Halloween is a fun, time honored tradition for many families. We as humans love the sweet treats, the spooky costumes, and a good scare from time to time! Our dogs, however, may not be quite as open to these things! Halloween can be a really scary time for our dogs, from people looking weird in their costumes to decorations blowing in the wind and staring your dog down, it's critical that we make sure our dogs are having a good time too! Read these tips for some ideas on how to keep Fido feeling safe!
1) Careful with your candy!
First and foremost you want to make sure that your dog doesn't have access to Halloween candy! At best getting their paws on a large amount of candy will create tummy troubles, and at worst you could end up with your dog at the emergency vet to have their stomach pumped! Beware candies that contain chocolate (obviously) and other lesser known ingredients like xylitol, which is extremely toxic to dogs! If you have kids and they like to count out their candy at the end of the night (I know my best friends and I always poured our bags out and traded when we got home!) have the kids do that at a high table your dog can't reach, or in a room with the dog gated out of it. And remember, crates are your friend, so if needed crate your dog until you're sure he won't be getting into anything!
2) Is your dog really having fun in that costume?
Yes, we all love to see boxers running around as pirates and labradors pretending to be giant hot dogs, but what's most important is how your dog feels about that costume! Especially if your dog is already stressed by the events of the day, adding a weird costume to the mix could make things even worse and you run the risk of trigger stacking! Signs that your dog is uncomfortable in their costume include: running away from you when they see you approaching with the costume, freezing and refusing to move once it's on, rolling on the ground to try to get it off, walking slowly or hesitantly, and any other stress signs (yawning out of context, ears pinned back, excessive panting, etc.). If your dog isn't comfortable in a full costume but you'd like to try getting them into the halloween spirit, you can try a fancy halloween collar cover, a Halloween bandana, or some dogs may even tolerate a small piece of a costume (i.e. a cape or hat may not bother your dog as much as a full body costume would).
3) Leave Fido at home!
Every once in a while I see dogs out trick or treating and I can honestly say I've never seen a dog who looked relaxed or happy to be there. I totally understand the desire to involve your dog in your activities; I jokingly wear a shirt that says "If my dog can't come I'm not going"! But truthfully many dogs are SO much happier at home left with a stuffed kong to keep them busy!
4) ID is important!
Halloween is one of the more common holidays when pets get lost, so it's important to have them wearing their ID, especially if you're out and about with them, even if they're just in the yard. Check to make sure your microchip information is updated if your dog is chipped, and make sure the information on your tags is correct!
5) Safety at the front door
I always suggest keeping up a gate to the front door on Halloween to create an "airlock" and prevent your dog from being able to run out the front door or come in contact with your trick or treaters. Even if you have a super friendly dog, remember Halloween is full of extra stressors that may change how your dog typically behaves, and it is so much better to be safe than sorry! On top of that, some kids are afraid of dogs, even the friendly ones, so keeping your dog away from the doorway will allow them to come get their candy without fear. If the kids want to say hi to your dog instead ask them if you can show them one of their tricks, and see if your dog will offer a trick for their own treats! The one other thing I recommend is keeping dog treats right near the candy; that way when the bell rings and your dogs start to go nuts you can toss them some yummy treats, and over time your dog will start to associate the bell with the food and their reaction should lessen in intensity (last year I did this with Regis and by the last trick or treater he "whoofed" one time under his breath and then sat for a treat!) See thee picture below for an idea of what I'm talking about; in this picture I used an extra tall exercise pen.
6) Eeeek! What's that?!
For many dogs the hardest part of Halloween is the decorations. I know I've worked with my fair share of dogs over the last couple of weeks who worried about the big inflatable cat across the street with giant, bulging eyes, the stiff skeleton dressed in black, and the spooky ghosts whipping in the wind. If your dog seems worried about a decoration resist the urge to pull them towards the object to "prove" it's not real. You want your dog to develop confidence on their own time, and contrary to popular belief that doesn't happen when you force your dog to face their fears. Instead speak to your dog in a reassuring tone, feed them treats for offering calm, polite behavior, looking at the scary object, or for choosing to approach the item, and make sure your dog has slack in the leash so they can choose whether to move toward or away from the scary thing. If your dog is overwhelmed with fear and pulling to get away from the thing move with them! Don't worry about your dog learning that running away is reinforcing or even if they're pulling you on leash a bit. Get them to a distance where they feel safe, and then work with them at that distance until they feel comfortable moving closer! If you need more help with something like this reach out and we can work together to help your dog overcome their fears!
7) Avoid unattended time outside
Even if you are only letting your dog outside in your own back yard, I still advise supervising them on this holiday. There are so many more pedestrians than usual, so for some dogs they may be more reactive in the yard than a typical day, and some kids may try to say hi to your dog by reaching through or over the fence, which can be a recipe for disaster! Keeping your eyes on your dog in the yard can help prevent escaping, barking, and other undesired behavior.
There you have it! With these tips and a little common sense Halloween will be a breeze with your dog, and your dog will thank you for helping them stay safe and comfortable the whole time! Happy Trick or Treating!