Hosting a birthday party for your dog? Here’s how to ensure a celebration that’s safe and fun for everyone.
Rex recently celebrated his sixth birthday. But instead of candy, video games, and a trip to the zoo with friends, his parents provided “pupcakes” and beef treats, and invited 15 canine guests. Rex is a black-and-white terrier, one of a growing number of dogs being treated to birthday parties by their doting families.
A birthday party for your dog, his four-legged buddies and their human caregivers is a great way to bond with fellow dog lovers – and most pooches love all the fun and excitement! It can involve just about anything, from games of ball in the backyard to agility events, a trip to the local dog park for some fun and exercise, and/or a selection of goodies and gifts for all. In order for the party to be safe and successful, however, you need to keep some things in mind. The key to a great canine birthday party is careful preparation and planning. By addressing factors such as locale, space and safety, as well as what kinds of activities, gifts and treats to offer, you can help ensure that everyone has fun.
Joann Mercado plans her dog’s birthday parties a few months in advance. “I throw a party for Lily every year,” she says, adding that her dog is now ten. “Our parties started out small with just family and friends in our home, but for the past few years they’ve been getting much bigger.” Joann now rents out space at a doggie daycare for Lily’s birthdays, and invites around 50 canine friends!
Checklist for a great party
1. Before even starting, consider your dog’s personality. Is a birthday party something he’s going to enjoy, or will having a lot of dogs and people around stress him out? If he has issues interacting with other dogs and people, it might be better to scratch the idea. Remember – your dog’s comfort and happiness is more important than any party.
2. The same rule applies when inviting other dogs and their people to the party. Find out beforehand if the animals are going to be compatible with one another. If someone has a dog that’s anxious or aggressive around others of his kind, if might be best to cross them off the guest list and get together with them another time.
3. Consider whether the party will be indoors and/or outdoors, and how much space you’re going to need for games and activities. Decide what you’ll do if it’s wet out – set up a rain date or keep the celebrations inside?
4. Make sure there’s an easily accessible outdoor spot for the dogs to go potty in, and supply several water bowls in various locations, or invite guests to bring their own if they wish.
5. Plan some games and activities to keep everyone busy and having fun.
6. If you’re going to serve cake, cookies and/or other treats, make sure they’re healthy and dog-friendly, and check with your guests to see if any of their dogs have allergies or intolerances to particular foods. Canine bakeries have sprung up that offer sugar-free birthday cake and cookie options especially designed for canine palates and digestive systems. You can also bake your own doggie birthday treats, or simply cut up fresh fruit and veggies such as apples, carrots and broccoli, or bits of cheese, cooked chicken or beef. Nina Ottosson of Dog Activity Toys and Puzzle Games in Sweden regularly hosts birthday parties for her dogs, and makes treats by cutting up small pieces of liver and drying them in the oven at a low temperature. “They’re perfect to use for rewards or when training,” she says. “All dogs absolutely love them.” It should go without saying that any party where dogs are present should not include chocolate in any form; the same applies to grapes and raisins.
7. If you’re giving your dog and his guests gifts, bags of healthy treats or safe dog toys are great options. “I wrap gifts in nice paper with small pieces of tape,” says Nina. “The dog gets to open the gift himself. Don’t use bows, strings or ribbons, as these can be harmful to dogs.” Another alternative: in lieu of having guests bring presents for your dog, Joann suggests asking them to donate to an animal rescue organization instead. “We also have raffles to raise money,” she says. “At our last party, we raised over $800 for Yorkie911.”
8. Throughout the party, stay aware of your dog’s body language, and the body language of your canine guests. “When dogs get together and there’s food and toys involved, they’re sometimes like kids and don’t want to share the fun,” says Nina. “So be aware of your own dog’s signals, as well as the signals from others, so you can prevent possible fights. It’s important not to let other dogs get too close to the one opening a gift, especially when it comes to edible items.”
Fun and games
It’s important to have some games and activities planned so your canine guests will have something to do at the party. Nina notes that dogs enjoy and appreciate completing various tasks and challenges, especially with their people.
“Outdoor activities are perfect for summer,” she says. “For example, you can organize some challenges to collect points.” People can have their dogs walk around a chair or person, or jump or step over a small obstacle – they get two points for completing the challenge successfully, one for almost doing it, and no points for failing to do it. “People have two minutes to complete each challenge, and all tricks and bribes are allowed except touching the dog.” Here are some more ideas for activities and games:
• Put the following items in a row, about three feet apart: a ball, a piece of meat, and a small bowl of food/treats. Have each dog and his person walk zigzag back and forth between the items without the dog stealing anything. The team gets three points for completion, but loses one point for every item the dog takes.
• Have each dog jump up on a low table, and sit or lie still for ten seconds. (Put a rug or something on the table so he doesn’t slip.) He gets two points for completion, one if he moves, and zero points if he doesn’t jump at all.
• Consider setting up a simple agility course in your backyard and host your own competition.
• “Some of the games we play include ‘doggy musical sits’, which is just like musical chairs except the dogs have to sit when the music stops,” says Joann.
• “At a Parisian-themed birthday party for Lily we played ‘how much do you adore your dog?’” she adds. “The dog parents were blindfolded and had to identify their pups by touch.
• “We also play a recall game we call ‘come to mama’ or the always fun ‘not your mama’ where you have to get your dog to run to someone else.”
• Arts and crafts are another fun birthday activity – how about doing paw prints in clay, or paw painting with your canine and human guests?
“We don’t get to have our pups forever so I think every birthday should be a celebration,” says Joann.