Throw Your Dog a Birthday Party!

My oldest dog, Bashir, is going to be 12 soon and I think I’m going to throw a birthday party for him.

I’m not sure why except that one of my younger dogs passed away six months ago and several friends lost dogs this past year so maybe I’m feeling a little sentimental about Bashir growing older. I’ve never thrown a birthday party for a dog; however, I talked to several dogs owners who have. They all had tips as to what to do and what not to do and were willing to share their ideas.

Who’s Invited?

Choose the guests carefully as one unfriendly dog (or skeptical dog owner) can put a damper on the party. Several dog owners told me that having fewer guests who were well suited for the party were better than more guests who were not. The ideal dog guest is one your dog knows well and gets along with who is also well mannered. A dog who jumps on people, steals food off the table, barrels into the other dogs, and causes havoc is not the best guest.

The ideal human guest is one who is welcoming to the idea that you’re throwing your dog a party (for whatever reason) and isn’t going to laugh at you. The person may or may not have a dog but she’ll probably have more fun if she does.

Chose the Right Location

The right location can make or break the party. If you decide to have it at your house or yard, your dog might not take kindly to it. After all, it’s his home and even known friendly dogs might not be welcome. However, if the guests are dogs your dog plays with all the time and your dog isn’t protective of his house, then wonderful, have it at your place.

An indoor location can be questionable if there is a leg lifter among the guests. One party was ruined when one guest began marking the furniture, followed soon after by a few more dogs, and the activity wasn’t immediately noticed by the partying dog owners. An outdoor location is better unless the dogs inside remain on a leash.

Outside parties can be in a fenced area, such as a large yard, or at a park where again the dogs remain on a leash. This doesn’t ruin the fun, by the way. Wait until we talk about games that can be played on leash!

No Presents, But Donations Are Great

If your dog is like mine, he probably has more toys than he can ever play with, so tell your guests that presents are not expected (that’s what I’m going to do). However, I’ve already decided that I will tell my guests that if they’d like to bring something, bring a donation for a local dog rescue group. I’ll have an empty, decorated box available and donations (wrapped or not) can be dropped there. Then I’ll take the donations to a rescue I volunteer for that is reputable and who will welcome the donations. Donations can be food, towels, blankets, toys or gift cards.

Themes Are Okay But Not Needed

Theme parties can be fun. I’ve seen I Love Lucy parties, Gilligan’s Island parties, and right now Star Wars parties are popular. Dog owners can dress up their dogs or they too can dress up. Imagination is key.

However, not all dogs like to wear costumes and I know a number of people who hate wearing costumes. Plus, not everyone is good at putting together a theme costume. If you do a theme party and ask for costumes, you will have a few people who won’t attend. So think about that before deciding on a costume theme.

Now, if you want a theme party with theme decorations but you don’t ask your guests to dress up, that’s fine. I think Bashir’s party is just going to be a get-together of friends, and that’s enough of a theme for him.

©istockphoto/kiko_jimenez

©istockphoto/kiko_jimenez

Play a Few Games

Games are great ice breakers, especially if you invite a few people who don’t know each other. Two or three easy games that all dogs can play will get dogs and people moving around, mingling, laughing, and talking. That’s what makes a good party. You can have some simple prizes, perhaps homemade treats, or inexpensive dog toys.

The dogs should all be on leash to play these games so they don’t interfere with each other. Plus, the games are for the dogs and their owners and a leash keeps the dog close and helps the dog and owner work together.

Bobbing for Biscuits is an easy party game. It doesn’t take much setup, either. You’ll need a deep bowl that will hold water and a box of dog biscuits. One person will need to toss biscuits in the water one at a time and count the biscuits while someone else will watch the clock and call start and stop. To play, fill the bowl with water. When time is called, a biscuit is dropped in the bowl and the dog owner tells his dog to get it. When the dog grabs it out of the water, the owner asks his dog to give it up and takes it. Then another biscuit is dropped in the water. At 30 seconds time is called, “Stop.” The dog who grabs and gives up the most biscuits wins. If the dog eats a biscuit, it doesn’t count.

Scenting Games are also fun. You’ll need several cardboard boxes of various sizes and some small, good-smelling treats. Drop a few treats in a few of the boxes (but not all of them) and, one at a time, have the dogs search the boxes for the hidden treats. No prizes are needed here as the treats become the prize.

Simon Says can be fun for dogs, too. No setup is needed, just an area where all the dogs and owners can move around. Prizes for the best three, four, or five dog and owner teams will be great. To play, have all of the dogs and their owners spread out so they have room to move. The dogs need to be on leash. A caller will call out things for the dogs and owners to do. Just like the childhood game, if the caller says, “Simon says,” everyone should do it. If the caller does not say Simon says, everyone ignores the caller. If they don’t ignore him, they are out of the game. They’re also out of the game if the dog does not do the action that was called out. Some of the actions called out can be sit, lie down, wag the tail, speak, spin in a circle, or shake hands.

Have a Homemade Treat Contest

If a number of your friends like to cook or bake, have a homemade treat contest. Ask people to bring a homemade treat with enough pieces so all of the dogs attending can taste test them. Then dog owners can vote for the treat their dog liked the best. Make sure the voting is confidential so there are no hurt feelings. Offer a prize (a cookie jar would be great) for the winner.

One suggestion I liked is to ask the treat makers to include an ingredient list with their treats. The recipe doesn’t have to be shared but since some dogs have food allergies or sensitivities, an ingredient list would be nice.

Don’t Be Embarrassed

Even though I’ve never thrown a birthday party for one of my dogs, I’m not going to be embarrassed when I do it for Bashir. I know he won’t know it’s a birthday party but he does know when he’s the center of attention so I’m going to let him enjoy it. Why not?

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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