Like many of our fun-for-humans holidays, Halloween can actually be a pretty stressful event for our pets. There are many more people out and about than they’re used to, and most of these people are in costumes that can be at best confusing and at worst terrifying. Strangers are ringing the doorbell in these costumes, asking for candy in loud voices, then running to the next houses. When you think about Halloween through the eyes of your dog, it’s easy to see how this holiday can be a little overwhelming to them! Here are a few things to consider when helping your dog through All Hallow’s Eve!
Be aware of their stress levels and don’t put them in situations that might overwhelm them.
During any potentially stressful situation for you dog, it is important to know their threshold (read our article on threshold management for more information). I compare their ability to handle stress to a bucket. Every little thing, even minor stressors, take up room in the bucket, and when that bucket gets too full, our dog can lash out with unwanted behavior. Sometimes that behavior seems to come from nowhere, but in reality we have missed that their bucket was getting full. For example, I know a dog whose humans said that “he would NEVER snap at someone,” and were very shocked when he snapped at a neighbor who came to visit. When I asked what they had done that day, they said that they had taken him to the Farmer’s Market, then went for a hike, then visited with some friends who have a new puppy, then ate at a cafe on the outside patio downtown. I asked them if this was a normal day for their dog, and they said that they usually just take him for a walk around the neighborhood and occasionally do a hike on Saturdays. By the time the neighbor came to visit, this poor dog – who had behaved exceptionally well all day – had just had enough, and when this neighbor came at him quickly and didn’t greet him appropriately, he snapped – literally and metaphorically. All of this is to say, that even small-level stressors can fill your dog’s bucket. So imagine what a experience like Halloween can do!
Help your dog manage this stress firstly by not putting them in situations that might be overwhelming. If your dog goes absolutely crazy at the sound of the doorbell, you may want to crate them (or put them in a back bedroom) and sit outside to pass out candy instead of waiting on trick-or-treaters to ring the bell or knock. I created this festive sign to hang on our door every year and either sit outside to greet the costumed kids or leave a bowl out. Putting on a sounds machine or leaving the tv on for your dog – just like you would with fireworks – and giving them something engaging to do like a Kong is also a great idea to help them feel more secure.
Advocate for their boundaries
If you’re going out for Halloween and want to take your dog with you, try to see the world through their eyes. Dogs don’t understand costumes. If you’re wearing a wolf mask, they see a creature with a scary head. If you’re out walking your dog and they start reacting to someone in a costume, don’t scold them or expect them to be okay with a living-breathing wolfman. Simply walk them away from the scary thing and allow them some time and distance to settle down. And if you KNOW this would scare your dog and you won’t be able to avoid it, don’t take your dog into that situation. And PLEASE don’t allow people to scare your dog on purpose because they think it’s funny. Haunted houses are fun to us because we know they’re not real. Our dogs don’t understand that this is fake.
Make Doggy Costumes a Positive Experience
If your dog seems to be pretty good with all of the above, then you might be interested in dressing your dog up for Halloween. This can be so cute and so much fun! I love seeing all of the creative ideas that people come up with. But there are steps that you can take to make this a pleasant and positive experience for your pup. The first step is to introduce the costume in a controlled and rewarding way. Let your dog sniff the costume and reward them for interacting with it. Give them a few weeks of practicing with the costume in low-level, high-reward environments. Halloween is stressful enough without having to deal with a weird headband or extra tail or constricting vest that you’re not used to wearing, and now our bucket is more full than it would have been otherwise. Let them experience “wearing stuff” before the night of Halloween.
Keep Halloween candy out of reach
This one seems like a given, but vet clinics see a lot of patients the night of and day after Halloween because the dog stole the candy bag off the counter. Sometimes these kinds of accidents happen, but many can be avoided by simply being aware of where we put the candy and how far our dogs are willing to go to get it. Everyone knows chocolate is bad for dogs, but most candies are not dog-friendly, and some sugar-free candies contain xylitol, which is deadly. If our kids are sitting on the floor inspecting their haul, the dogs need to be supervised or contained in some way.