Party Animal

First published in Martha Stewart Living, May 2012

Introducing a King Kong–size poodle to a 10-year-old’s birthday party was a teachable moment for one savvy dog owner.

My husband, David, and I take our 80-pound standard poodle, Izzy, with us almost everywhere. Thanks, in part, to his exposure to the outside world, Izzy is a well-behaved dog. Which is why when my sister called to invite us—David, me, and Izzy— to my niece’s 10th birthday party, I was only slightly worried.

Because we don’t have kids at home, I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any surprises at the party that Izzy couldn’t handle. Izzy gets along with everyone, but I couldn’t help picturing thirty 10-year-olds running all over my sister’s house, hopped-up on candy and cake. How would he react?

Izzy loves to introduce himself by offering his paw, which is not a little paw. Remember, he is a big dog. How big? Think King Kong. Izzy has forced many men to their knees by sitting up regally, lifting his paw to say hello, and then accidentally hitting his new acquaintance squarely in the crotch. So you can imagine my anxiety at the thought of Izzy, even in his friendly way, greeting the kids at the party.

And there were other concerns. A child might playfully poke the dog, and the dog, perceiving the gesture as a threat, might snap at the child. It happens when owners and parents aren’t looking. So that was my challenge: How could I acquaint the kids with Izzy and Izzy with the kids without an incident?

I decided to turn to dog trainer Gina Grossman of Los Angeles’s Bone-A-Fide Genius. Having brought up two children, she understands the importance of training dogs to socialize with kids (and vice versa).

Grossman suggested I keep Izzy on his leash at the party, in a sitting or down position, to give him a sense of security. To help the children feel comfortable and in control around Izzy, I asked them to let Izzy sniff their hands as a way of letting him get to know them. According to Grossman, my role was to avoid situations in which Izzy would be uncomfortable and to show the children how to act around a big dog.

Izzy was fantastic with the kids. At one point there was a group surrounding him while he was lying on his back like a pasha. Eventually the party wound down to just a few people cleaning up and a group of my brother-in-law’s friends playing touch football. I decided it was safe to let Izzy run off the leash. After all, he had been so good. All of a sudden, I looked over and one of the football players was holding his crotch and staring at Izzy. I sprinted over to them. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! He just gives you his paw to be friendly,” I said. The guy looked at me like I was nuts. “Is this your dog? He’s been keeping me company. I pulled my groin in the game,” he said. “Of course,” I said, walking away with my proverbial tail between my legs.

photograph by tamara schlesinger

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