Halloween is one of my favorite holidays! I kind of love it. The costumes, the candy, the leaves, the parties, the decorations, the movies. I’m into it all. But I’m not a dog! I’m a human, with the intellectual capacity to recognize that people dressed in strangely shaped costumes are still just humans.
The other day I was walking down the street with my dog, Lola. We were taking the usual route, except everything was not as usual. Suddenly, in a neighbor’s yard, there was this giant, inflatable, light up minion. You know, one of those yellow cartoon creatures from the Despicable Me movie franchise. It had to be about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. And it was just sitting there. Not doing anything. Just existing. But that was enough to have Lola spooked. You should have seen her. Ears forward, hackles up, eyes squinting. She was fixated on it, barking and growling. Of course, that only lasted a moment because I was working with her to help ease her concerns and increase her confidence (a regular part of our daily walks for my agoraphobic dog).
But here’s the point, most dogs don’t have a normal frame of reference for the types of strange things and experiences they will have to cope with around Halloween, and as such it tends to be very stressful for them. Imagine, if you will, you’re a dog. You’ve got your usual routine and you’re happy with that. Then suddenly the following series of events occurs: (1) your family gets dressed up in bizarre outfits unlike any you’ve ever seen, (2) while dressed like something out of a nightmare mom and/or dad straps a strange contraption to your back, (3) the doorbell starts ringing, incessantly, over and over, and every time it does some new terrifying being is at the door that looks vaguely human shaped but scarier, and then finally (4) you find a treat on the ground, eat it, and get terribly ill because it turns out to be chocolate, which is toxic to dogs.
Most dogs would be stressed out by just one of those things! Can you imagine how stressed out you would be if you stacked all of those experiences on top of each other. Obviously, not every dog will experience all of those things, but the point is, you can protect your dog from much, if not all, of it!
So here are a few tips to help you get through the holiday with a happy puppy.
- Carefully time your walks on the 31st. Go out before the trick-or-treaters hit the streets and don’t go out again until after all the craziness is over.
- While on your walks for a few days after Halloween, carefully observe anything your dog eats. It’s not unusual for candies and wrappers to be dropped on the streets and sidewalks, so be vigilant, especially if your dog tends to scavenge. On a similar note, keep any candies in your home well out of reach of your dog and make sure any children in the house do the same.
- Take the time to introduce your dog to her and your costumes. Before putting any costumes on, try just leaving them out in the house. Whenever your dog checks out the costumes (looks at or sniffs), praise and deliver a treat. Dogs tend to have a particularly hard time with their own costumes, so if you really want to dress up Fido, don’t jump straight to putting the costume on. Take baby steps. For instance, first you might practice holding the costume over your dog’s head and/or back and pairing with a treat. Then you might put the costume on half way, give a treat, and then remove immediately. By taking these baby steps you’re allowing your dog to gradually become accustomed to the costume prior to any long term wear and by pairing these incremental steps with treats, you’re teaching your dog that her costume is a good thing.
- Finally, if your dog is anything other than completely relaxed about the appearance of strangers in your house or the sound of the doorbell and/or knocking, please move your dog somewhere safely away from the ruckus during the magic hours. Consider placing her in a bedroom away from the front door. To keep her calm and occupied, give her something to work on like a bully stick or a frozen Kong and turn on some nice relaxing classical music.
That’s all folks. Happy Halloween!