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Dinner Paw-ty Etiquette

Author: Sarah Gaziano | Date: December 13, 2011

I am officially a married woman. On October 15, 2011,I became a wife. Everyone keeps asking me if anything has changed. “How does it feel to be a married woman?” The answer: exactly the same, except for one small thing. My house is now filled with lots of new STUFF. I have new dishes stacked on my counter, Crate & Barrel boxes filled with towels and even more boxes stocked up in my dining room.

One of the piles is looming over my head, mocking me even, every time I walk into my kitchen. It is a stack of place settings of our “fancy dishes”. I hear that normal people buy storage containers and store them until they are ready to have some sort of formal dinner party. Tradition and I have never been friends, and the only formal thing I own is my wedding dress. Storing them right away seems silly, so I decided to throw a casual party for my friends. I will make my husband cook them something delicious, and I will clean the house. Those have always been our rules for a party.

We have another unspoken rule as well. Being a dog trainer, I’m also in charge of keeping our pup in check when people come over, especially when food is involved. See, Eddy does this thing where he furrows his brow and his ears perk up, and he gets dangerously close to your food. I, much to the chagrin of most of my guests, believe this behavior to be adorable and therefore have created a dog that thinks its okay to sometimes snatch food out of someone’s hands or to eat off someone’s plate when they aren’t looking. Most people find this rude, gross and incredibly annoying. Plus, if we’re using “fancy dishes” I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart would have a heart attack knowing that I let the dog eat off of them at a dinner party.

It is safe to assume that Eddy needs management when food and friends are involved. My first thought is to throw him in his crate or have him on a leash. Most of our clients have an issue of their dog jumping on guests when they come into the house or in my case, jumping/climbing on the counter for food. In this situation, a crate or leash is your best tool. It is absolutely okay to crate your dog. I always tell people not to feel guilty when they put their dog in their crate. For puppies, this is an absolute necessity as they need rest and, like children, don’t believe in rest or calmness until they’ve run around so much they can no longer keep their eyes open. Young puppies need about 19-21 hours of sleep a day. They can’t be in their crate for 19-21 hours in one sitting, but as long as you let them take frequent potty breaks they can be in their crate for a good majority of the day.

The leash is another great tool. If your dog jumps on people, on counters or on tables, it is a great idea to have your dog on a leash. One option is to tie them to your person or to loop the handle of the leash around your wrist. This way the dog is always with you. The other option is to let your dog drag the leash around the house. That way if you catch him or her about to jump, you can step on the leash and prevent it. Management and prevention are a dog trainer’s best tools. If you can stop your dog from practicing any unwanted behaviors, they are more likely not to utilize those behaviors in the future.

In Eddy’s case, not practicing the behavior has obviously been thrown out the window. I have confused him, because dogs don’t have a gray area. Their actions are either right or wrong and since I’ve allowed him to breathe on my dinner plate while I’m eating, he has no idea why he can’t do that to someone else. Therefore, I use distraction. I use something we call Relaxation Protocol while I’m at the dinner table. Basically, I ask him to lay down, tell him to stay and reward him every few seconds. I can eat off my plate peacefully and he is focused only on me because he knows that if he lies down and remains calm he will continue to get treats. If you try this and your dog breaks his or her stay, it just means that you need to reward more (without as long a break in between). Normally, when we teach Relaxation Protocol we have the clients count to build up the duration of their dog’s stay, but in a dinner party setting its okay to be random about your rewards. That way your dog is focused on you and has absolutely no idea how long he or she has to wait for the next reward. They begin to relax in position and just wait for their treats to come.


    1. Eloise Reimer says:

      Sarah….I have just signed on to Twitter in an effort to find out what is happening to Occupy Wall Street and happens on the above Twiitter. That is so informative…you really are knowledgable . Thanks for the tips…Alexa’s dog Allie jumps up on people, and also jumps up when you are sitting down…just wants to be loved…..

Our trainer made everyone feel okay about their dogs’ misbehavior or inability to get it right away.

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