Preventing Halloween Frights

Liz Palika
Halloween and DogsKeep the Halloween season fun for
your pup with these tips.

Halloween can be a difficult time for dogs. People begin acting weird, dress up in strange costumes, and small people come knocking at the door. Dogs don’t understand this at all, so they can become worried and frightened, or overly protective.

From the Dog’s Point of View

Several years ago for Halloween, my husband, Paul, decided to dress up as a Star Wars sith. He went into the bedroom and closed the door to get into costume. He wore his motorcycle leathers, black from ankles to neck, with tall black boots. He put on a black cape, a red and black sith mask, and had a realistic light saber. Opening the bedroom door, he leaped into the hallway with the light saber held ready to battle the good guys (the sith are bad guys).

When he did that, three Australian Shepherds answered his challenge and dashed down the hall, hackles up, growling, snarling and barking. They were ready to protect their home from this aggressive trespasser. Thankfully, my husband, who realized immediately he had made a mistake, dropped the light saber and ripped off the mask. They didn’t bite him, but Bashir, the oldest dog, watched him carefully for the rest of the night; grumbling under his breath.

Our dogs were willing to protect the house from a costumed character, but other dogs – especially puppies who haven’t experienced Halloween yet – can be frightened. Imagine if you had never seen a masked person before and then one comes to your door or appears in your house. That’s scary!

If your dog is one who – in his own mind – battles with the postal carrier and delivery drivers, then children coming to your house for trick or treat are going to cause a problem. He’s going to bark each time someone knocks, rings the bell, or comes to the door. Then, each time they leave, he’s going to be convinced he chased them away.

Thankfully, you can make Halloween a little less stressful for your dog. By doing so, you can also prevent potential accidents. If my husband had been bitten by one of our dogs, it would have been his fault, but our dog would still have a bite on his record; especially if my husband had needed medical care. Being careful is always better.

Think Prevention

If anyone in your household is going to wear a costume, introduce the concept of a costume to your dog before the holiday or party. Several days ahead of time, have a handful of treats and put on one piece of the costume. Talk to your dog in a happy tone of voice, “Look at this! What is it?” and give him a treat. Repeat this a few times and then introduce another piece of the costume. The next day, repeat this with another piece of the costume. Keep it fun, interesting, and rewarding for your dog.

If your dog is reactive when the doorbell rings, do some training to lessen this reaction before the holiday. Have him on leash and have a pocketful of high value (special) treats. Go to the door, open it and stand in the doorway. Ring the doorbell, ask your dog to sit (it’s hard to bark, look around for the strangers, sit, and focus on the treat all at the same time). When your dog sits, praise him and give him a treat. Repeat a few times, praise him, and go do something else. Repeat this several times leading up to Halloween.

If you’re going to be the parent walking your children around the neighborhood, leave your dog at home. He doesn’t need to see all the neighborhood kids dressed up, making funny noises as they pretend to be monsters or animals. If you’re the parent staying at home handing out candy, don’t have him answer the door with you. This tends to get the dog more excited or worried. And let’s face it, he doesn’t need to greet everyone – especially all those children who are excited about the holiday and are probably on a sugar high.

Come Halloween evening, have one family member spend the evening with your dog in another room. Have the TV or music on, grab some snacks and snuggle up with the dog. He may still react a few times when people come to the house, but hopefully he’ll settle down quickly.

Keep Candy Out of Reach

Far too many dogs get into the Halloween candy and this can make them sick. Sugar, chocolate, and candy wrappers can all cause problems; especially if your dog discovers the bowl of candy and eats the whole thing.

Should your dog get into the candy or candy wrappers, call your veterinarian right away. He may suggest that you watch your dog’s feces for the next few days if your dog simply got into the trash and ate candy wrappers. However, if your dog ate a large quantity of candy, especially chocolate, your veterinarian will probably want to see your dog right away. Too much sugar can cause health problems and chocolate can be toxic to dogs, depending on the dog’s overall health, the type of chocolate, and the quantity consumed.

Prevention is best; just keep the candy out of your dog’s reach. But should your dog find some candy, call your veterinarian right away. Don’t wait until morning.

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