Party with a Purpose
When people first meet Nigel, they remark about his oversized erect ears, charming chestnut-colored eyes, and stubby legs. By breed, Nigel is a tri-colored Pembroke Welsh corgi, but by reputation, he is a real party animal.
Each November, Nigel’s owners, husband and wife Randy Mastronicola and Audrey Pavia of Norco, California, celebrate his birthday by hosting a party for Nigel’s two- and four-legged friends. In fact, 6-year-old Nigel has missed only one year, when the family was in the middle of moving into their home.
“The party gives Nigel a chance to run around with a bunch of other dogs who he knows—something important for him, since he is an only dog living with four cats,” says Pavia. “The invited dogs seem to understand that this is a party, and they really live it up.”
Adds Mastronicola, “Yes, dog parties are silly, but we deserve to do silly things now and then. That’s what makes being a pet owner so much fun. They allow us to act like kids again.”
This Norco couple is far from unique. In fact, around 10 million people celebrate their dogs’ birthdays each year, according to pet industry surveys, and the numbers are growing faster than a Labrador retriever puppy.
Dog parties serve as the ideal setting to work in some canine manners and reinforce basic commands. You have a captive, attentive audience—especially when the canine guests get a sniff at all the treats awaiting them. Just check in advance to find out whether any canine guest is on a special diet or has allergies to certain foods. And always supervise any time party foods are dispensed, especially when doling out slices of dog-styled cakes, to avoid any food fights. (Cakes for dogs can be flavored with peanut butter or carob, which is a safe alternative to chocolate. Check with your veterinarian about party foods that he or she recommends.)
“Food is a great motivator for dogs to pay attention and learn new things,” says M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD, a veterinary pathologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The distractions of the party environment actually help to solidify the learning experience. If a dog can learn or practice good manners in that environment, he or she should be able to do it any time.”
Dr. Zink rarely turns down a dog party invitation and reports that Stripe, her 11-year-old golden retriever, is also up for canine games. “We often play games that involve different kinds of training or reinforcement,” she explains. “We have played a game in which the dog and person have to go through an obedience heeling sequence while the person is carrying a raw egg on a spoon. The last one to drop the egg wins!”
Dr. Zink also uses dog parties as a perfect place to teach owners, especially of large breeds and dogs with long backs, a fun way to keep their dogs’ bodies in shape. She encourages party attendees to teach their dogs how to “sit pretty” or “sit up.” Doggy guests are lined up in a row in sit postures. Each person holds a tempting treat above the dog’s head and slowly raises the treat higher to encourage the dogs to balance their weight on their back legs and lift their bodies up. “This is especially important for dogs with long backs, because they need more core body support to stabilize their backs,” says Dr. Zink. “This command helps strengthen your dog’s back and abdominal muscles, and that will help protect your dog from back problems.” You should always check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on an exercise program.
At the end of the party, allow some time to serve slices of cake (one for the people and one dog-friendly version) and for the guest of honor to open his gifts. “That’s Nigel’s favorite part,” says Pavia. “He helps remove the paper and pulls stuff out of gift bags. He seems to know that this day is all about him and that he is the center of attention. Nigel is a member of our family, and he deserves to have his birthday celebrated every year.”
10 REASONS TO PARTY
- Adoption anniversary
- Agility ribbon winner
- Basic obedience graduation
- Canine weddings
- Fundraiser for local animal shelter
- Halloween (also known as “Howl-o-ween”)
- Puppy school graduation
- Valentine’s day
- Why not?
STAYING SLIM DOESN'T MEAN MISSING OUT
Just because you’re watching your dog’s weight doesn’t mean she has to miss out on all the fun of a party. You’ll just need to be careful about what she eats while she’s there. Here are some pointers:
- Encourage your dog to romp and play with the other four-legged guests to burn some calories.
- Offer small treats rather than large ones.
- Ask the host about ingredients in the treats, and avoid feeding any that are high in sugar or fat.
- Bring home a “doggy bag” of extra treats you can dole out over the next few days (instead of all at once during the party).
In addition, feeding a regular balanced diet that is lower in fat and calories such as Hill’s® Prescription Diet® r/d® Canine or Science Diet® Light Adult can help your dog maintain her weight. For more advice about weight management, talk to your veterinarian or visit www.PetFit.com and www.HillsPet.com.
Certainly, tasty treats can cause canine guests to drool with delight, but at the heart of any good dog fete are the creative games. Here are two popular games from my book Dog Parties: How to Party with Your Pup that you can play anywhere, indoors or out.
This game is a canine version of the popular child’s game “Simon Says.” It is designed to hone doggie manners in a party setting.
- Items needed: Leashes
- Setup: As party host, instruct all the guests to line up with their dogs on leashes. Make sure there is ample space between each person–dog team.
- Rules: Each team must comply with your command whenever you say, “Snoopy Says.” For example, “Snoopy says, sit your dog.” People must get their dogs to sit within 5 seconds or less. But if you simply say, “Sit your dog,” any team who does so must exit the game and head to the sidelines. Teams are also eliminated when they fail to perform a “Snoopy says” command.
- The winner: The team that has heeded all the “Snoopy says” commands and ignored any that Snoopy didn’t say.
Canine Will Power
Here’s a fun way to reinforce the “leave it” command. This party game tests the standing power of chowhounds.
- Items needed: Treats (such as doggie biscuits), leashes, and a watch
- Setup: Hand out one treat to each person.
- Rules: Have everyone put their dogs on leashes. Instruct the people to stand in a line, about 3 to 4 feet apart. Then ask them to put their dog in “down” position directly in front of them. On the count of three, have each person place the treat about 3 inches from their dog’s nose and say “leave it” (or whatever similar command each dog knows). Contestants are not allowed to touch their dogs or yank back on their leashes.
- The winner: The dog who resists his treat the longest and waits until his person gives him the okay command to eat it.