Memorial Day Weekend: Keeping Your Dog Safe

May 30th is Memorial Day, which means that a lot of folks reading this probably already have plans to attend (or host) a party in the very near future. Before you drag your grill out of your garage or decide which stars-and-stripes shirt to wear to the company picnic, though, let’s take a moment to talk about safety; more specifically, safety for dogs.

Crowd Control

Sometimes, the best way to keep your dog out of trouble is too keep him or her away from celebrations entirely. If you’re invited to a get-together, do not assume that you can bring your dog as your “plus one;” verify with the host ahead of time that the party is dog-friendly! Your co-worker may absolutely love dogs, but she might also have a family member with an allergy, a friend with a phobia, or a dog of her own who’s fine with humans but aggressive toward other dogs. Thus, suddenly showing up at the party with your dog in tow can create an awkward—and even potentially dangerous—situation.

Meanwhile, if you’re going to host a cookout, be realistic about your dog’s ability to interact with guests. A young, social pooch with boundless energy might genuinely enjoy greeting the people who come to the door and playing with her “new friends” during the party. But if your dog is shy, elderly, or anxious, then playing hostess could be a bit overwhelming. It might be wise to keep her contained to one room in the house while guests are arriving (so she can say hello to everyone at once instead of running to the door every five minutes), and allow her to stay holed up in the room if she wants. Even if your dog seems excited at first to interact with people, keep an eye on her throughout the day, and let her take some time to herself if she seems to be getting overstimulated or tired. Being aware of your dog’s stress level is especially important if there are other dogs in attendance—if you notice that they’re not getting along or playing too rough, then break up the scuffle before it escalates!

A Not-So-Great Escape

Pets are more likely to go missing on the Fourth of July than they are any other day of the year, and that’s primarily due to them panicking when they hear fireworks. While people often don’t think of fireworks when they hear the phrase “Memorial Day”, it is another popular holiday for busting out the explosives. Whether you’re planning to watch a city-sponsored show at a public park or just buying some firecrackers to set off on your own, take your dog’s feelings into account. Keeping Spot indoors—and possibly confined to a kennel—while fireworks are being set off can help him feel safe despite the noise…and if he does panic and try to bolt, he’ll probably wind up in the hall closet instead of halfway down the block!

Another thing to watch out for is gates and doors inadvertently left open. It only takes a few seconds for your dog to wander away, and the result can be tragic. Know where your dog is when you’re letting in guests; if Savannah insists on greeting people at the door, keep a firm grip on her collar. And if you plan to leave your door or gate unlocked so guests can let themselves in, consider posting a sign reminding people to shut the door firmly and not let the dog out.

Unfortunately, taking all of these precautions won’t guarantee that Fluffy will stay contained, so you need to prepare for a worst case scenario. First of all, make sure that your dog is current on all of her vaccinations; this will protect her (and other dogs or people she might encounter) from contracting diseases while she’s loose. Outfit her with a highly visible collar (that is, one that contrasts with her fur), as well as an ID tag that clearly states her name and your phone number. If your pet is microchipped, make sure that the chip is registered and the information is up to date! Keep in mind that collars and microchips actually work well when combined: a visible collar will immediately clue strangers in on the fact that your dog is lost (instead of abandoned or just a stray), but if something happens to the collar or ID tag, the chip will still work for identification purposes.

Food Fight

When it comes to table scraps, many dogs have an attitude of “Eat first, ask questions later!” Although this mindset does often make cleaning up messes in the kitchen a little easier, it can cause serious problems if the dog in question winds up eating something he really shouldn’t. And if your dog is supposed to be on a special diet due to allergies or some kind of medical condition, keeping “people food” out of his jaws is especially important.

If you’re serving food buffet-style, make sure that the goodies are in a place that the dog can’t get to. If you’ve got a small dog, this might be as simple as putting the food on a high countertop or table. Bigger “puppies,” on the other hand, who can stand on their back legs to gain significant height might actually need to be contained in a separate room or outdoor pen until the leftovers are packed up. Keep trash and empty food containers out of your dog’s reach; if Cookie eats a cake box because it smelled like frosting, he’s probably going to have issues later.

Remember that some foods that are fine for humans can make dogs sick. Here are some that are likely to turn up at a barbecue or backyard party:
• Alcohol
• Chocolate
• Coffee
• Grapes
• Nuts
• Onions/garlic/chives (common additives for hamburgers)
• Salty snack foods (like potato chips)
• Xylitol (an artificial sweetener sometimes found in baked goods)

Don’t be afraid to tell your friends or houseguests to not give your dog “people food;” that’s a perfectly reasonable request! Be especially wary when you see kids interacting with your dog while they have a plate (or treat) in their hands—your naïve nephew may accidentally dip his plate low enough for Ranger to snatch a brownie, and your neighbor’s daughter might “share” her onion-smothered hot dog with Trooper because she thinks he “looks hungry.”

As we take time to celebrate veterans who gave their lives to serve our country, let’s all try to have a safe and happy weekend. And to any veterans reading this post: thank you for your service!

Animal Poison Control
Ryan Harvey on Flickr
Huffington Post
Three Million Dogs

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