It's Thanksgiving Day. The turkey is browning to perfection in the oven and the pies are cooling on the counter, the table is set with the finest linens, your favorite football team is playing on television - and they are winning. And to round out this perfect holiday moment, when your doorbell rings, your dog accompanies you to the door and sits quietly at your side as you greet your guests.
If that isn't a picture of your holiday house, it should be - and it can be. Dogs and cats are social animals that love being well behaved. They also like being part of the family, and the only way they can take part in the festivities is to put forth their finest manners. A well-behaved, well-trained pet is both appreciated and welcome, and he receives more attention from both family members and visitors than does a pet that is behaviorally challenged.
Here's what the gracious pet should display in the way of manners - especially if he wants to be invited to the next family dinner.
Five Basic Commands
Nothing sets the mood of a holiday gathering like being greeted at the door by a jumping, sniffing resident dog. Most guests try to remain polite as they juggle their belongings, keep claws away from stockings, and try to keep their balance. Most dogs jump up on people because they are happy to see them. It's their way of showing affection and receiving attention. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Every dog should know at least five basic commands: sit, stay, down, come and heel. Whether you're waiting at the curb of a crowded street or greeting Aunt Maude at your front door, you'll thank yourself (and your pet) for taking the time to master these exercises. You can train your pet yourself, or you can participate in an obedience class that shows you how.
If you think that cats can't be trained to respond to commands the same way that dogs do, you're in for a surprise. Basic training for cats involves obedience training just as it does for dogs. Cats often do not respond to commands unless they want to, so the real trick is making your cat want to.
Think about it. Your cat has probably already learned to associate mealtimes with certain sounds and your behavior prior to feeding time. She has probably learned that when she hears you flip the top of a cat food can it's time to come running. Your cat knows that she will be rewarded with food when she hears these sounds. When you train your cat, you can reinforce any specific behavior with a food reward, preceding the reward with a sound that your cat will associate with a job well done.
Training one command may take anywhere from one or two days to a week or so, so be patient. Make the training sessions fun for your cat and for you and make them something your cat wants to participate in.
You sit down to dinner and begin to feast. Suddenly your dog is under the table, making his way from relative to relative, or your cat suddenly appears on the table making friends with the turkey. Begging is one of those learned behaviors that can be considered either endearing or a real nuisance, depending on your viewpoint and situation. If you are eating from a bag of chips and your puppy sits on his haunches and looks up at you appealingly, you might think it's cute. Or if your cat props himself on the table and purrs as you cut your meat, you might be tempted to offer some up. Some people even train their dogs to beg in order to receive food or food-treats.
However, pets that won't leave their owners alone at mealtimes and are constantly nudging for a piece of the action can ruin the meal. Begging may take the form of sitting next to your chair, with eyes riveted on the target of attention, the food. In other cases, your pet may take a more proactive role in begging. He may paw, jump on your leg, or bark incessantly. Whatever, form it takes, you can be sure it won't add much to the festivity.
The best remedy is to not let it happen in the first place. Don't feed your pet food from the table, no matter how cute he looks. If you'd like to share your food, wait until you're finished eating, then give your dog or cat the tidbits in his own bowl and in his own eating space. Never give in to begging after you have indicated “no” - not even once. Recognize begging for what it is and stand fast against repeat requests.
No Whine with Dinner
All dogs and cats whine but some are more whiney than others. Young puppies and kittens whine to communicate with their moms. Like the crying of human infants, whining is a sound that is virtually irresistible, thus ensuring their proper care and attention. At first, whining is automatic, rather than planned, and is stimulated whenever the youngster is cold or hungry. Once they are adopted, nurturing owners often try to answer their pet's every whine and whimper. Pets catered to in such an attentive manner may become pushy adult dogs and cats that expect their owners to jump to attention whenever summoned.
Since whining is like crying in children, you can diminish it in a similar way. If a new puppy or kitten cries at night, he should be given some attention, so he knows he can still solicit “maternal attention.” However, whining or crying at night should not be rewarded with food, exuberant petting, or lifting him up; otherwise, bad habits can be created. Your presence for a few minutes is quite enough to let him know that you hear him, that you are there and that you care.
The goal of teaching your pet to “leave it” is to stop him from taking something into his mouth that he shouldn't, like the turkey or the hors d'oeuvres. This command is a very valuable skill to teach your pet and will help him learn what is inappropriate to chew, and it may keep him from consuming something he shouldn't.
Try this method: Place a treat in your hand. Allow your pet to sniff your hand so he knows there is a treat. Close your hand around the treat and say, “Leave it.” Keep your hand held out. Your pet may lick at your hand, paw at your hand or even nudge you to try to get you to give up the goods. Don't cave in and don't repeat the command. You only need to say it once. If you keep repeating it, your pet will not understand that it is a command. As soon as he turns away, praise him immediately and give him the treat. Continue to do this exercise over and over until your pet turns away as soon as you say, “Leave it.”
When company arrives in your home, there's no need to banish your well-behaved pet to another room for fear that he will be a nuisance. Because you have taken enough time to train him to be a gracious host or hostess, you can sit back, relax and enjoy your day - and enjoy your pet, too.