The Old Trainer: Can dog have table food?

November 23, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: This will be the first holiday season for Tank, our 10-month- old Lab mix. We want to share our holiday meals with him. He will eat anything and everything, but we want to be sensible. What can we safely feed him?

Vicky, Atwater

A: Give Tank plenty of love and buy him a present, but keep him away from the food.

If you want to give him a small taste of turkey -- no more than an ounce -- fine. If Tank gets table leftovers as part of his regular diet, add that same amount of holiday leftovers to his daily meal. Otherwise, keep him away from holiday food.

No chocolate or other desserts. No egg nog. No nuts of any kind. Take special care he gets no turkey bones. These items cause problems ranging from mild stomach problems to intestinal blockage to death.

More dogs get trips to the vet during the holidays than any other time of the year, and young dogs are the most susceptible. Tank doesn't need rich food to enjoy the holidays.

All he needs is love and attention from you.

Dear Old Trainer: My brother just went through a divorce and is having a hard time. He has always been unhappy and negative and now the holidays are here and he is alone.

He never had a dog or a pet, but I love dogs, and when I read your comments about the love dogs bring into a home I wonder if that might be what he needs. Do you think a dog might help him?

Marianne, Novato

A: No. The reason your brother, or any other person, is negative is because he chooses to be. Dogs have a magical effect on most people, but no dog can change your brother into something he has never been.

Dogs are always positive. They remind me of Leonidas, the leader of the 300 Spartans. When the Persian king bragged that his archers would shoot so many arrows into the sky against the Spartans they would block the sun, Leonidas replied, "Ah, then we shall be able to fight in the shade."

That doesn't mean a dog will help your brother. Every dog reflects the personality of the owner, so it is more likely your brother will drive a dog to despair than it is that a dog will make him happy.

But we don't need to speculate about what might happen. Your brother did not ask you to get him a dog and the same rule applies here that applies to giving a puppy as a Christmas present -- never give anyone a dog unless he or she asks for one.

Take it one step at a time. First, get him a cactus plant. If the plant is alive six months from now, try a hamster or small aquarium. If he proves he can care for a live animal, you can discuss a dog with him, but never give a dog as a surprise gift.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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