Party Protocols for Big Challenging Dogs

With graduations and wedding season approaching no matter if it is family, friends or perhaps new folks coming in for a visit from out of town; when you have a party or a holiday event and a big dog that may be challenging you need a plan to reduce stress! Even friendly dogs can cause stress by jumping, or reacting at party sounds or perhaps simply just being in the way while you are attempting to entertain and feed your guests.

These protocols can help not only to reduce your stress but also recue the stress for your dog. By challenging I am referring to a dog that may have some stress about visitors, get very excited, may have mild apprehensions, or perhaps is just a strong dog that needs some guidance with meeting many people coming into the home. I consider a “big challenging dog ” to be 50lbs and up and then it also depends on who is handling the dog as far as how challenging. This will also work for any sized dog that may be “challenging” as it is defined here.

The plan was originally designed for a family that has sons, young men in their early 20’s living in the home. Their dog is roughly 70 pounds and well trained yet has some stresses with new people and or people coming into the home. The after the event they emailed me a one sentence reply, “thank you it all went very well”.

Obviously a one or two person house hold or with young kids under 16 most likely could not attempt this. In that case just get the dog tired and manage and do your best to adapt the counter conditioning part with a gate system or avoid the commotions of incoming guests and manage the dog in another part of the home in addition utilize the strategic feeding protocols and the herbal calming support listed below if you cannot do the meet n greet aspect.

Tranquility Blend by Animal Essentials
This is an herbal calming agent that has worked wonders for my own dogs as well as multiple clients’ dogs of all sizes, breeds, mixes and behavioral pathologies. This is an essential part of all my protocols where dogs need to have stress reduced. Humans get to have a drink or two or what have you to feel less stress, so why not help dogs out with something safe and non-toxic?

Most times when you combine exercise, strategic feeding, some herbal assistance by way of calming agents, and allowing the dog to greet people at least a little bit with some counter conditioning things go much smoother. Work as a team and have fun!

The day before
The day before the party event make sure you have a very active day with your dog.
• Lots of playing with training mixed in. Sits and waits and looks and touches all make play time more mentally stimulating so the dog is more tired by the end of it.
• Lots of training as you go…meaning issues cues and waits all day as you work with your dog Again this makes him more tired as he is “thinking” and “working” all day long.
• Walks and outing in new places will also really tire out dogs. Make sure at least one of his walks the day before is a considerable walk 20 – 30 minutes or more - in a new area where he smells to his hearts content. Do lots of training and prompt charging on this outing as well. All this will translate into a tired dog.
• Meals are to be eaten the day before out of well-stuffed Kong’s. These should take the dog 15 – 20 minutes to unpack also “busy work” by dissecting the Planet Dog Orbo or other types of food puzzle toys will also be a good idea throughout the day. 3 – 5 “puzzles” that are 10 – 15 minutes each add up to over 30 minutes of “work”. ☺
• No Tranquility Blend the day before! Try it 3 – 4 days prior to the party event if you’d like to see how it works. You’ll need him wide-awake and ready for his day of events the day before.

Day of holiday event
Start out his breakfast meal with a medium dose of Tranquility Blend. Half of what they recommend for his weight. Don’t feed him his entire breakfast; give him half you want him hungry for later.

Depending on when the guests are arriving and assuming they are all arriving relatively around the same time the dog needs a decent 20 – 30 minute walk or two – at least two 20 minute sessions of play – be mindful of treats for training – food scraps etc…We want the dog hungry and tired when guests arrive.

The dog should be getting food rewards for Recalls – counter conditioning i.e. seeing or hearing something that startles - mark YES & reward - or dog is eating out of a work to eat toy. No Free Food!

You want the dog pretty darn hungry when the guests arrive and when you are all planning to eat. So keep an eye on food intake day of party.

• About 30 – 45 minutes prior to arrival of guests give the dog a small snack in a bowl with half the dose of Tranquility Blend mixed in.
• If you can get in a 20 minute game of fetch, tug or a play session where the dog get’s their heart rate up for 20 – 30 minutes this to helps quite a bit.

Greeting guests – Dog handler instructions
The make or break aspect of any leash greeting is the handlers ability to mitigate leash length in a fluid fashion, keep the dog focused and play a bit of traffic cop for the people the dog is meeting.

The best most succinct advice I can give is this.
1 - “Walk up” the leash to shorten it – do not tug or jerk the dog. This creates stress.

2 - the less the leash is the less “dog” you have; the more leash the more “dog” you have. Which do you want and when? You decide by implementing step one.

3 - Stay focused on the environment, the dog, and your behavior/mechanics, breathe and relax.

Set up outside with your dog about 10 minutes or so before the guests arrive. Make sure you are aware of the environment and have appropriate distances from sidewalks, streets, etc…

1 - Have a treat pouch with high value foods.
2 - Small pieces of meat - Cut them pea size or dime sized.

Start paying by marking YES & Reward for any orientations to what ever catches the dog’s attention suddenly. It could be a neighbor, a dog that passes, or other people arriving at neighbors. This fast counter conditioning routine will alleviate much of the stress when people start arriving.

As your people arrive and your dog orients in any way mark YES & reward.

Have the dog on a short leash so the dog does not jump to greet.

