When I got my French Bulldog puppy, he loyally followed me everywhere and needed to be touching me when I stopped. I found this to be very endearing, and then I tripped over him while making dinner one evening. I wasn’t too concerned about him at the time, since I stepped on another dog (who yelped loudly) while trying to right myself.
That dog turned out to be just fine, but Louie woke up the next morning unable to put weight on his leg. Turns out, I had broken his leg, and he was a trooper to have never whimpered about it. An emergency run to the vet soon had him casted, and he healed perfectly despite the break being at a growth plate.
This incident was a red flag that I needed to be more vigilant about keeping the dogs out of the kitchen while we were cooking. Unfortunately, my sporadic efforts of saying, “Get out of the kitchen!” while pointing to the other end of the room weren’t working as well as I’d hoped they would. Depending on my tone, the dogs would occasionally comply, only to come back within minutes and be underfoot again.
There are so many dangers in the kitchen. Here are five reasons to keep dogs out of the kitchen during meal prep:
Whether you’re stirring a pot and it splashes, something overflows on the stove, or you’re carrying a pot of pasta to the sink to drain, you don’t want to accidentally burn your dog. Tripping over a dog while carrying a pot of boiling water would be painful for the both of you.
I’ve dropped knives more than a few times and have the habit of jumping backward quickly when I do, so that I don’t accidentally get stabbed in the foot. If my dog is at my feet, I could trip on the dog (and break another leg) or the dog could get the pointy end of the knife. These aren’t good scenarios.
Avocados, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, and other foods can be toxic to dogs. We all know that the five-second rule doesn’t apply if you have dogs, because they’ll scarf up the tidbit that dropped on the floor before you can even count to five. If Fido snatches up something that he shouldn’t eat, depending on the size of the dog and the amount of food eaten, he could become very ill.
All those taboo foods may be in the trash, as well as things like aluminum foil, plastic wrap, string that was wrapped around meat (which dogs would find irresistible), and broken glass. If your dog is a nosy one, you’re already vigilant about taking the trash out when you know Fido will be unwatched for any period of time. Rarely do pet owners think about Fido nipping something off the top of the trash can while they’re distracted with cooking. Asking him to stay out of the kitchen is for his benefit.
That five-second rule we talked about? Well, have you ever dropped the entire roast on the floor as you were carrying it on a cutting board across the kitchen, only to have Fido sink his teeth into it before you could stop him? No? Just me? It’s not a great choice to have to make between eating roast that your dog sampled first or having nothing but potatoes and green beans for dinner.
I decided it was time to get serious about keeping the dogs out from underfoot while we were cooking, mostly because the husband has been complaining about stepping over and around dogs. We live in a very rural area, and dog trainers aren’t abundant, so I turned to the Internet for help.
I found professional trainer, author, and podcaster Michelle Huntting, who teaches online classes and offered to provide tips for this story. Better yet, she does these as a live Skype event, so that she can help and give pointers as she watches you work with your dog. For someone with a very tight schedule and a lack of readily available dog trainers in my area, this was a perfect fit for me.
I had an in-depth conversation with Michelle, who helped me teach the dogs the concept of “go to mat.” The objective is to train your dogs to stay at a particular place until they are released. A mat is an easy visual for both of you, but you could use a towel, a blanket, or even a dog bed.
We chose to use the dog’s crates, as they’re the open-wire kind and are right at the end of the kitchen, where the dogs can watch us and still feel part of the action. This is important. You don’t want your dog to feel that he’s being punished and pushed away from people; you’re simply creating a safety zone for him. If he can see you and you can see him, training will be easier and your dog will be happier.
At first, you’ll need to tether your dog so that he learns to stay in the proximity of his mat. Whether you tie him to a handy door handle, put a leash over a chair leg, or drop a heavy stack of books on the end of his lead, he’ll learn that he’s not going to be able to go anywhere when he’s on the mat. Please treat your dog with something that he’s not accustomed to getting, a chew that’ll entertain him for a while and teach him that the mat isn’t a punishment, but a good thing.
As you take your dog to his mat and the treat, you’ll tell him “go to mat” to reinforce what he needs to do. Eventually you’ll be able to let him off-leash and just give him reminders to stay there until he’s released. You may need to take him back to the mat a few times if he strays, but persistence and patience will help him know what you expect.
Soon your dog will “go to mat” just because you told him to, and he’ll stay there until you tell him it’s safe to come off it again. This is a very good tool in your dog’s toolbox, and it’s also useful for calming when company comes and your dog won’t stop jumping on them in greeting.
I am very grateful for the help she gave me, and am happy to report that our dogs are now happily staying in their crate (with the door open, of course) for most of the dinner prep. On occasion, I still have to remind them that they’re to stay until released, but the kitchen has been a safer work environment for our family, and we’re all happier about that. Even Jill and Louie are happy, since they get better treats than a stray piece of celery that jumped off the cutting board.
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About the author: Karen Dibert is a wife, mom, and dog lover living in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. She has five kids, three French Bulldogs, and a flock of useless chickens. Karen authors a pet column for her local newspaper, advocates for her son with Down syndrome, manages Louie the French Dog’s Instagram accounts, compulsively photographs everything, and lives in the sewing room, filling orders for her Etsy shops, The French Dog, The French Dog Home, and Collar The Dog. A snapshot of her life can be seen on Facebook.