Do you worry about upcoming family gatherings, and how extended family dogs will get along? Here are tips for hosting family gatherings with party animals.
My people are dog people. So when we gather together, there are dogs. Lots of dogs. I remember a time when my dad had a working police dog, my mom had a retired and a working search dog, my brother and his friends had multiple dogs, and of course so did I. Our summer barbecues and family holidays looked more like a dog park with the dogs out-numbering the humans. And these were big dogs, too! I remember the pickup crew- one college boy carrying a trash can running behind another with a shovel – they turned the chore into a very twisted game of “catch” but got the job done. Crazy days.
And the dogs? They never, ever fought. Now as WHS Behavior Program Manager, I hear the stories from other folks where they are not so lucky. So I’ve done some thinking about why we were so successful and want to share some ideas with you.
First of all, every single one of our dogs had training. So, their relationships with the people were good ones. Our dogs looked to the people as leaders and minded their manners. Before a problem escalated, the dogs could easily be stopped and redirected with a word. Of course, in order for that to happen, the people had to be paying attention so…
Watch the dogs! Whenever I am in a group of people, my eyes stray to the dogs and I’m sorry if you think I’m rude, but I’m paying attention and anticipating what the dogs will do next. Their body language tells all. My brain interprets: That dog over there is a little stressed – let’s move him to another room. That dog there is too rowdy for his play partner – let’s interrupt. These two yahoos are getting everyone riled up- how about a couple leashes to settle everyone back down? If you haven’t mastered the art of reading your dog from a distance, start studying now. Here’s a youtube playlist to get you started.
Lower your expectations. Many dogs really prefer not to be with other dogs and I’m here to tell you: THAT’S PERFECTLY FINE! If your dog isn’t a fan of other dogs, give him a special place all his own and a really great chew to work on and keep the peace. Dogs don’t have to be with other dogs to be healthy. Some dogs have a strong need to control other dogs – why would you give them the opportunity to do this if it causes problems? Keep the controllers controlled and on-leash. Let the people police the action, not other dogs. This keeps conflict to a minimum.
Time Out. Puppies and older dogs need a break from the action. Honor that. It’s okay to put the puppy in a crate or give the older dog some space. Naptimes are good. I don’t know about you but a few hours of a party and I’m pretty much done. Keep an eye out for signs of fatigue and stress in the dogs. Sometimes it looks like the zoomies – just like the toddler who runs around crying and screaming when he really needs a nap. Sometimes it looks like crabby irritability. Great time for a break from the action.
Space – the most important ingredient. The last thing that made our gatherings a doggy success is that we were often outdoors or at least, had a door open so the dogs could go in and out. Space is so very, very important to dogs. Give it to them so that if running and rowdy play needs to happen , it can, but not in the lap of the middle-aged herding dog who might have a problem with it. Space is great for fearful dogs too – so don’t let the yahoos crowd the dog under the table.
I hope you enjoy your barbeques and family gatherings this summer. I have special photos of all of our family dogs sitting in a group for the required pictures. It’s fun to look back at those and remember the relationships and personalities they represent. Capture these moments and enjoy every second. If you have a challenging dog, please reach out to us in the behavior department at WHS. We have group classes, private lessons and supervised playgroups that can help your dog become a great “party animal.” Shoot me an e-mail, I’m happy to help.
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