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Fido al Fresco

Like George Gershwin’s immortal lyrics, “Summertime, and the living is easy,” so is stylish entertaining with friends, family and the tail wagging tribe.
Written by Sheryl Wiser | Photography by J. Nichole Smith
Start Smart
Before you gas up the grill and show off your Pom Pom mixology (click here for the recipe), advance work encourages best in show. Hold the invites and face facts. Does your dog play well with others on the home front or would he be aggressive? How well do you know the other dogs? Are they master escape artists who specialize in clearing fences or skewer-stealing miscreants? PAWS board member Melinda Williams and husband Mark Murray have a history of social entertaining with dogs, and rely on familiarity. “We always know the people and dogs that are coming and our social circle knows dogs are a part of our life and will be present.”

Socialization trumps size/breed says Steve Duno, a Seattle-based animal behaviorist and author of 16 pet-related publications. “It’s best to have dogs know each other rather than be the same size. Small dogs can do fine depending on their status although you may see a dominant Chihuahua boss a submissive golden.” In addition, Duno advises against including breeds with issues towards other dogs unless they have previously met and accepted the other dogs.

Acknowledging attributes and limitations such as size and layout of space is critical in determining the dog/people ratio. Yards should be fenced or dogs must be on leash and what about gardens, lawn art or lack of shade? Williams and Murray generally invite 20 people and no more than 5 dogs, depending on size and kind. Williams describes the yard of her classic 1906 Seattle home as “not large, but well designed with two small patios and super dog-friendly bamboo along the back fence with room on all sides to entertain.” Keep bedlam at bay, says master trainer Deborah Rosen of Good Citizen Canine, because “there should never be so many dogs that chaos erupts.” She advocates one dog for every five people, but that could change “if you know these are dog people and forgiving of a variety of dog behaviors.”

If this is a first for you and your pet, scale back proposes Duno. “Two dogs will allow a feel for the interaction, so you can start incrementally and work up to party size.” Pre-party meets in neutral spaces like a dog park can also minimize issues. “Bringing in a new dog means the whole group will be relentlessly investigating them; and that could cause problems. It’s better to invite dogs that are obedience-trained, because if you can get them to do down/stays and act civilly, it makes things easier.”

Get Down, Hound
I don’t believe etiquette expert Emily Post ever addressed puppy protocol at fashionable summer soirées. Guests, do not assume invitations are for you and your dog; call and confirm that your four-legged friend is welcome. Bring a housebroken dog, necessary pet supplies and take care that your dog destroys nothing. Hosts, your dog and cat may get along like mac ‘n cheese, but do not assume the same is true for canine company who think Kitty makes an excellent toy or sorry to say, snack. My curious Aussie believes they double as squirrels. Unless you’re in the mood for mayhem, keep the cat in a separate room during the festivities.

Before the party, exercise your dog so they arrive fashionably tired. Jennifer Riviera has dogs gather prior to guests, which cuts down on the initial flurry. “The first time the dogs meet they go crazy and you want to get some of that energy out.” Moreover, it gives her a sense of what to expect. “This lets me know which dogs know what rules, and then I can establish with owners the rules for their dog.” She also makes all the dogs meet everyone who comes in. Williams starts with a friendly note on the front door given the proclivities of her dogs. “We tell guests not to ring the doorbell and just come in because Zeke and Jake like to check out the door and the intruder at a dead run.” She says this allows guests to enter peacefully and keeps the dogs calm. Speaking of calm, do not tolerate aggressive behavior and don’t hesitate Duno says, “to remove the offending dog from the mix at once.”

Remember who’s who as “dogs are dogs and not human party goers,” emphasizes Duno. While human guests might be more interested in the gimlets, dogs will be “focused on smells, social situations, availability of food, territory and pecking order.”    

He suggests leashing your dog at first and go off leash when it acts comfortably. While leashed dogs may behave with people, they may not with other dogs. ”On leash can be more threatening to dogs since they can’t run away if scared,” says Rosen. “When introducing dogs to one another for the first time, allow them to sniff each other on leash and don’t let the leashes get tangled. Once things are fine between the dogs, you can relax and visit with everyone else.”

