Birthday Parties for Pets – Always A Good Thing?

A recent news article described how birthday parties for pets are increasing in popularity.  Two high-end parties were described, with pooches and owners showing up at facilities that cater to dog parties.  For the dogs, there were birthday cakes, treats, games and costumes. Owners described how the parties brought (human) friends together and seemed to be great fun for the dogs.  Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University, a veterinary behaviorist interviewed for the article also expounded on the benefits of such parties.  "The opportunity for dogs to interact with each other, for whatever excuse, enables fulfillment of a basic biological need," Dodman said. 
Certainly we have celebrated our dogs’ and cats’ birthdays for many years and our dog Coral got a party on her first birthday with a few friends and their dogs attending.  A survey published in 1992 by animal behaviorists Victoria Voith, John Wright and Peggy Danneman revealed that these events are not uncommon.  They found that the majority of owners surveyed celebrated their dog’s birthday. 
While the benefits of pet birthday parties for people and their dogs would seem obvious, there are some concerns that were not mentioned in the article that are worth considering before you throw  that grand party for your dog.  First, the cakes and treats for the dogs need to be chosen very carefully. Human food can upset the digestive tract of many dogs.  Even purpose-made dog treats can cause illness if the dog is unaccustomed to them or has food allergies.  Our first Dalmatian Katie would immediately vomit after just a taste of ice cream or even the ice-cream substitute made just for dogs.   Sick dogs at a party are no fun for anyone.
Another consideration is how treats and toys are distributed to the dogs.  Some dogs become possessive of bones, large treats and toys, leading to conflicts.  Small treats that are quickly consumed are less likely to be the source of conflict. Play with toys should be carefully supervised and ended if it appears to become too rough or threats or fear are seen.  This is even more important if both big dogs and little dogs are attending the party.
Perhaps the most important concern is that the dogs get along and that it is a pleasant experience for all.  While Dr. Dodman’s statement that dogs have a need for the companionship of other dogs may be true in general, it is not true for every dog.  Some dogs are overwhelmed and frightened in the company of many other dogs, particularly if some are unfamiliar. 
Coral was overwhelmed in this way at her party when two unfamiliar dogs approached to greet her at the same time.  There are other dogs that do not have a strong need to be with other dogs.  Like some people, these dogs are happiest being the only dog.  
Be sure that the dogs that are invited are comfortable with other dogs and manage the first contacts among the dogs appropriately.  For dogs that are unfamiliar with each other, consider introducing them one-on-one with each other before they all come together. 
The key to a successful party is close supervision of the dogs, watching for behavioral signs of fear or threat, taking quick action to defuse any conflicts and creating a social environment that is fun for all.  With a little planning you can create an event that really will be memorable.   Just don’t forget the camera!   

You can read the original article here.    

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