Surviving The Holidays With Your Dog

Manners aren't just for kids


Q: My dog is 9 months old and not very well-behaved. I'm having family over for the holidays and I don't know how I'm going to keep him under control. Most of my relatives don't like dogs as much as I do and they're not going to put up with a dog jumping up on them, begging for their food and tearing around the house. What am I going to do?

A: I can't think of a better time to start teaching your dog some manners! At nine months, he's still a puppy with a puppy's brain and high energy level but he's fully capable of learning how to behave better.

If you don't know much about training, the first thing you should do is check into obedience classes. Most kennel or training clubs host highly affordable public obedience classes. They meet once a week and even though there's only a few weeks left before Christmas, you'll be able to learn some very useful basic techniques and commands like “sit,” “down” and “stay.” Your veterinarian or local humane society should be able to refer you to clubs in your area.

The next thing you should do is invest in a dog crate! When the dog can't be supervised or you don't want him underfoot at the moment, a crate is the coziest, safest place for him to stay. By starting now to get your dog accustomed to spending time in a crate, he won't mind temporary confinement during the holiday parties.

Jumping up on people is a dog's joyous way of greeting them. Unfortunately, most dogs don't understand it's not the way most people want to be greeted! Many methods of training a dog not to jump on people involve some kind of punishment for the behavior — in other words, the dog is punished for showing his happiness. I prefer instead to teach the dog a more appropriate type of greeting — sitting!

First you'll need to teach your dog the “sit” command. Most dogs learn “sit” very quickly especially if you use treats as a reward. Once he understands the command, you can substitute sitting as a greeting rather than jumping up. Start by telling him to “sit” whenever he approaches you. Reward him lavishly when he does! If he forgets and starts to jump up, tell him no, calmly take him by the collar and place him in a sitting position. Then praise and offer a treat. No rewards or praise should ever be given until the dog has his behind planted firmly on the floor.

In order to make this training really work, you have to train yourself and your family as well. Jumping up at any time should be discouraged, even in play — substitute “sit” instead. Be sure to praise him and pet him for obeying the command. Before long, he'll automatically sit when he comes to you or meets you at the door. When visitors are due to arrive, have a few treats in your pocket. As they walk in, give the "sit" command and have your guests offer the treats as a reward. If his enthusiasm gets the better of him, calmly correct him and put him back into position. With practice, you'll soon have a dog that sits calmly when guests arrive, waiting for their praise, rather than jumping up and annoying them.

Since holidays always mean good things to eat, some dogs turn into beggars and even thieves when faced with temptation. Even dog-loving guests don't appreciate a drooling dog at their side when they want to enjoy their holiday dinner. Start now to teach your dog the "down/stay" command so he'll lie down quietly on the other side of the room. Practice at every meal! If your dog hasn't become reliable by holiday time, utilize your new dog crate and confine him while your guests are eating.

Few dogs can resist food that's left within easy reach. At holiday time, the kitchen counters and trash cans are chock full of irresistible treats. Sometimes the simplest solution to a problem is also the easiest. To keep your dog out of the garbage and away from dangerous things like turkey bones, use a trash can with a locking lid or put the can under the sink or in a broom closet. Cooling a pie or defrosting the turkey on the kitchen counter? Set the dish farther back or put it up in a cupboard so your inquisitive dog can't stand on his hind legs and reach it. Here again, the “down/stay” command will help keep your dog away from the counter and out from under your feet in the kitchen. You can also keep your dog out of the kitchen altogether by confining him in his crate or putting up a “baby” gate across the kitchen doorway.

The “Leave it!” command is particularly helpful to keep a dog away from food, Christmas presents, the Christmas tree, etc. To be most effective, the "leave it!" command needs to be given while your dog is thinking about touching something he shouldn't rather than after he's already done it. When you see your dog start to investigate a forbidden object, tell him “No!” and order him to "Leave it!" using a deep, sharp, stern voice. When he turns away from the object, praise him and offer him one of his own toys instead. “Leave It” is a command you'll find plenty of uses for all year round but keep in mind that it's only effective when the dog is under supervision. Left alone or out of your sight, your dog is likely to do whatever he wants to. When you're gone, confine him to a crate, another room, or put forbidden objects out of reach.

Vicki DeGruy

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