Train Your Dog for Holiday Gatherings

Our dogs can make every day feel like a holiday, given their playfulness, puppy-at-heart good natures, and satisfaction with just being by our side. And if you typically go everywhere with your dog, it’s no wonder you want to bring your best pal with you on holiday visits.

Charlotte Reed, author of The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Manners for Pets and Their People, points out that not all dogs -- or destinations -- make such visits possible. Some people love dogs but don’t want them as visitors. Other friends and family members may suffer from pet allergies. And the reality may be that even though you love and understand your dog, your pet could be aggressive around others, not be properly housebroken, bark when lonely, or be a destructive chewer.

But assuming that your hosts are receptive to dogs and that your pet is well-behaved, Reed advises that you:

  • Do your homework. Investigate nearby kennels and pet sitters close to your host’s home, just in case things don’t work out as you planned and you need a plan B.
  • Talk with your host ahead of time about your dog. Address any potential problems, such as issues involving your host’s children and pets, furniture concerns, dog bathroom issues and more.
  • Come well-prepared. Items to bring include food, your dog’s crate or puppy gate, toys, bowls, a plastic place mat, a sheet or blanket, an odor eliminator and a stain-removal product.
  • Make your dog feel at home. Transition your pet to the new environment by unpacking and organizing the items you brought and creating a safe haven for your dog. Introduce your pet to any other animals in the household as soon as possible, closely monitoring their interactions.
  • Stick to a regular schedule. Pets find comfort in routine and still need your attention. Although you will be busy, balance your activities so that you are doing what you would normally do together at home. You might have to adjust feeding and walking times, but with a little extra work and planning, both you and your dog should be able to enjoy a fun visit.

Teach Your Dog to Sing

“Singing” with your dog can be a lot of fun, as long as you take care not to crank up the music volume too much. In the animal kingdom, most creatures seem to not mind quiet, soothing music, such as a slow classical piece. Dogs, having lived around musical humans for thousands of years, seem to be more tolerant and appreciative of other sounds and rhythms.

There are three ways you can teach your dog to sing, suggests Alison Smith, author of the book 101 Fun Things to Do With Your Dog: Tricks, Games, Sports and Other Playtime Activities. First, try experimenting with different instruments and types of music. See which one might grab your dog’s attention the most.

Next, train your dog to bark when it hears a noise cue. If your dog naturally barks whenever a cymbal crashes or a horn in a song blows, give the command, “Sing!” and then reward with a treat. The goal is to just reinforce what your dog is naturally doing during precise moments.

As we all know, dogs are extremely social animals. They don’t want to be left out. Smith writes that if you set up a sing-along with other friends, and perhaps dog friends too, you can again give the “Sing” command, allowing the other dog and human voices to encourage your own pet’s vocal prowess. She advises to bring a clicker -- if you clicker-train your dog -- to further help your pet to understand. Treat rewards can again help to establish the behavior.

Like human singing, practice makes perfect. Your dog may never be the next Pavarotti, but plenty of practice will help your dog to become better at singing on cue.

Letting Your Dog Sleep on the Bed

Who can blame dogs for wanting to sleep on their owners’ bed? The bed is warm and comfortable, and it’s where your pup’s favorite friends are choosing to rest. The doggy bed on the floor -- no matter how big and fancy -- could never hold the same appeal.

Some dogs are angels in bed, staying quiet and keeping to their own dedicated section of blanket real estate. Others become so happy that they cannot contain their enthusiasm. These exuberant dogs, like yours, wind up digging, jumping, pulling at covers, and acting like an adolescent at a sleepover party.

Wendy Nan Rees and Kristen Hampshire, co-authors of the Dog Lover’s Daily Companion: 365 Days of Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Living a Rich Life With Your Dog, suggest the following:

·         Get your dog to settle down before bedtime by placing it in its crate or on a doggy mat. Provide a chew toy. Say, “Sit. Stay. Good dog.” When your dog has settled down, invite it back onto the bed.

·         Speaking of that doggy mat, place it -- or the crate -- by the bed. Use it as a time-out zone for when your Yorkshire terrier misbehaves on the bed.

·         You should always try to feed and walk your dog several hours before bedtime. If your pet hasn’t had such quality time with you, it will try to initiate that quality time at night. Dogs, like humans, need to wind down before retiring. Your pet should be ready for rest when it tucks into bed with you and your husband.

Your dog is a guest in your bed, so treat the situation as such. Although your pet is invited and wanted, it must be on its best behavior so as to not wear out its welcome.

Keep Yourself and Your Dog Safe in the Car

A recent survey conducted by the AAA and Kurgo, a pet travel products company, shows just how risky the behavior of dog-owning drivers can be. Nearly one-quarter of all respondents said that they “have used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while applying brakes.” Nineteen percent have used their hands or arms to keep their dog from climbing into the front seat, creating a situation where the drivers remove at least one hand from the steering wheel. Additionally, 52 percent of owners said they pet their dogs as they drive along.

We seem to know what to do, and yet we take the risks anyway. For example, 83 percent of respondents acknowledged that having an unrestrained dog in a moving car can be dangerous, and yet only 16 percent of owners said they currently use a pet restraint. This can lead to horrific consequences.

“An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of pressure,” says Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA National Traffic Safety Programs manager. “Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in its path.”

Huebner-Davidson and other experts strongly recommend that you use a pet restraint system, easily found online or at most pet stores. Like a car seat or seatbelt for a human passenger, such restraints can “limit distractions and protect you, your pet and other passengers in the event of a crash or sudden stop.”

If you are properly prepared, and if your dog enjoys car trips, you can then take it with you whenever and wherever you go, as long as the destination will also be safe and dog-friendly. Another pet peeve of mine: owners who let their dogs run loose out of cars. Always keep your dog on a leash when you are out and about. It’s for your dog’s safety, and for that of others.

Private or Group Dog-training Classes?

Although the old saying holds that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” it’s actually never too late or too early to train your dog. We absorb information more readily at certain ages -- and dogs do as well -- but with time and patience, you will likely see positive results.

Group sessions are usually easy to find, whether they’re at a pet store or through another local service. The truth is, however, that not all dogs do well in group sessions, much less get through them without feeling terrified or even over-stimulated by all of the fun new people, dogs and smells around.

In their book Dog Lover’s Daily Companion, Wendy Nan Rees and Kristen Hampshire suggest that your dog will benefit from private training if your pet:

  • Becomes too distracted in groups and is not able to focus properly
  • Displays aggression toward other dogs and/or people
  • Has a shy owner (you) who will not feel comfortable asking questions and requesting help in group situations
  • Can only seem to learn commands in familiar places, such as your backyard or living room

You can often solve some of these problems with a private trainer, and then later enroll your dog in public classes. It’s also nice to do a combination of the two, if possible. Just like kids who receive private tutoring, your dog would then benefit from the personalization of private training, as well as the socialization pets can receive in group classes.