Five-year-old Lucy, a lovable, irrepressible pug from South Florida, knows exactly where her place is during Thanksgiving dinner. It’s under whatever seat Grandma – the most gullible visitor – chooses. Lucy knows a sucker for a sad face. The diminutive dog knows that the pickings are huge when Grandma is in the house.
Shaking Lucy from under that seat is like telling guests that you’ve decided to serve canned Spam instead of turkey. Some things just can’t be done. If you haven’t fallen into one of these pet traditions already, you should decide now where your dog’s place is before he makes the decision for you. Otherwise, your stately Uncle Harold may have to eat dinner with your dog’s adorably begging head resting on his lap.
The first decision is pretty easy: Should your dog join in the holiday fun? Most people nowadays say yes. But does that extend to dinner? Feeding your dog before or during your Thanksgiving Day feast is one way to occupy him while the rest of you dine.
In the Dining Room
At a formal sit-down dinner, you may want to rethink letting your dog eat in the same room. The sights and, more importantly, the smells of dinner are greater temptations than most dogs can resist. In fact, it would take a dog with heroic self-discipline to stick to his regular dinner when everyone is digging into turkey and ham.
A formal dinner should be consumed with the dog enjoying his meal in the kitchen or some room other than the dining chamber. This should be done out of fairness to your dog and your guests.
If your dog isn’t going to get any vittles, it is not fair that he should be tortured watching the rest of the pack gorge. And yes, he knows perfectly well that his dinner does not compare to yours.
Your guests, meanwhile, should be spared the guilt your dog is so good at generating. Remove the temptation to feed him something that may not be healthy or safe – like turkey bones. (Many people don’t realize that turkey bones can splinter or become lodged in a pet. Furthermore, feeding a dog food he is not accustomed to can result in gastrointestinal upset.)
You should also consider the dog’s dining etiquette. Nature has bequeathed somewhat questionable table manners on canines – they gorge themselves silly. In the wild, gorging is a perfectly acceptable way to ensure survival, which is why dogs do it. During dinner, it may be a little disconcerting to your more genteel guests.
A Less Formal Atmosphere
The rules are different in an informal atmosphere. The importance is to find a way to leave people to eat in peace. Silvia Stone says she worked out a good arrangement with her two dogs, Penny, a miniature dachshund, and Pepper, a miniature pinscher. In the Stone household, Thanksgiving dinner is a buffet affair, she explains.
In return for leaving the family alone (and for helping her cook by catching any food that falls to the floor), the dogs get a small portion of the meal. “I prepare them a small bit of turkey and mashed potatoes,” she explains. “They’re not really big on veggies.”
The dogs eat quickly and are on their way out of the room, satisfied. The family can take their time to finish the meal. The arrangement works well, although Silvia says her mother complains that the dogs get treated better than the family. “She says the dogs get served while everyone else has to get up for their food,” says Silvia.
Feeding your dog a little of what everyone is getting may keep him from going begging. You may also try to feed the dog before the meal, so he won’t be hungry. At most, he’ll cast an interested eye towards the food.
Wherever your dog’s place is during dinner, make sure he doesn’t eat too much rich food or else his stomach may get irritated. Don’t leave bones out where the dog (or cat) can get to them. To learn more about the proper Thanksgiving dinner for a dog, see the story Making a Dinner Plate for Your Pet.