Victoria Stilwell’s Tips for Dog Owners this Thanksgiving

Many of us would like our canine family members to share in our Thanksgiving festivities, but sometimes all the excitement and food can cause even normally calm dogs to jump up on people or steal from the table, and cause pet parents no end of frustration.  Fortunately, Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog”, is kind enough to share advice and training tips on how to handle these problem behaviors using positive reinforcement.

There are several techniques Ms. Stilwell recommends for handling dogs that get over-excited when people come over.  For some dogs, she says that you can simply put them away for a short while in a separate room, or behind a gate, until the initial excitement wears off and the dog calms down.  However, some dogs just never seem to reach that calming down phase, and continue to jump on guests or engage in other unacceptable behaviors.  For these dogs, Ms. Stilwell recommends teaching the dog what she calls a “ritual behavior”.  This consists of teaching dogs to go to a certain place, such as a mat or a dog bed, and remain there until given the release command.

While this sounded a bit daunting to layman like myself, once Ms. Stilwell explained it, I realized it was much less complicated than I thought at first blush.  First, start teaching your dog well before the holiday.  Train your dog to go the designated place, and reward the dog with toys or treats.  A big part of the training is making this a positive experience for your dog.  Once the dog understands where his or her “place” is, then start adding the sound of the doorbell.  The dog will naturally become excited by this, expecting someone to be at the door.  Do not do anything at all until the dog calms down.  Once the dog is calm, open the door and the dog will see no one is there.  As Ms. Stilwell explained, “Now the doorbell is not necessarily a precursor to someone coming to the door.”  When the dog is responding well to sound of the doorbell, add someone on the other side of the door, preferably someone the dog already knows, and continue to train the dog to go to his or her place.  With this training, you are giving your dog something else to do, another behavior to focus on besides charging the door and demanding affection from new arrivals…