Winter 2012 Magazine

Casa Canine

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner!
Canine Holiday Etiquette

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

Warning: The names of the dogs and people in this story have been changed to protect the author. If you are a friend or relative and think you recognize yourself in this story, you are probably right. Please note you are still invited to dinner.

The holidays swirl around our dogs. Christmas may not be a concept they understand but they do notice that things are different. The activity level of the family increases with the hustle and bustle of shopping for gifts, preparing for holiday feasts, wrapping presents, and decorating our homes. In fact, we even bring a tree inside the house. Imagine that in the eyes and nose of a dog! An indoor tree! Oh boy! The doggie equivalent of an indoor toilet - at least that is what my greyhound Jake thought. And you can't blame him. Trees are for peeing on and marking one's territory. We settled the matter by putting an exercise pen around the tree at a distance just enough to keep Jake from lifting his leg on our Tannenbaum.

We've all heard about the special concerns for our pets during the holidays, including such things as getting tangled in strings of electrical lights, breaking glass ornaments and eating foods that are poisonous for them. But there is another problem that often goes unspoken - those relatives and friends you invite to holiday gatherings who aren't schooled in canine etiquette. They fall into three categories: people who bring their dogs, people who are unaware of what is dangerous for dogs, and people who don't like dogs. They can unknowingly cause serious problems for both dogs and humans, especially at holiday time.

People who bring their dogs. These are the people who think your dinner invitation means their dogs are invited, too. They wouldn't dream of bringing an extra human guest, but they don't give a second though to bringing Rover. I spent one entire holiday dinner guarding my guest's 5 lb. teacup poodle, Precious, from my newly adopted retired racing greyhound. My repeated pleas and explanations about my retired racer having a high prey drive for small, fast-moving, fuzzy, high-pitched critters like squirrels, rabbits and, yes, tiny dogs fell on deaf ears. The poodle's owner kept releasing the trembling little ball of fluff onto the floor, and then seemingly forgetting about her. At one point, the terrified Precious made a mad dash for cover under the sofa. My greyhound thought this was an invitation for some fun, and, if I hadn't caught her by the collar, the entire holiday would have been forever scarred by a canine disaster. And then there was the time that Uncle "Love me, love my dog" Chuck brought his guard dog Bud to dinner. Uncle Chuck arrived late, parked around the back and sneaked in through the kitchen door. I found him sitting at the dinner table with 40 lb. of drooling Bud perched on his lap.

I'm no Scrooge. Friends and family know I love dogs so they think I will be thrilled if they bring theirs along. So I am often faced with a dilemma when a relative brings a dog to dinner. I always appreciate when I am asked ahead of time if the dog can come. If we can set ground rules, it can often work. The problems occur when a dog is brought unannounced or when those ground rules are broken. Precious's person agreed to bring a portable crate and keep the little dog in a bedroom. But she didn't do that. It created chaos for everyone for the entire evening. The little poodle went home unharmed - this time. The hardest thing to do upfront is to say no to dogs coming to dinner. But sometimes that is the best thing for your dogs, your guest's dog and the rest of the people at your gathering.

People unaware of what is dangerous for dogs. As a household with many dogs, our trash and garbage cans are tucked away behind cabinet doors so our canine snoops can't get into trouble. This only works if you keep the doors shut which we do. However one Thanksgiving a relative was helping with the after dinner clean-up. She tossed some leftover fatty scraps into the already full garbage bin. She didn't think to shut the cabinet. I came into the kitchen in time to see one of my dogs licking his lips - he had eaten almost all of the scraps. Dosing him with hydrogen peroxide out in the back yard, we were able to get him to throw up the entire fatty mess. Fatty foods in particular can cause pancreatitis, a terrible illness that can cause death. If I hadn't caught him in the act, I might have never known until it was too late. People who do not have dogs and even sometimes those with dogs may not be aware that foods like chocolates, alcohol, fats from meats and rich foods, grapes & raisins are unsafe for dogs. Some guests may sneak food to your dog under the dinner table. Isn't the holiday a time to spoil our dogs a little? Well-intentioned as this may be, a dog can get pretty sick from all of the rich holiday fare. Let your guests know that your dogs are not to be fed any human food. If you are hosting a large casual party where you can't keep tabs on your guests and dogs, it is safer to keep your dogs in a quiet bedroom.

