Barbecuing with dogs sounds fun—but normally, at best, our pets are a bit of hindrance. And at worst, they’re a danger to themselves, your guests, and, most of all, your carefully prepared food.
Here are some tips for better barbecuing with dogs. If you don’t have time to read the whole article just think: a safe dog is entertained, contained, or restrained.
Barbecuing with dogs? Prioritize them
If you aren’t the barbecue’s host and dogs are invited, consider whether your dog is a suitable guest—Bing loves a good barbecue but Gunther… we’ll talk about in a minute.
There is no shame in recognising that unfamiliar places and situations aren’t a good fit for your dog and deciding to work towards being able to enjoy them in the future. Making this choice will minimise stress on you and your dog and make the day more enjoyable.
Gunther still isn’t very good at attending exciting events. Last week we managed a quiet family barbecue while he stayed between a make-shift tie-out and his bed with great success. However, we’re definitely not ready for the our friends’ big barbecue this weekend with other dogs and lots of excitement, so he’ll stay home.
If you’re the barbecue host and have a nervous or reactive dog, consider crating them while guests arrive and letting them adjust to the new activity happening in their home.
Beware of Counter-Surfers!
If your dog has a habit of counter-surfing—sneaking snacks from kitchen countertops—keep an eye on them at a barbecue. Not only are they liable to nab some food, but there are a host of dangerous tasty-smelling objects in range. Worst, the main counter at a barbecue is the grill itself. I have met a couple of unfortunate pups during my veterinary nursing career who have burnt themselves by being too inquisitive near the cooking surface.
If your dog loves hovering around counters, consider an X-pen (it’s like a playpen but for dogs) that you can move around. You can use it to contain them while the cooking is happening—then, once everything is done, you can use it to fence off the still-hot grill so they can safely play.
If your dog hasn’t learnt to respect baby gates or playpens, put them on a lead and keep a hold of it.
Tie-outs are also great for garden parties and barbecues but can be a trip hazard for unwitting guests.
Dangerous Things to Eat When Barbecuing with Dogs
As well as my trusty poisonous foods list, barbecues offer some novel and dangerous things for your dog to try and swallow.
First on the list is corn cobs. Many dogs of all sizes have suffered an intestinal blockage after eating corn cobs and required an expensive surgery to remove them.
Corn cobs fall under the “swallow-able but not digestible” heading, so don’t give them to your dog to chew on, no matter how much they beg. Counter-surfers are also prone to cob ingestion because they smell yummy and are easily grasped off the edge of a plate.
Keep all dirty dishes high out of reach of sneaky snoots and dispose of cobs in a closed bin (not an open compost heap) as soon as you’re done eating.
If you use a barbecue brush to clean up your grill, keep it well out of your dog’s way. The bristles, if swallowed, can perforate their stomach and intestines. This results in a very sick dog and emergency surgery.
The bristles are so small that owners often don’t realise that their dog has swallowed one until they see the vet, so keep a sharp eye out and don’t leave any potential opportunities for thievery open.
Provide some shade
Make sure a chill-out zone is always available for your dog—both literally and metaphorically. Sometimes, in larger social situations, we forget to provide adequate shade and water for our dogs, especially in other people’s houses. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of socialising and ignore the needs of our pups.
Pack a collapsible water bowl for your dog, especially if you’ve been invited to a house without pets, as they may not have a bowl that your dog can use. If you have one, a cooling mat is handy just in case there isn’t a shady spot in the garden.
As for the metaphorical, somewhere for your dog to relax is also important. The noise, smells, and physical touch of large social gatherings are overwhelming for dogs. Adolescents, puppies and nervous dogs are most affected by these, so you must advocate for your dog if you see them looking uncomfortable and give them a break.
Ask the owner of the house if you can use a quiet room to give them some decompression time or take them for a quiet walk and a sniff around the block. (Sniffing is a natural behaviour that soothes our dogs and the time away from other people gives them a chance to settle down.) Your friends and family should recognise that your dog is an important part of your life—they shouldn’t be worried if you leave for a few minutes to make sure everything is okay.
Keep Them Busy!
The safest dog is one that’s busy doing something productive. For barbecues, any of our enrichment feeding toy ideas is a sure way to keep your pup out of trouble. Freeze a Kong stuffed with some tasty barbecue treats of their own, and they’ll lick away at it while you work the grill.
If there’s a cooler bag around—and we know there will be—you can bring a few extras for later on.
Of course, you can also engage with your dog. Play fetch (away from the grill!) or get them to show off their tricks to any soon-to-be-feral children.
Barbecues can be a great way to hang out with our dogs and friends. Once you’re aware of the… pitfalls… that come with outdoor cooking, it’s easy to make good decisions. Keep your dog entertained, contained, or restrained.