Eat, Drink and be Merry
Dogs are naturally mobile creatures, forever on the hunt for food and fun. Let your friends drool over the Brie and Bordeaux, but party food is a magnet for those who can clear a low-riding buffet in a single bound. Serving food in a dog-free room along with a “no people-food policy” prevents begging and competition says Duno. Even if you place food throughout the house, says Williams “make sure it’s above nose level and off the coffee table.” Or do like Riviera and keep edibles inside and dogs outside. If your dog is a counter surfer and stealer, practice protocol at your house instructs Rosen. “The last thing you want is to be known as the person who brought the dog that caused chaos at the picnic.”

Children, dogs and food can be an issue. “Kids are at perfect nose and tail height,” says Terri Sahm of Heavenly Spa. “Given the opportunity most dogs will try to snatch a snack when they aren’t looking and kids are more likely to leave plates in accessible places for dogs.” Williams tells parents or their children (depending on age) how important it is not to feed the dogs, especially dessert. “Common sense things like chocolate, are not good for dogs but, I have to say, adults are often the worst offenders.”

Consider the chow hounds and their discriminating palates as part of the menu. Forgo the fois gras with a spread of dog yummy tidbits like Chef John Howie’s Kobe Beef and Lamb Sliders (click here for recipe). Pass the treats after they settle in or as a reward for good conduct. At the end of a party, Riviera gives out doggie gift bags.

Provide plenty of water away from human activity and a designated water bowl monitor. Riviera sets up a watering station in the back of her yard, with two bowls “because there is always one dog who likes to go swimming in the water dish.” When it comes to potty patrol, have at least one human in charge or people can switch off, but be prepared to pick up after your dog.

“Make sure,” says Duno, “they are able to eliminate regularly in an appropriate place, away from food, people, etc. and restrict dogs that are prone to marking.”

Toys can be the life of the party but not as you might expect. Your dog may show “possessive or territorial behavior, particularly over toys” says Duno who encourages keeping them out of the equation at the beginning of the party and proceeding with careful introduction. “If you bring them out, have more toys than dogs.” You may also need to put away your dog’s favorite toys says Sahm, “because the dog may be protective with them.” She suggests buying some new toys for the party, like balls, Kongs or Frisbees. As for location, Riviera keeps a mixed box of toys by the water dishes and lets owners know that toys they bring “may not leave the house in one piece.” Your dog may want to call it a night when the lights go down so as the party continues, Riviera thoughtfully lays out travel dog beds for sleepy heads while guests sit around the fire pit." At the end of the evening the dogs are tired and want to be by their owners.”

Safe and Sound
Before the party, puppy proof inside and out, check fencing, batten down trouble spots and move valuables out of tail-wagging range. Concerning yards, curious pets may discover beehives, wasp nests or other hazards. If you use lawn-care products, be sure they are pet friendly and treat the area a minimum of 24 hours before. If you are unsure what plants are dog toxic, visit for a master list.

Party décor can endanger dogs, warns Dr. Andrew Bernstein of Aurora Veterinary Hospital. “Always assume that if there are electric hazards such as cords, decorative rope lights, etc. your dog will find them plus, fire pits, Jacuzzi’s and barbecues are potentially dangerous to pets.” In the case of Williams and Murray, their penchant for outdoor gatherings has taught their dogs to “stay away from the heat of the grill,” and Tiki torches with metal bases are deeply imbedded. If you serve barbecued skewers of meat, vigilance will avoid a trip to the vet asserts Bernstein. “Dogs will not pick the meat off the skewers, but swallow the entire skewer whole. Every summer we surgically remove skewers and other cooking utensils from dog’s intestines.”

Avoid excessive running and roughhousing with pets during the peak heat hours as it can dehydrate your dog quickly and cause heat stroke. Know the signs and cool down procedures says Bernstein. “Your dog may be showing signs of heatstroke if panting, drooling, or breathing heavily that doesn’t stop after five minutes of resting. He advises using a cool water mist on your pet’s face and body, or putting the dog in water and wetting its coat.

Like people, dogs can sunburn and shorthaired breeds, fair-skinned pets or those shaved for summers are especially susceptible, so use sunscreen (avoid the eye area). Most over the counter sunscreens are non-toxic says Bernstein, but you may want to check with your vet. Finally, if a surface is too hot for you to walk on with bare feet, then it’s too hot for your dog.

There is nothing finer in this life than being with those you love. The art of the party features a gracious host, charming guests, delectable cookery and warm memories. Add sense, sensibility, peanut butter filled Kongs and a few smiling dogs, and the best my friends, is yet to come.

For summer beverage and barbecue recipes, click here.

Gear up for your backyard barbecue at the CityDog Shop.
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