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Ain’t Too Proud to Beg

5 tips for keeping your dog out of trouble on Thanksgiving.

by Karen B. London, PhD
Updated November 21, 2021
A dog resting its face on a dinner table.
Alicia Magnuson Photography / Stocksy

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Consider Thanksgiving from your dog’s point of view: There’s a never-ending buffet of human food and plenty of humans in need of some emotional support — at the very least, the opportunity to pet a dog. The holiday should be a their favorite! Unfortunately, as many pet parents know, all that food and all those humans can often spell disaster for your dog. The goal is to set your pup up for success by making it easy for them to do the right thing and not get into trouble. There are so many temptations on this day of feasting, but with a little advance planning, you can avoid the common horror of having your dog partake in the wrong part of the festivities.

Other than keeping your dog completely isolated from family and food throughout the preparation and the feast, there’s no foolproof way to prevent them from stealing a turkey leg from the counter or begging your guests for it. It can take months (sometimes years) to train a dog to exhibit exemplary behavior in a crowded environment rife with distractions and delicious smells. My advice here is not about training, but rather, setting your dog up for success even if you haven’t spent their whole life preparing for this moment. To be honest, Thanksgiving is such a random day that you are probably better off devoting your training to teaching your dog how to handle day-to-day events and just managing the challenges of this once-a-year holiday. Here’s some advice on Thanksgiving with dogs.

1. Get Some Exercise

Help your dog achieve the right emotional state by giving them lots of exercise in the morning, before your guests arrive. It’s hard to find the time for a long walk, hike, or run, but you will reap the benefits all day if your pup achieves the relaxed, contented state that exercise brings. Some training for the sake of mental exercise can also help them be their best selves the rest of the day. Boredom is the enemy of the well-behaved dog, so make your dog’s day as interesting as possible.

2. Create Separation

Set up a barrier to prevent your dog from being in the kitchen while you cook and in the dining room when you are feasting. Simply preventing trouble can feel like a cop out, but it’s a good solution as long as your dog can tolerate the separation. If your dog is comfortable in a crate or another room, take advantage. For many dogs, being separated is a reasonable way to stop them from begging, jumping up for food or stealing it from the serving area.

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3. Provide Stimulation

Stockpile some new toys and treats ready for use as you prepare and celebrate your Thanksgiving meal. If you can keep your dog interested in anything other than the delicious smells coming from the oven (and the garbage can!), you are setting them up for success. Stuff some Kongs or other food extraction toys ahead of time that you can give your dog to keep them occupied. Consider freezing a couple Kongs so that they will last even longer. Plan to give them at least one toy stuffed with goodies while you cook and another while you eat. If they have has something really appetizing to chew on or lick, it makes it easier for them to deal with not receiving the human food. That applies to dogs who are in a crate in another room, or with everyone.

4. Clean Up After

Wrap the leftovers up and put them in the fridge or freezer as fast as possible after you are done eating. With possible temptations secured and out of reach, the risk of trouble is largely behind you. Don’t forget to put the garbage out, too. A Thanksgiving trash party for your pup will rob you of some of those feelings of gratitude the day inspires, and even worse, it may be harmful to your dog’s health.

5. Exercise...Again

Take a walk after the big meal (this is good for humans and dogs regardless.) The exercise is wonderful, especially after a large meal, and the chance to be outside makes most pups content. After any potential holiday stresses caused by visitors or the unusual nature of the day, a walk will be most welcome. If your dog is not used to a walk at that time, it’s a special treat. If they’re used to going out at that time, sticking to this part of her routine is a relief. Plus it’s time to reflect on how grateful you are for each other.

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karen london

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.