiday at the vet clinic!
The ASPCA Poison Control center is available 24/7 and is a great resource if you think your dog may have gotten into the trash or stolen Thanksgiving foods. It’s also a good idea to know the closest veterinary hospital to where you live, or where you will be staying during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Even if you have used their services before, be sure to check that their hours haven’t changed. Unfortunately, due to staffing challenges related to the pandemic, many emergency veterinary clinics have needed to reduce their hours.
Our dogs give us so much love and companionship 365 days a year. Most of us don’t need a special day to remember to be thankful for the joy they bring to our lives, but they do need a little extra help from us to have a good holiday.
Regardless of how you spend your Thanksgiving holiday at home or on the road, a few moments spent focused on your dog’s comfort and safety can go a long way for their wellbeing. Reminding people to respect your dog’s boundaries or moving those Thanksgiving treats that could make your dog sick off the coffee table where they could be accidentally stolen will help make the holiday better and brighter for both of you.