When your family is getting ready to cheer on your favorite team when a big sports game is on TV, don’t forget to make plans for how to support your dog during game day gatherings. With a little preparation, you’ll be able to keep your dog happy and safe while you root for your favorite football or baseball teams!
Don’t Pass the Snacks
One of the big risks to dogs at big game parties is the snacks. Unfortunately, most of the foods that we enjoy eating during Big Game parties are dangerous for our dogs. Some of these foods are outright toxic for dogs, and others are dangerous because they contain ingredients like xylitol, garlic, or onions which are toxic to dogs, or contain high quantities of salt which can make dogs sick. Popular party foods to keep away from your dog include:
- Chicken wings
- Macadamia nuts
- Fried chicken
If you’re having guests over to watch a big game, be sure to keep food and snacks out of reach from your dog. Avoid putting food on coffee tables or other low surfaces that your dog can easily reach. Similarly, supervise your dog to ensure they don’t counter surf and sneak food off the counter. If your dog gets into your big game party snacks, contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian in your area right away.
Watch Your Glass
You and your family might crack open a few alcoholic beverages to celebrate the big game, but it’s important not to share those with your dog. Alcohol is toxic to dogs, and the last thing you want is to miss the end of the game because you are at the emergency vet! Watch where your drink is during the day, and don’t leave it places where your dog could access it, like on the floor or on low coffee tables.
Keep Marijuana Away
Depending on where you live, marijuana may be legal as a recreational substance. If any of your guests are using marijuana during your sports party be sure that none of it is left anywhere your dog can reach in the home or yard. Pay special attention to preventing your dog from getting access to any “edibles” where marijuana is baked into foods like cookies and brownies.
Remember, Guests Can Be Stressful
If you’re looking forward to welcoming friends and family into your home for a big game party, remember that this can be stressful for your dog. Especially for “pandemic puppies.” Dogs and puppies who were born or brought home during the pandemic likely haven’t had much experience with guests and parties which can lead to fearful, or protective behavior when guests start coming over. Even older dogs who used to be comfortable and well behaved with guests may now be wary or nervous about visitors because they have had less experience with guests since the beginning of the pandemic. This can lead to dogs being stressed, fearful, or uncomfortable about people in the house. For some dogs, this will look like trying to hide, and other dogs may display their discomfort with reactive barking, lunging, and barking.
Supervise Your Dog
Having guests in the house can be stressful for dogs, and the kind of animated behavior that a good football or baseball game inspires can be especially frightening or be perceived as threatening by our dogs. Try to watch your dog closely during the big game for any signs of stress or discomfort. If you notice your dog getting over-aroused, don’t scold or punish your dog for jumping or acting up. Instead, recognize that behavior is a sign that the festivities are too much for your dog to handle right now and give your dog a chance to take a break. If you aren’t sure how your dog will react to guests, it can be helpful to keep your dog leashed to you during the Super Bowl gathering so that you can more easily redirect your dog with treats and toys if they get overly excited. Be especially attentive to always supervise interactions if there are going to be children visiting your home to ensure they engage safely and appropriately with your dog.
Teach “Go to Place”
A useful cue to teach your dog before any big family gathering is “go to bed” or “place.” This is a way to give your dog information about what you do want, allowing you to be behaviorally proactive instead of reactive to give your dog their own space to be when you have visitors coming into the home. For a place cue you can use a dog bed or a platform like a Klimb, just make sure that it is large enough for your dog to comfortably lay on. The idea is to give your dog a comfortable and safe place to be while they are out of the way. Start teaching your dog to go to place/bed before you have visitors in the house.
Step 1: Take a treat and lure your dog to the bed or platform and praise and treat your dog. After a few repetitions when your dog is following the treat to the bed start to introduce a verbal cue of your choice like “bed” or “place.”
Step 2: Next place a treat on their place and gently hold your dog a couple of feet from it. Say your verbal cue and release your dog to go to their bed. Praise your dog as they eat the treat. The goal is for us to reinforce to our dogs that their bed is a good place to be.
Step 3: Practice asking your dog to spend time on their bed using a “stay” cue if your dog knows it, and by giving a dog safe chew or hard rubber toy like a rubber dog toy stuffed with dog-safe peanut butter and dog food to keep your dog occupied while they are in their place.
When your dog is comfortable spending time in their place with just your family at home start to introduce the behavior when you have guests coming over. Have a chew or stuffed KONG prepped before your visitors arrive so you’ll be ready to send your dog to their bed/platform with a chew/slow-release toy. Note, if your dog is stressed or fearful about visitors coming into your home it’s better to provide your dog with a safe space like a crate or behind a baby gate or door in another room of the house instead of asking your dog to stay on their bed and watch visitors moving around. If your dog is laying in their place while you have visitors over for the big game, be sure to ask guests not to engage with your dog while they are in their place, as this could be distracting or upsetting for your dog.
If you know your dog isn’t comfortable with guests in the home, consider providing your dog with a separate place in your home to be during the big football party. This could look like keeping your dog crated while you have guests visiting, or turning a bedroom into a private hangout space for your dog while visitors are in the house. Turn on some music to muffle the game noises, and give your dog a safe chew or stuffed KONG in their quiet area because chewing can be a stress-relieving and soothing activity for dogs. Even if your dog is joining in the big game party, it’s a good idea to give your dog some breaks. Spend a commercial break or even halftime getting your dog out for a walk or a quick play in the yard to decompress from the game festivities.