My dog, Higgins, celebrates his fourth birthday today. He came into my life after I lost my beloved Derby. Higgins came to fill that huge, gaping hole in my heart. He has done his job well.
It is the time to discuss our pet's behavior during the approaching holiday season. Our dogs and cats should not be locked away in a back bedroom or laundry room when the guests arrive for fear of inappropriate behavior. They need to be prepared with manners, and we must assume responsibility for teaching those manners. They will not pick them up on their own. It is not a good idea to start this behavior training as the guests are ringing the doorbell. Start today.
Establishing a set of rules and sticking to them makes holiday entertaining fun for you, your pets and your guests. Most guests are more than happy to have a dog or cat asking for a little attention if they are not begging for food or hanging from the top of the Christmas tree
If your dog knows the commands of sit, down and stay, you have a huge head start. These three words can make all the difference and will really impress your friends. The dog wants to be close at hand and part of your party. If he knows the rules, it will be easy. If he has been allowed to eat off the table and sit on your lap during meals, the road will be a bit bumpier.
A well-behaved dog is not one that is terrified of our every word. A well-behaved and well-socialized dog will listen and respect the rules and will adhere to them. He wants to be part of the family and he knows that to be accepted, he has to behave.
Starting when the guests arrive, ask the dog to sit by the door as you open it. The well-behaved dog will sit there and wag his tail ferociously while the guest are being invited in -- but will remain sitting. Remember that a dog's job is to protect his family from unwanted guests. If we do not let him stand guard at the door, he will not learn to differentiate the good from the bad, the wanted from the unwanted. He learns from our tone of voice and body language who is welcome and who might be a threat.
Once the guests are settled, allow the dog to make the rounds and greet the guests. He should be polite and sniff a little and then just ask for a little rub around the ears. Some of your guests may not be totally excited about having a dog drooling on them. The dog quickly figures out who are pet lovers and who are not. There might even be some who are afraid of dogs. They will be more comfortable and most impressed with a dog who is under control and listens.
The best way to establish good party behavior is to use it every day. The dog should have a cushion or bed that can be moved from room to room as needed. Dogs love having their very own comfortable place. He should be taught to go to this cushion when told to do so and stay there. When the family sits down for dinner, tell the dog to go to his cushion and insist that he stay there. But do let him be close by. He should be fed before the family so that he is not hungry, watching them eat.
Tell him to stay in this place and do not allow him to move. If he does move, bring him back. When he does stay, remind him constantly that he is very good. If he will not stay, put his cushion some place where you can tie him with a short leash so that you can relax and enjoy your dinner. Eventually, if you are consistent, he will stay without being tied, realizing that his place is the most peaceful place for him.
If you do not want your dog or cat begging for or helping himself to people food, never, never ever feed him from the table or feed him from people dishes. If you make the decision to allow him to beg, don't expect him to act any differently when you have guests.
When company is present, the dog will know what is expected when dinner is served. You may have to remind him to go to the cushion and stay there, but he will understand.
While guests are visiting before and after dinner, have the dog's cushion in a corner of the room. After he has visited a bit, ask him to take his place on the cushion and stay there. That way, he can enjoy the party and your friends will think he is the greatest dog in the world and that you must be some wonderful great trainer.
Dogs who are part of the family, with a proper balance of discipline, love and attention, quickly learn the rules of proper behavior. They will be a pleasure to have around during holiday entertaining or any time throughout the year.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.