Dog Safety for Your 4th of July BBQ

We have Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog with us today talking about keeping your dog safe at your next backyard BBQ. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior.

Joan was asked in her popular column, the Inquisitive Canine:

We have a 5-year-old boxer named Austin. The problem we’re having is we’re not sure what to do when he does something bad, like pulling a whole fish off the BBQ and eating the entire thing at once! How do I show him that this is bad?!

Joan answered:

First, allow me to send out a gentle reminder that scavenging and “counter-surfing” are among some of the more common everyday behaviors exhibited by our endearing domestic doggies

Now, let’s create a plan you can use both indoors and out. As a certified professional dog trainer, I see the overall plan as twofold: First, managing Austin’s environment so he’s not given the chance to exhibit behaviors you don’t desire; and secondly, training Austin to perform the more exact behaviors you want, in the situations you want, thus teaching him what the good choices are.

BBQ Dos and Don’ts

The safest and most reliable way to prevent Austin from searching for and scor-ing tidbits off the barbecue is to heed the following tips:

DO arrange your dog’s environment (enclose outdoors or use a barricade if needed) to prevent access to grill.
DON’T leave your dog unattended outside with the grill on at any time. Paws, muzzles, mouths and tongues can get burned easily – and badly!
DO keep your dog inside the house or tethered to those who aren’t man-ning the grill, if barricading outside isn’t possible.
DON’T create an unintentional “time-out” by sequestering your dog to an area without anything to do while everyone else is have fun.
DO spend a bit of time teaching and practicing safe grill behaviors with your dog before guests arrive (see tips below).

For training tips around grills, combine the basics with an emphasis on rewarding any and all behaviors you want! Remember, dress rehearsals are key, especially since barbecues and daily-life chaos tend to keep us preoccupied.

Basic Training: Canine Grill Safety

Reward your pup for ignoring the barbecue: Say he walks by it and decides to stay away. Whether you’ve asked him to or not, he should be thanked. Acknowledge him with anything he finds motivating to reinforce that behavior. Use praise, petting, a game of fetch or tug, and even a yummy treat to make an impact.

Teach “down-stay” in one location: Train Austin to perform a settle down-stay on a bed, towel or mat. Reward him for being on his “magic carpet” — all good things happen when he spends time there. If he starts to wander toward the BBQ, you can ask him to “leave it!” and as soon as he comes away from it, re-ward him heavily. If he continues to push his limits, you can send him indoors. After a minute or so, allow him to return to his special mat and reward him for be-ing there. He will soon learn this distinction: “Hmm, if I stay on my blankie, I get treats and I get to hang out. If I wander toward the hot thing with food on it, I end up inside … bummer.” He’ll soon learn what the better choice is.

The Great Indoors

When it comes to teaching Austin to choose “good” items indoors, start with the most straightforward step: Pick up, clean up and put away anything and every-thing you don’t want him to touch. You’ll also want to close doors, drawers and cupboards. Leaving stuff lying around the house is common behavior exhibited by us humans! But setting him up for success is important for instilling good manners. For behavioral training, reward Austin for leaving forbidden items alone, while at the same time rewarding him with high-value treats for choosing and playing with his own toys! Remember, these “good” items need to be ones he loves, not just ones you think he should like. With consistency, he’ll soon learn that making the better choice has the more advantageous payoff.

Paws and Reflect

Allow me to reiterate that dogs are scavengers, predators and omnivores who enjoy keeping busy and problem solving. Anything and everything in your dog’s environment that is both within reach and interesting will more often than not be investigated —- and many times played with, chewed or eaten (especially if he is bored). But with keen management on your part, and some simple training, you can have an inquisitive canine who makes better choices, including leaving your dinner alone.

Thank you, Joan, for providing us with these helpful tips!  We love our canine family members and want our summer entertaining to be safe and enjoyable for them too!

Joan Mayer is the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior.

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