The holiday season is fun for us but can be challenging for dogs. There are plenty of distractions such as visitors, decorations, and new smells. Plus, there are holiday dangers like toxic food and plants. Rather than sticking your dog in their crate until the holidays have passed, step up your training game. Teach your dog some simple behaviors to help keep them safe and prevent them from becoming a nuisance during all the festive excitement.
You must be able to get dangerous items out of your dog’s mouth quickly and safely. You don’t want the chocolates you placed on the coffee table to cause a trip to the emergency vet. Other items like decorations and ribbons pose a choking hazard. Chasing your dog will only encourage them to gulp faster, while teaching them to drop items on cue makes for a fast intervention.
One of the best ways to teach “drop it” is with a game of tug-of-war. Offer your dog a toy and encourage them to pick it up in their mouth. It helps to start with a relatively boring toy so your dog will be more likely to give it up when asked. After a few seconds, ask your dog to “drop it” and then hold a treat to their nose or offer them an even more exciting toy. Chances are they will drop the current toy in exchange for what you’re offering. Praise and give the reward when they do.
Once your dog understands, increase the challenge by using a more exciting tug toy and rewarding the drop with another game of tug. You can also teach this cue during a game of fetch. Simply say “drop it” right before your dog is about to drop their ball. Finally, you can practice exchanging toys for special treats. But be sure to return the toy after your dog has finished eating so they see it as a game, not a ploy to steal their stuff.
Prevention is an even better approach to your dog grabbing things they shouldn’t. The “leave it” cue tells your dog that something is off-limits. That could be the hors d’oeuvres on the side table, a gift on the floor, or even the guests themselves. The more you teach your dog to generalize this cue, the more useful it becomes.
The easiest way to teach this behavior is with a treat in your fist. Show your dog the treat then make a fist around it. Let your dog paw and sniff your hand all they want. Eventually, they will lose interest and back off or look away. As soon as they do, praise and reward them with a treat from your other hand. Repeat until your dog understands that ignoring your fist earns a reward.
Now you can start opening your hand to display the treat. If they stay back, keep your hand open and reward them with a treat from your other hand. However, if they try to get the treat, close your hand around it. Wait for them to back off, then try opening your hand once more.
When your dog will leave a treat in your open hand, you can move the treat to the ground. Again, cover with your hand or foot until your dog understands the rules. When they stay back from the food on the ground, reward with a treat from your hand. Once your dog grasps the game, you’re ready to add the words “leave it” when you place the food on the floor.
Wait at Doorways
You don’t want your dog bursting out the front door when guests arrive or knocking over an elderly relative while rushing into the kitchen at the smell of cooking. Doorways are tight spaces, so teaching your dog to wait at doorways will help prevent congestion and accidents.
Start at a closed door inside the house and position yourself so the door will swing in toward you. You can ask your dog to sit or lie down or simply wait for them to be calm, then slowly open the door a crack. As soon as your dog approaches the door, shut it again. Continue this process until your dog either stays in position or backs away from the doorway. Now you can begin to open the door a bit wider. Again, if your dog approaches, close the door.
As your dog catches on, you will be able to open the door more and more until finally you can move through and leave your dog on the other side. Either return to your dog and give them praise and a treat or give them their release word and let them join you on the other side of the doorway. Try alternating returning and releasing as your dog won’t always get to follow you through the door in daily life. Add the words “Wait” or “Hold On” once your dog understands the rules.
Sit for Greetings
The last thing your holiday guests want is to be knocked over by your dog. A great alternative to jumping is to teach your dog to greet people by sitting down. After all, they can’t jump if their butt is on the ground.
One of the fastest ways to train this is to teach your dog that their butt is like a switch. When it’s on the ground, the reward of a greeting is turned on, and when it’s off the ground the greeting stops. Be sure everybody who interacts with your dog is on the same page. If even one person encourages jumping, you will be fighting an uphill battle.
Start with your dog on leash and tethered to a doorknob or other immoveable object. Ask your dog to sit and when they do, begin to calmly walk toward them. If they stay sitting, continue to approach, then pet and praise. If they stand up, simply walk backward then ask them to sit again. When their butt hits the ground, you can start your approach once more. Your dog will figure out quite quickly that sitting makes you approach.
Once your dog has mastered a quiet approach, increase your enthusiasm until you can run up to your dog singing their name. Next, repeat the same cycle with family members, friends, and neighbors. Eventually, your dog will enthusiastically sit for your guests.
Now that you’ve trained these simple behaviors, you and your dog will be ready to face the excitement of the holiday season with safety and good canine manners. And that’s a gift everybody can appreciate.