Written by: Donna Gleason, MA, CDBC,CPDT-KA, SDC; CCBS Research Associate
As a kid growing up, I had my favorite holidays. In my opinion, Christmas always had the top spot and Halloween came in a close second! As we approach Halloween, I am noticing a growing number of pet dog owners are not looking at this time of year with the same sentimental nostalgia that I have. Actually, some owners refer to Halloween as “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.
Here’s the good news: More and more people are asking for advice to help them understand why their dog exhibits unusual behaviors on Halloween and what they can do to make this evening a safe and less stressful time for everyone. Let’s begin by taking a look at Halloween from a canine's perspective:
“Dinner time is over and my tummy is full. I know what happens next, we all go for a long walk. When we return, I chew on a bone, take a nap, go outside and then off to bed. Life is very predictable at this time of day.
Ding Dong! Better check out the front door. There is a stranger with a scary face and big hair in the hallway of my house. Not too comfortable with this stranger. GRR!
Will you look at this! My owners just put a big bowl of treats right by the front door - I’m sure they are just for me.
DING DONG! I wonder who’s on the other side of the front door. I really can’t see everything but I do know there is lots of shouting and from what I can see my owner keeps reaching his hand towards something unfamiliar and scary. Not too comfortable with all this activity at the front door. GRRR!
Will this ever be over? DING DONG! GRRRR! I can’t take it any more. I know how to stop this. Next time the doorbell rings, I’m not even going to wait and see who is on the other side. I’m going to growl, bark and scare them away. No one is getting past me.
It’s quiet now, but tomorrow if I hear DING DONG...at least I’ve learned how to make all that scary “stuff” go away.”
Although the above scenario may seem exaggerated, the concepts are not. Dogs love consistency and sometime disruptions in routines may cause stress. Dogs who do not seem comfortable with guests arriving at their home may become overly reactive when many guests arrive in costume on Halloween night. Dogs can make an association that when they are reactive, everything big and scary will go away. So what can we do as pet dog owners to help relieve some of the stress our dogs may experience on Halloween night?
Take your dog for a walk before the festivities begin. If you typically walk your dog in the evening try to get a walk in before the “trick or treaters” arrive. This walk will assist in keeping your routine as close to normal as possible and help to tire your dog out. Many times if a dog is tired they sometimes become less reactive to environmental stimuli.
Keep candy out of reach. Chocolate in candy is probably the number one Halloween hazard for dogs. According to Web MD - Chocolate can sicken and even kill dogs, and is one of the most common causes of canine poisoning. When placing the candy bowl near the front door, make sure it is inaccessible to your dog. And plan ahead for medical emergencies: if something were to happen when your regular vet is closed, where is the closest emergency animal hospital?
Watch for signs of stress.
If your dog shows any signs of stress place him a separate room or in his crate (away from all the Halloween commotion). Watch for these signs to know if your dog is uncomfortable: lifting a paw; licking their lips; freezing; tucking their tail; looking at you out of the corner of their eye; growling. Offer your dog a new toy or bone, play soothing music or fill a “KONG” product with a tasty treat. Note: Sometimes freezing the contents of the “KONG” will make it even more enticing. Some owners will sit on their front porch to hand out the candy and turn out the light when they are done - this eliminates the stressful “Ding Dong - Trick or Treat”!!
Keep your dog safe at the front door.
If you want your dog to greet guests there is a possibility that he might run out the front door and not want to return because it’s much more exciting outside. Consider keeping your dog on-leash, place a gate in the front door or take the top screen/window out of your screen door to eliminate the possibility of this happening. However, just in case he does get out - make sure he is wearing current identification information.
Bottom-Line: Halloween for some dogs (and their owners) can be extremely difficult. Be aware of any signs that indicates your dog is becoming over-stimulated and always take the necessary steps to keep him safe and stress-free all night long.