Keep Your Dog Safe This Halloween

By Stacy Braslau-Schneck for Exceptional Canine

Keep Your Dog Safe This Halloween

Halloween can indeed be a frightening experience for dogs. Strange people in weird shapes keep ringing the doorbell, and they smell so sweet!

"And What Are You?"
Dogs are often suspicious of new things; this was a survival trait for their ancestors, wolves and wild dogs. Year-round, dogs can become frightened of people who look different. Imagine how they will react to huge capes, princess hats, boxy costumes, bells, flashing lights, oversized shoes and all sorts of extra appendages!

If your dog does become frightened, the best thing you can do is be calm and cool. After all, you aren't afraid of that child dressed like Darth Maul or that stuffed sheet blowing in the breeze! And don't force your dog to confront what frightens her. If you can walk by, do so. If you can't, try to circle around it. Be sure to keep your leash loose. Usually, if you are calm and even jolly and allow the dog to investigate on her own, she'll discover that it's harmless and will relax.

 

On Halloween, the scary things will be coming straight to your front door and demanding things from you. Probably the least stressful thing you can do, all around, is keep your dog in the backyard or in a back room where she won't have to see all of these scary people. Ideally, someone she trusts should keep her company.

When You Are in Costume
Don't be surprised if your dog doesn't recognize you when you dress up, or if she's frightened when you change your silhouette or how you sound. If possible, let your dog watch you put on your costume so she sees the transformation. Don't go toward her and don't insist that she come toward you. Be calm and upbeat. You can also try removing your mask or other costume pieces to reassure her that it's still you. If she's still not sure, you can give her some treats for sniffing the mask, then for not running away when you put it up against your face.

Please understand (and convince your friends) that it is not funny to scare a dog that's frightened by a Halloween costume. After all, aggression from a dog is not very funny, and even nice dogs may bite when scared.

The Doorbell Again!
Does your dog already go ballistic whenever the doorbell rings? Under normal circumstances, this would be the ideal time to do some training, teaching your dog to sit calmly and quietly while you open the door. But Halloween is not a normal circumstance. Your dog might be frightened by the goblins at the door or excited by the smells of candy. Again, your best move is to keep the dog away from the door. Let her shelter in her crate, or occupy her with a nice chew toy. Above all, make sure your dog can't escape out the front door when you open it.

Candy, Candy Everywhere
Keep the candy out of reach of your dog. Candy is pretty bad for dogs, and chocolate can be fatal. (Bring extra chocolate to your dog trainer instead!) If your dog eats chocolate, immediately call the Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 900-680-0000. (There might be a charge for the consultation.)

You Want Me to Wear What?
Thinking of dressing up your dog? There are a number of dog costumes available commercially, and a little creativity can go a long way. Some dogs don't seem to care what you put on them; others act like they are caught in a deadly trap and try to escape the strange sensation of a costume. Most reactions are in between. Respect your dog's reaction and don't dress her up if she is not comfortable with it.

Getting your dog to wear the costume might be a challenge. Here's how to train her:

  • Start as soon as possible. First, get out a pile of your dog's favorite tasty treats. Take out any one piece of your dog's costume, and let her sniff it or nuzzle it. Act cheerful. Drape the costume piece on your hand and feed your dog a number of his favorite treats. At this point, your goal is for your dog to learn that the costume piece means goodies.
  • Repeat sessions a few times. When your dog reacts to seeing the costume with a wagging tail and a look of expectation, you can then drape it on her body, and be generous with the treats. Don't actually fit it on, just drape it. Shower those goodies and praise. Your dog will think this is the best game ever.
  • Try a quick change. Next, if your dog is eager and excited but not too out-of-control, put the costume on her, shower the goodies, and then quickly take it off again. If she got scared or struggled when you put it on, back up to where she is comfortable, then work your way through the steps again until she is comfortable.

Please keep safety in mind. You should be able to keep your costume-wearing dog on a leash. If you're going out at night, some reflective strips or flashing lights will help people and drivers see your pet. Make sure that your dog can still see and move comfortably, and that she can't chew off and swallow any pieces of her costume.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/WilleeCole

Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy's Wag'N'Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.