The holiday season is upon us, and that can mean only one thing – food. It starts with the turkey and potato fest that is Thanksgiving, and somehow, the activities and the meals continue on, usually until the New Year. The holiday season is a magical and delicious time, and you're not the only one who thinks so. Dogs love the holidays, too, because family gatherings and large roasted meats often mean that they get a few extra treats throughout the season.
However, if your dog is on a diet, has special dietary needs, or you just don't want your dog eating human food, the holidays can be a bit of a minefield. Well-meaning relatives and friends often want to bond with your pup by feeding them, and they sometimes don't even think to ask about it. So how can you firmly, but politely, keep your family and friends from giving your dog something they shouldn't eat? We break down some of the most common scenarios that you might run into, and how you can politely make your wishes known.
Scenario 1: Nobody has fed your dog anything, but you want to make it clear you don't want them to.
This scenario comes up a lot with new pet owners or those of you whose family hasn't really met your dog. You probably have a lot of first interaction anxiety, thinking about how your dog will behave to everyone, and how everyone will behave to your dog. In this situation, rather than squirm all night in stress, we suggest you get out ahead of it.
Solution: Talk to your dog in front of everyone.
Most pet owners probably do this already, but in case you're one of the few doggie parents that doesn't regularly address their dog in full sentences like it's a person, this is the perfect time to start. Once everyone is gathered, and maybe once your dog really starts sniffing around the kitchen or begging, in a loud, and clear voice, tell your dog something like, "Oh no, you know you're not supposed to have people food, silly [your dog's name here]." That way, without addressing anyone specifically or seeming like an overbearing doggie parent, you have explained your preferences for all to hear. Now, there are a few downsides. Potentially, not everyone listened to you, and they might think you're pretty weird for talking to your dog. But still, it's a useful option.
And you can tailor your preamble if you need to mention a specific allergy or a food that is not safe for dogs, but others might not know, just tell your dog "you're not supposed to have [specific food]." It's a completely non-confrontational way to convey your preferences before anything happens. And if you feel silly talking to your dog like a person, well, we don't know what to tell you. Except that you should try another of our strategies.
Scenario 2: Your aunt asks if she can give your dog something.
Wow, this is an unusual scenario, when someone actually asks your permission before offering something to your pet. Make sure to make your thoughts clear, but be grateful and respectful.
Solution: Thank them profusely for asking, and then politely give them a reason why they shouldn't feed your dog.
Definitely show your appreciation for their courtesy, and make sure to give them a reason you don't want them to feed their dog. Even if you just don't give your dog people food, explaining that helps to make them understand where you're coming from. And if they still really want to bond with your dog, maybe give them the opportunity to feed your dog treats or a chew stick.
Scenario 3: Your second cousin gives your dog food before you can say anything.
This is when the situation can start to get sticky. As long as they didn't give your dog a food that could kill them or make them seriously ill, try not to freak out. Even though we totally agree that their conduct was problematic, getting too angry rarely accomplishes what you want.
Solution: Pull them aside and quietly ask that they not feed your dog, while explaining why.
When you call someone out in front of everybody, your request can take on an aggressive edge. So instead of making a big scene, pull the person aside. Also, try to avoid telling them that what they already did (and therefore can't take back) was wrong. Instead, try to focus on the future, and ask that they not give your pup any more food. Again, if there's a specific health concern, training concern, or anything like that, add that in too, so they understand the seriousness of the situation. We get that this strategy may not make you feel as satisfied as if you had been more indignant, but trust us, it will avoid unnecessary drama.
Scenario 4: A child gives your dog food, and their parent doesn't say anything.
This may be one of the toughest of situations to navigate, because no parent wants to feel like they're doing anything wrong with their child, but sometimes, they are. However, you will for sure want to talk to the parent, rather than admonishing the kid, because you want to set a good example. If you want to be asked before someone interferes with your dog, then you definitely have to ask before interfering with a child.
Solution: Pull aside the parent, make them feel like you thought they didn't see (if possible), and ask them to tell their child not to do that again.
Our best advice in this tricky situation is to pretend that the parent didn't see what was happening, unless it was just too obvious that they did. It may be a bit of a white lie, but it can help to cover the awkwardness. Say something like, "You probably didn't notice, but I saw [the child] giving [your dog] [some kind of food]." Then explain your reasons for not wanting your dog to eat that food, and a reassurance that what happened wasn't dangerous (as long as that's true) can help as well, before you add that you'd just prefer it didn't happen again. Most parents at this point will apologize and offer to tell their child not to do that. However, if they don't, you can gently add in that you'd love if they asked their child not to do that.
A disclaimer: even with the calmest tone and the politest language, this kind of interaction can be tricky. Try to keep a smile on your face and maintain as much of a "it's really not that big of a deal" vibe as you possibly can, so that the parent is less likely to get defensive. However, if they do get defensive, remind them that you're not upset, but also reiterate that you don't want their child feeding your dog. If they refuse to help you out and the behavior continues, you might want to see what you can do to separate your dog from the child or quietly talk to the child yourself.
This situation is another great opportunity to pull out the dog treats or toys. If you are getting a lot of defensiveness back, then offering to give the child treats that you approve of or a toy that they can use to play with the dog may be a good solution. It should redirect the situation, though it doesn't always solve it.
With a little politeness and understanding, and maybe a few dog treats, you can have a safe and dog-friendly holiday.
You may have to bear a little extra annoyance and swallow a few sassy remarks, but keeping things polite but firm when it comes to your pets and your guests will make dinner run a whole lot smoother. Because you don't want to have any tension when the pumpkin pie comes out! Also: family, please don't feed pumpkin pie to the dog!