Halloween - the second scariest time of the year! (The first is obviously tax time.)
October 31 and the weeks leading up can be really spooky for dogs and so we need to do some prep to help our dogs stay safe and comfortable, but also keep our Trick or Treaters safe.
First, if you have a puppy under 5 month of age, this is a perfect socialisation opportunity if we play our cards right. Practical Puppy Program peeps, you can jump into your SMART Socialisation for Puppies course and run through the "Things" section where you'll help your puppy get cosy around novel items in the world; aka Halloween decorations.
On walks, you'll want to be aware of your surroundings so that you can spot decorations on lawns, which are considered "novel items". Dogs of all ages can be very sensitive to these and perceive them as threats. Fear can look like aggression, so let's be mindful to start and proactive.
Remember to keep a safe distance where your dog is curious but not spooked. If you see signs like cowering, shaking, avoidance, barking, ears pinned, etc... you are too close. Help your puppy move away 5ft and try again. Keep moving away 5ft until you see curiosity without stress. Create a good association by happy-talking and feeding some tiny high-value treats whenever your dog looks in the direction of the decorations. Keep it short and sweet and move on (not towards the decorations if there are stress signals!) with the rest of your walk.
Your dog will not likely want to be greeted by people in costumes, so if you're on a walk and you see kids wearing costumes coming towards you, create some distance by pulling off to the side until they pass. You can even feed your dog some high-value snacks as they pass and create a positive association with kids in costume!
On the night of Halloween
Walk your dog earlier in the evening, before 5:00pm or 6:00 pm when trick or treating starts. This will greatly reduce the likelihood that they will come across kids in costume and get really spooked.
Prepare some stuffed/frozen food toys to keep your dog busy during the peak hours.
If you will be handing out candy at the door, this is NOT an opportunity to have your dog greeting Trick or Treat-ers at the door. This is where you need to set up a physical barrier like a pen or gate to prevent your dog from accessing the front door. You can also have your dog in another room or on another floor during the peak hours (5pm-8pm).
How to create a positive association with Trick or Treat-ers outside or at the door
When the doorbell rings or the kids knock on the door, you'll want to have done your homework beforehand. Check out our training on this exact topic that you can do before the big night arrives.
In a multi-human household, you could have one person handing out candy and the other sitting with the dog and a generous serving of high-value treats. This person can create a fabulous association with kids in costume at the door ... and delicious snacks at a safe distance. Happy-talk and feed a few treats when they notice the kids at the door, then let them go back to their stuffed food toy or puzzle.
Again, remember that your dog should not have access to the front door and the Trick or Treat-ers - the liability is too high and no dog is immune to Halloween frights n'bites.
Make sure your dog doesn’t have access to any candy in the home as there are ingredients that are toxic to dogs, like chocolate and xylitol.
In the days following Halloween, keep an eye out on your walks for any candy on the ground as it’s an easy way for dogs to get sick. The best thing to do is pick it up and put it in the garbage.
Safe and happy Halloweening!