As you approach people for the greetings keep marking “yes” & reward and or reassure the dog - “ok, good dog” etc…

Allow dog to greet, sniff the person etc…
4 – 6 seconds is all you need then ask the dog to “leave it” or prompt him away pay and pay food reward for it and that should do it.
Have those guests go in and wait for the next round.

Now if the dog has a solid sit & stay and by solid I mean one or two verbal’s or a hand signal and the dog pops into position great, perhaps allow some extra time with the more interested visitors.

But this is for greeting people and allowing the dog to know these people are safe. They’ll have a chance to mingle later.

Instructions for the guests
These should be emailed or texted to the guests prior to arrival. A day or two ahead of time so people can ask questions or let you know how they feel about meeting the dog. Not all people are interested or like dogs, or want to at the start of a party, however the target behavior here is “dog feels good about many people coming into the home at once and or staggered arrivals.

The rules for visitors when greeting the dog -

• No shouting or “oh my gods” or “hey no cut it out” routines if the dog gets a bit excited, barks etc…please let them know to be relaxed.
• Lots of “good dog” and baby talk for the dog this helps dogs relax and many become all loose and wiggly. This is good!
• No bending over! No Pointing!
• No saying dog’s name and chanting sit over and over….
• People can give him a small piece of food that you have handed to them. Or if they really want to get into the spirit of things they can bring a pre approved doggie treat for your pup.

The person that has never met the dog should be relaxed and not feel obligated to meet the dog if they do not want to. No matter what; mark YES & reward the dog and reassure the whole time as this person is passing by.

The person or people fearful of dogs or that are not interested should be respected. Depending in their state of emotions at the sight of dogs gain distance and mark YES & reward the dog for each sighting of the people not meeting the dog.
* Watch for air sniffs and pay for those as well.

Remember the goal here is create positive associations to people arriving and coming into the home.

Stay outside until everyone has arrived.

Back to the party
When you go in to the house keep the dog on a short leash.
This is a house full of people. You want to manage the environment by managing the dog.

Take dog to room allotted for dog – have a short leash – lure and prompt dog to where they’ll be for the party. Once in the room – give the dog something to chew on or dissect right away.

Make it awesome! Buy a new bully stick or Flossie. Planet Dog Orbo or something that the dog like to dissect for food.

This will keep the dog busy for a bit while you get settled and relax say hello to the guests etc…

Right before you sit down to eat or decide to let the dog eat their meal issue the dog the meal/dinner Kong.

This Kong should have a full dose of his Tranquility Blend.

I suggest making this Kong ahead of time and having something so good mixed into the meal the dog will not want to ignore it. ☺

Enjoy your dinner with your guests.

Go for visits into the dogs’ room as needed and see how they are every so often. Have some extra chewies and work to eat toys on hand so the dog has stuff to work on. If they are relaxed and sleeping great! If they are working in a toy awesome!

*You could always have a remote camera set up and a phone app to peak in as well.

Make sure the dog gets out for the night walk at least within an hour or 90 minutes after dinner.

Leash dog up in the room dog is staying in and walk out as you did when you came in - Short Leash Lure Prompt through the party.

* Give a heads up prior to walking through to any guests that may not want to have the dog walking past or near them.

I suggest if the dog is to mingle with guests have dog on leash and preferably outside or if you have a basement or room that is amendable to dog play etc…as you want to make sure all goes well.

Lots of people at a dinner party can be hectic or loud, crowded and many times people are drinking etc…and one thing dogs do well with is having room & space and being able to move about if needed. If things are really hectic keep the dog in their room after the walk.

What the handlers should do while mingling
Maintain keen awareness to the environment. Remember you are at a party with a big dog that has been challenging around distractions so you know the deal. Pay attention.

This mingle session should be 10 minutes maybe 15 unless all is super smooth sailing then play it by ear. Dogs like parties too.

Train at every turn but keep it relaxed and jolly. The target behavior now is “dog is relaxed and is responding to cues readily with little or no prompting”.

Keep the criteria low, get lots of cheap behaviors such as “look” or” touch” – hand targeting to preempt jump to greet or distractions you need the dog to disengage from.

Use those greeting of guests as the reward. As long as the dog has given you a behavior amenable to greeting people – not jumping is usually the criteria - by way of offer or issued cue then reward the dog with a greeting from one the gusts that is interested.

Remember short leash less dog.
Issue a few intrinsic instructions to the human.

Ask for a down stay of you are going to chit chat and watch the party for on coming pedestrians….

When mingling remind people not to do any “hey no cut it out” routines etc… you train and mange the dog so no one else has to.

A good time for people to mingle with the dog would be on the after dinner walk or out in the back yard for fetch and play after the dog’s night time walk.

I’d suggest managing the dog for most of the event especially if it is going to be really crowded and hectic, (remember this is a big challenging dog) and then on a leash or back yard for mingling with guests if you want…. as that should be the easiest way to avoid situations where the dog may be reactive or get disruptive or become overly excited and cause a fracas.

Have fun with all this! Work as a team!

90% of the success with challenging dog’s and guests is having a plan. The 10% to make it 100% is doing it as a team.

Drayton Michaels, CTC

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