People who don't like dogs. We all have them, friends and relatives who think dogs are gross, dirty, even uncouth. Some people are truly afraid of dogs, especially children who are not familiar with or have had bad experiences with dogs. Those of us who adore them forget that some dog behaviors like jumping up to greet people, a nose in your butt or crotch, drooling, farting (dog gas is darn near lethal), licking hands and faces as a gesture of affection, and humping a leg as a gesture of even greater affection are not appreciated or understood by non-dog folks. I am fortunate that there aren't many people in my life who don't like dogs. But even those who do may not appreciate some of your dogs' behaviors. My dogs are enthusiastic greeters. They seem to think that every person who comes to visit has come to see them. They bark, run around in circles, and may try to jump. I have a squirt bottle, the kind you use to mist plants, filled with water that I keep near the door. A little spritz of water to the nose is a safe reminder to settle down. My dogs learned quickly. If they get overly rambunctious, I just have to pick up the bottle to settle them.

I monitor my dogs carefully, especially with children. I don't want my dogs to be a source of fear for any child. I don't let them lick people who don't like dog slobber all over their faces no matter how much love is behind the lick. If my dogs are not minding their manners, I let them play in the yard or rest in one of the bedrooms while guests are present. I feel an obligation to make my guests comfortable in my home. I want people to leave my home with a positive feeling about dogs. If you invite non-dog people to your house, make sure guests know that your dogs are part of the gathering. Do not expect them to immediately warm up to your dogs. Talk to them about things that may help make the situation more comfortable.

Our dogs are members of our families. Their presence at holiday gatherings enriches the celebration. Plan ahead and do everything you can to make things run smoothly. Remember, a well-behaved dog is a good ambassador for every canine, and some basic training in house manners is helpful for all dogs. Now if I could only do the same with Uncle Chuck!

From my family to yours, we wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season, lots of tasty chewies and a squirrel or two to chase in the New Year.

Inducing Vomiting

If your dog has eaten something poisonous including foods like chocolate or poisons like antifreeze, fast action can save her life. Hydrogen peroxide is an affective, fast way to induce vomiting. General rules are to use only if you know:
what the dog has ingested, it has been less than 2 hours since the ingestion of the poisonous substance, and that inducing vomiting is the correct action to take. Call your veterinarian immediately, to see if inducing vomiting is appropriate based on what your dog ate. In some cases, you do not want to cause vomiting if the substance is caustic. If you can't make contact with your veterinarian quickly, call the Poison Control Center at the ASPCA. The line is manned 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There is a charge of $65 for the consultation - a small price to pay to save your dog's life: (888) 426-4435.

If you know your dog has eaten something poisonous, do not wait until the dog shows symptoms before taking care of the problem. By the time symptoms occur, the substance has already caused damage to your dog!

Keep fresh hydrogen peroxide 3% USP and a plastic turkey-basting syringe with a squeeze bulb top in your canine first aid kit. Like carbonated beverages, hydrogen peroxide goes flat after a time. It is not affective if flat. Check the expiration date on the bottle and replace as necessary to ensure freshness. Directions for amounts to use and how to administer will be given by your veterinarian or by the Poisons Control Center. Being familiar with the procedure for administering the peroxide will help facilitate the process during an emergency. There are several reputable online sites that can familiarize you with the procedure. Hydrogen peroxide is a first aid measure that is easy and affective - and can make the difference between life and death for your dog.

Helpful hint: Use the peroxide outdoors weather permitting. Your dog may throw up large quantities of vomit.

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is a writer and columnist for PETroglyphs and an author of children's books about dogs. She lives with her husband and her two canine companions, Gus and Etta.

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