While Halloween is something that many families look forward to and enjoy, it is a holiday fraught with potential problems for dogs. “What costumes to wear? Who will take the children around the neighborhood? What candy to hand out?” For most families, these are some of the usual and fun questions that come up around this fun holiday. Another question is “How is the poor dog going to react?” or “What happens if the dog freaks out with the onslaught of kids and costumes?” These are important questions and something to think about before it’s too late.
Just think about it. On a good day most dogs are “set off” by an occasional doorbell ringing, someone coming to the door, or a person just randomly walking past the house. On a bad day a postal carrier or UPS delivery person will come to the door and the family dog intercepts this “intruder” with hackles up, incessant barking and possibly some lunging or charging as the door opens.
With Halloween we have kids of all ages and sizes arriving in novelty costumes, masks, carrying strange objects to hold candy and screaming “Trick or Treat” in a cacophony of sounds loud enough to make any average dog a little crazy. To a more reactive or younger dog this is going to feel like an onslaught and may trigger underlying fears you have never seen before.
On top of everything I just described, the whole purpose of this holiday is to go from door to door receiving food. It may be before the dinner hour or after, but most dogs are hungry all the time (believe me on this one) and can smell the goodies through the wrappers. This said, the appearance of so much food may also trigger some “resource guarding” behaviors. Wrapped together, like a beautiful piece of candy, this is a set-up for the dog and one that might throw an otherwise well-behaved dog into a world of trouble.
Set the Dog up for Success
In advance of Halloween, take out some masks and start your desensitization process. Begin by ringing the doorbell and if the dog barks, discourage her with an “uh, uh, quiet” said in a deep, firm voice. Ring again and directly after the ring have a treat ready. If the dog doesn’t react, deliver the treat and praise like “good job” said in a very happy voice. Have everyone walk around the house for a while with his or her masks on. Do this every few hours every day before the holiday.
Please note, dogs do not “generalize” information or experiences easily. What this means (with respect to Halloween) is that each new costume on each new person is an opportunity to learn that the costumes and new people are not something to fear. The people wearing the costumes are friends and do not mean to harm anyone.
On the day of the holiday make sure the dog gets a great deal of exercise. In fact, if you take the dog to a daycare, make an appointment for Halloween and leave the dog most of the day so when they return they’re thoroughly exhausted. A tired dog is a happy, less reactive one.
If you do have an extremely reactive dog, it’s best to put them in another room with some music playing or a TV on with activities to do such as a marrowbone or a bully stick to chew on. It’s best for someone to stay with the dog, but at the very least, check on the dog often and make sure they are not starting to get upset or anxious.
Keep Halloween a happy and safe holiday for everyone, including your best furry friends.
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