With so many strange noises, sights, activity, and sometimes being forced to wear something (a costume) they do not enjoy, Halloween can be a stressful holiday for dogs, puppies and other pets. Below are some tips for dog owners to minimize stress for their pets this season.
Do not force your dog into wearing a costume
If you want to dress your dog in an outfit, please make should make sure your dog is comfortable in it BEFORE Halloween night. Dogs will communicate this with their bodies. Some signs of your dog being comfortable include: relaxed body muscles; loose lips or even open mouth with loose tongue; rhythmic panting. If wearing an outfit causes your dog to feel stressed, he may be more likely to become reactive—especially when on a leash, in the dark, with so many strange sights and sounds and kids running around. Some signs that a dog is not comfortable include: his tail may be down, his body may be tight, he may have a tense mouth, you will see the whites on the sides of his eyes, his ears may be back, he may yawn or lick his chops. Additionally, make sure your pet can move freely in the outfit and remove any parts that can be taken off and chewed or swallowed. An alternative to putting a full body costume on your dog is giving your dog a colorful bandanna around the collar.
The best place for your dog during trick-or treat hours is in a quiet, stress free room
Even dogs who are not frightened by costumes and noises can become over stimulated by the constant barrage of people ringing your doorbell and then standing and/or talking (or yelling) just outside. You may also get trick-or-treaters who are either frightened by your dog or who try to grab your dog. Your dog may also try to grab at costumes. Better to be safe than sorry.
Sit outside with your candy
Instead of having kids ring your doorbell over and over, consider sitting at your street with your candy. In addition to the fun you will have seeing all of the activity, your dog will not have to hear the noises.
Practice teaching your puppy and dog positive associations with the sight of costumes and decorations in advance
Just in case your dog or puppy sees costumes and yard decorations (if you have children, more than likely your pet will see them before they head out to the streets), you can begin the process of teaching your pet a feel-good response to seeing the strange sights long before the holiday. Gradually expose your pet to that potentially scary thing, only at a pace where your dog still has loose muscles, and pair the sight with something of high value to your dog like food.
Teach your dog manners behaviors IN ADVANCE of Halloween
If your dog is going to be greeting trick-or-treaters, teach your dog his manners behaviors before the busy night with a lot of practice using positive reinforcement and increasing difficult distractions. If you have not taught your dog these behaviors in advance, the time to do it is NOT on Halloween night. You are better off having your dog behind a gate, in another room, in a crate (if your dog is comfortable in a crate), on a leash that is held by someone away from the door, or out of your house.
Exercise your dog well BEFORE Trick-or-Treater time
If your dog is tired, he will value rest more.
If necessary, ask your vet about calming medication
Sometimes it’s necessary to treat a pet’s anxiety with medication so that they remain as calm as possible during stressful situations.
Also remember to keep Halloween candy out of reach of your pet. Many treats are toxic to non-human animals. If you suspect your pet has eaten candy, especially a large amount, call your veterinarian right away.
Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at www.SoMuchPETential.com.