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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Party Animals? NOT!

Another great blog post from one of our presenters Kate Anders 

Toddler birthday parties are something that seem like a great idea right up until you’re in the middle of one.
Today we celebrated my son’s 2nd birthday by having a play date with 3 of his 2 year-old buddies and, to be fair, things actually went much better than I anticipated.  But when there were 4 toddlers and 6 parents stuffed into our tiny house I was pretty sure somehow I’d miscounted and had invited at least 10 kids because that’s how it felt – bodies whirling, toys flying, food everywhere.
This was our first big gathering of kids our dogs had to cope with and, as for most dogs, living with a single toddler is stressful enough so the idea of a houseful of guests, half of whom are loud, unsteady and erratic, is no picnic.  Luckily we had time to plan, prepare and ultimately protect the kids and our sanity (at least a little).  And while I’m already thinking of things I’ll do better next time, I’m really happy with how everything played out.

Party dogs?
When planning, the first thing I ruled out was letting the dogs have free run of the party.  While my dogs don’t have perfect manners (it’s a bit of the shoemaker’s children running barefoot syndrome), they are both pretty good dogs – good enough to be reasonably polite with guests.  However, parties are stressful things for people and dogs alike (even for party loving people) and having toddlers thrown in the mix only makes the situation more challenging.  I knew we would be distracted both by our son and by our guests – I wouldn’t have the time or interest in trying to be a good trainer.  And with two dogs there was literally no way my husband and I could be sure to have an eye on each dog and our son at all times.

So separation it is!
With multiple dogs it’s important to remember to separate them in situations that are exciting or stressful – especially if you’ve got a dog that is a bit of a grump when it comes to other dogs.  Two dogs locked into a bedroom or put in the yard may seem fine (I mean they are used to living together in the same house, right?  What could go wrong?!) – but the reality is when one dog hears someone or something and gets revved up, the other dog gets keys up too.  Soon there is a cycle of feeding on each other’s arousal and, if confined, there may be no outlet for all the pent up excitement except the other dog.  BAM – you’ve got a fight.
Another not so great option would have been to kennel the dogs in the living room (or in the thick of things).  The dog is now trapped in a small space, surrounded by people, noise, crumbs and at the perfect height for toddler fingers and faces to peer and poke.  If ever there was a time I’d say a dog has every right to bite it might be when shut in a kennel and being harassed by a strange, screaming 2 year-old.

And the winner is…
Ultimately we kenneled both dogs in our bedroom.  They did have to be in the same room, but the kennels were not in sight of each other.  They got extra special treats when being kenneled so they didn’t feel like they were missing out on something – and I swear my older dog actually sighed with relief when I closed the door as our first guests arrived.  The dogs were not underfoot or in danger of being cornered by the kids and I was able to focus on my son and the party.

What I hadn’t expected is that all our guests, knowing I was a trainer and dog owner, had talked with their children about how we had puppies and wasn’t that exciting!?  I suppose I can’t blame them, my dogs are pretty good after all.  So as each family arrived a little voice mumbled something in toddlerese that was eventually translated into “show me the dogs!”  With guests in tow, I made 3 separate trips upstairs to get out a dog and have a visit.  I was careful not to let anyone meet the dogs while they were kenneled and only let one dog out at a time.  This meant I could be focused on the dog, stay between the dog and the child, and facilitate a positive interaction where everyone would be comfortable.  By that I mean I positioned myself so I could insure no ear pulling, eye poking (by the kids) or excessive licking (by the dog) would occur.

And for an encore:

After guests had departed and my son was passed out after his cupcake high my dogs preformed their very best trick – vacuum impersonation.  As the tidbits were snooped out of every crack and corner, I made a list of things to remember for next time:

1) Put a container of treats on the door to the bedroom where the dogs are kenneled so I can have extra good stuff on hand in case the dogs are requested to make an appearance. 

2) Practice kenneling the dogs in the bedroom for a few minutes in the days prior to the party so it seems more routine (my high-strung male had to get a minute or two of barking out of his system when first kenneled upstairs – something he doesn’t do when kenneled in the living room in “the normal” spot).
All in all, a toddler party survived!  Our guests were a ton of fun (parents and kids alike), and our son had a blast.  I feel a bit like I’ve just run a marathon – exhausted but like I’ve done something wonderful and difficult.  Happy birthday baby!

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