It’s that time of year when the weather is crisp, autumn leaves are bright, and thoughts begin to turn toward the long winter ahead. But, first, we have to celebrate one of the coolest holidays of the year! Ghosts and goblins will be out in force at the end of October and you may be decorating your home, planning a ghoul-themed party, or just loading up on Halloween candy for trick or treaters. Whatever you’re planning to do this Halloween, your dog will probably be part of it. You can start preparing your dog for Halloween now so you’ll both be ready when the monsters arrive!
Preparing your dog for Halloween is all about making him comfortable with things that might be unusual. That can start with things in your neighborhood, especially if you take your dog for daily walks. Many people start decorating their homes for Halloween weeks before October 31 so your dog might see some scary sights when you’re out walking. Tombstones, sheets flying in the wind (“ghosts”), animated and/or talking figures that are motion-activated, weird lights, kids in masks or costumes playing – your dog could see any or all of these things before Halloween arrives. Here are some ways to accustom your dog to the strange sights:
If you have Halloween decorations in your own yard or house, show them to your dog and let him investigate them one at a time. Praise him and give him a treat. Let him see that they’re not scary. Leave them around the house so he gets used to them.
If you walk your dog in your neighborhood, take him out during the day when animated figures are likely to be turned off, lights are off, and other things can be seen more clearly.
Don’t intrude on a neighbor’s property or let your dog destroy any of their decorations. However, if your dog wants a closer look or a chance to sniff something that is near the path, let him do so. Praise him and give him a treat. Try to let him see there is nothing to fear.
After your dog is accustomed to the decorations in your neighborhood in the daytime, you can walk him at twilight when they might look and sound scarier.
Finally, walk your dog at night so he can see the full effect. If you introduce him to the sights and sounds slowly, he should be okay with your neighborhood’s decorations.
The doorbell and knocking on the door
Many dogs get very roused up when the doorbell rings or someone knocks on the door. Dogs know that someone is at the door and they often feel that they need to announce this fact and scare an intruder or at least voice some level of protection for you. On Halloween, the constant ringing and knocking can really disturb some dogs.
There are several things you can do to help your dog. If you want to try training your dog ahead of time, you can teach your dog to go lie down in his bed when someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell. This does take practice and your dog could be challenged on a night like Halloween when there will be a lot of temptation for your dog to want to go to the door and bark.
You can also try to desensitize your dog so that he won’t care about someone knocking or ringing the bell. To do this you would need to have a friend or family member ring the bell and knock on the door while you give your dog treats. If you do this repeatedly, your dog should learn to expect a treat when he hears the bell or a knock on the door instead of thinking about barking.
Your dog will also probably see some wild and crazy costumes on Halloween night, especially if you have a Halloween party. You can help your dog overcome any fear of costumes and people wearing them by modeling some costumes before the big event.
You can start with easy costumes and work up to things that often frighten dogs. Hats can be a problem for some dogs so be sure to try on different hats. You should also try on different weird masks. It helps if you have some family and friends assisting you.
You may want to put the costumes on while your dog watches so he knows that it’s you inside.
Make sure you give your dog some treats and praise him throughout your costume modeling show so he can stay positive and relaxed. If he shows any signs of fear or anxiety, remove the costume and reassure him. Then try again until he sees there’s nothing to worry about.
If you want your dog to wear a Halloween costumes, it’s important to buy the costume at least a couple of weeks early so you have time to introduce it to him and let him get used to it. Make sure it fits comfortably. Most dogs are okay with wearing some kind of costume as long as it’s not physically restrictive. If your dog is anxious or shows that he doesn’t like wearing a costume, don’t force him.
If your dog is anxious about anything such as visitors to your home, trick or treaters coming to the door, costumes, or decorations, don’t force him to participate in events. Your dog will probably be more comfortable by himself for the evening. Here are some suggestions:
- Walk your dog early, before trick or treaters arrive;
- Put your dog in a room, such as the bedroom, that’s away from the front door;
- Give your dog a safe chew toy or something else he likes to occupy his time;
- Place a television or radio in the room to help drown out some of the noise from the rest of the house;
- Leave candy on your porch or sit on the porch with it so you can hand it out to kids; if you leave candy on your porch you can put a note on your door asking kids not to knock or ring the bell.
If your dog is comfortable with guests and trick or treaters, let him stay with you while you dole out candy. Pay attention to him to make sure he’s not bored or unhappy. If he starts to seem stressed, you can take him to a quiet room and let him relax.
Along with making sure that your dog isn’t frightened by the sights and sounds of Halloween, you should take some precautions so your dog will be safe on Halloween.
- Chocolate and other candies are not for dogs.
- Don’t leave your dog outside in the yard on Halloween – some people play unkind pranks on animals.
- Don’t let your dog chew on glow sticks. The liquid inside is non-toxic but they taste terrible and they can make your dog vomit.
- Keep pumpkins and Halloween foliage away from your dog. Small amounts of pumpkin, corn, and other Halloween food items won’t harm your dog but eating an entire pumpkin or moldy corn can produce gastric upset.
- Keep lit pumpkins away from pets.
- Keep Halloween decorations that have batteries or that are electric away from your dog.
- Make sure your dog is wearing ID on Halloween in case he gets out the door or escapes from your backyard. Doors (and gates) can be opened a lot on Halloween and dogs can get out by accident.
Halloween is a fun time of you but it’s important to take some steps to ensure your dog can enjoy it, too. Help your dog become accustomed to neighborhood decorations, weird costumes, and people ringing your doorbell and knocking on your door. If your dog isn’t comfortable with trick or treaters visiting, let him chill out in a quiet room in your home. And, remember to put safety first on Halloween. That means no chocolate or candy for your dog! Keep your dog safe on Halloween and make sure he’s wearing ID. If you plan head, Halloween can be just as much fun for your dog as it is for you.