Although Halloween can be a fun filled evening for people—from oddly dressed squealing kids and strangers ringing doorbells to unusual commotion in the neighborhood—all packed into one action-filled night. This is not generally the case for our four-legged family members. Dog owners may not be able to control external surroundings, but they can care for their dog’s safety and well-being.
Don’t reassure your dog. The best thing you can do for your dog when he is feeling unsettled by Halloween activities is to act as you normally would around your dog. By over-reassuring your dog or giving him an unusual amount of attention, you inadvertently can communicate to him that because you are acting differently, there must be something to worry about.
Check your dog’s ID tag. Be sure identification tags are secure on your dog’s collar—just in case.
Keep your dog restrained. If your dog is timid or scared, or if he tends to love people a little too much, it is best to put him in a separate room away from the front door to limit his excitability, aggression, and chance of running outside and becoming lost. Also, consider having a crate or safe zone (such as a pillow or a bed) that you can direct him to when people come to the door.
Bring your dog inside. Even if you have a fenced yard, bring your dog inside where it is safe. If your dog is usually kept outside, bring him in a few times before the big night to get him used to being indoors. Sometimes a sudden change can put more stress on a dog. If your dog cannot come inside, ensure your dog has a safe place to go, like a doghouse. Your dog may be used to strangers, but so many little ghouls and goblins running about may be too much. Remember also that it is a natural instinct for dogs to protect the family from strangers, and on Halloween there will be no shortage of strangers.
Have your dog get used to costumes. Your dog may see his family members as strangers once they don their Halloween costumes. Before the kids put them on, allow your dog to scent the costumes. If your costume has a mask, keep the mask off when you are with your dog because dogs can become confused when they can’t see our faces.
Think twice about dressing your dog in a costume. While some dogs might enjoy being dressed up, many don’t. Experiment first to see if your dog likes being in a costume. If so, fine—he’ll most likely enjoy himself and the extra attention it brings. However, if he shows any resistance, don’t do it. Dogs feel enough stress around Halloween without also having to endure the discomfort and peculiarity of wearing a strange costume.
Keep candy away from your dog. Many candies—especially chocolate—are toxic to dogs. The severity of the toxicity depends greatly on factors such as breed, age, size, and how much candy is ingested. Problems may range from a mild upset tummy to vomiting and diarrhea, or even death. If you have any concerns at all, consult with a veterinarian immediately. If you want to keep your dog safe, make certain that sweets, including their wrappers, are kept well away from your dog. A wad of wrappers can block the intestinal tract—a very dangerous condition.
Protect dogs from candles and pumpkins. Excited or agitated dogs can easily knock over a lit candle or pumpkin. Be sure those items are away from your dog’s reach, or consider a battery-powered candle that does not burn. It is also a good idea to allow your dog to see and scent the decorations before dark, without the candles. Those faces can look scary, especially from a dog’s eye view in the dark.
Be prepared. If you take your dog with you while trick-or-treating, be prepared at all times. Ghosts and witches can appear at any time. Do not let your dog approach the door of a house, and stay clear of possible gags or gangs of goblins who will gather at the door. Dogs do not understand that the person jumping out at you will not hurt you; they often think they can only help you by acting aggressively. Neither children nor adults in costumes should approach a dog without the owner’s consent. Even the most well-behaved dog can be startled by a ghost popping out and “attacking.”
Have fun but think of your dog’s safety. Finally, if you want your dog to be included in Halloween festivities, think about his safety much as you would the safety of a small child. Your dog does not understand Halloween, so he needs you to provide the guidance and safety that you always do.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, one of the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.