If you are planning on taking your faithful companion trick or treating this year, make sure the experience is a treat rather than a trick for your dog!
According to the Ultimate Guide to Halloween Statistics people spent $310 million for pet Halloween costumes in 2011! Of course this is a very paltry number when compared to the $1 billion spent on children’s costumes and $1.21 billion spent for adult costumes, but still a not insignificant amount.
We obviously love taking our dogs everywhere and many dogs love going with us. But, Halloween can be very scary in a real sense for some children and dogs. We’ve all seen children screaming when coming face to face with a clown or some other scary object on Halloween. Your dog may not be screaming, but he still could be very nervous about the entire process.
Here are some tips for having a great Halloween for you and your four-legged friend.
#1 If your dog is nervous or already has issues meeting new people; Halloween is not a good time to be taking him for a walk. Just leave him at home in a quiet place and work on training him on other days so he gets used to meeting new people and going new places. That way he will be ready for next Halloween.
#2 Don’t buy a costume for your dog an hour before you plan to take him trick or treating. Get the costume as far in advance as possible and let your dog get used to wearing it. Have LOTS of tasty, high value treats on hand. You want your dog to think wearing the costume is fun. When taking it off and on make sure the dog gets lots of treats and GO SLOW. If your dog appears nervous about wearing a costume, just have him touch it or drape it over his back at first with lots of good rewards for tolerating it. Once the dog is comfortably wearing the costume, let him walk around in it on leash for awhile so he gets used to how it feels.
#3 Think of less is more costumes, especially if your dog isn’t used to wearing clothes. Batman HATES wearing clothes. So, one year we went as Batman and Robin, only I dressed up. Batman had on a Batman plastic utility belt around his middle, and that was it. Another year Batman went as a seeing eye dog so I just had on his leash and I dressed as a blind person. On the other hand, Condor, who doesn’t care what happens as long as there is a chance to play ball, got dressed up as the Big Bad Wolf disguised as Grandma complete with wig while I dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood.
#4 Take lots of dog treats with you so your dog gets lots of positive reinforcement when meeting new people. Remember, even if your dog loves meeting people, he is going to be on a walk with people dressed in all kinds of weird costumes and doing all kinds of weird things such as lurching, talking funny, and just meeting people behaving in a manner the dog may not be used to.
#5 Watch for signs of stress. If your dog starts yawning, licking his lips a lot, staying at the end of his leash behind you, etc. he may be telling you he isn’t having a great time. Watch for your dog to turn his head away from something or someone. This could be his way of saying he wishes the thing in front of him would back up. Before you go trick or treating, make sure you know what your dog looks like relaxed. Watch him in the house and see where he carries his tail, where his ears are, what his forehead looks like, etc. If you know what he looks like relaxed, you will be able to spot times when he isn’t relaxed more easily. If you see your dog is getting stressed, STOP. Don’t force him to go on. You want the experience to be fun for the whole family. You wouldn’t force your 3 year old to continue if she turned out to be terrified so don’t force the dog. Remember, there is always next year and if we stop before we terrify the dog, we can work on it for next year and do some training. The biggest thing to remember is just because your dog’s tail is wagging it doesn’t mean he is having fun! Dogs wag their tails for lots of reasons, and not all of them mean he is happy.
#6 Be your dog’s advocate. Don’t let people just run up and pet him. Your dog relies on you to be his voice. Don’t be afraid to step in front of your dog or in some other way block him from rude people or rude dogs rushing into his space. Don’t get so caught up in the fun that you forget your dog is on the other end of the leash! I’ve seen people talking in groups who totally forgot their dog was there and then seen a small child approach the dog without the owner having a clue. Don’t let a growl or snap be your first indication that something is not going well. Do NOT take your dog trick or treating on a flexileash. You want him near you.
#7 If this is your dog’s first Halloween experience make plans to keep it short or at least have a backup plan in place in case your dog isn’t having fun.
Let’s not forget the dogs at home. Batman HATES people coming into our yard. If he is in the house and he sees lots of people in the street he starts barking and getting very agitated. On Halloween, Batman goes into a crate in the back of the house with a tasty big bone to chew on. Or, he goes out front with me and we do some obedience stuff as kids come up so Batman has a job to do and isn’t worried about why I am letting all these strangers onto our lawn.
If your dog barks at the pizza man, then he is going to bark at the kids and seeing a bunch of people in weird outfits at his front door is not going to make him happy. Let him relax far away from the action with his own version of a treat. If the doorbell sets your dog off, great your trick or treaters outside so they don’t have to ring the bell. There is nothing worse than your dog going ballistic every time someone rings the bell or knocks (however, you could train your dog to hear that sound and go lay down quietly on a mat).
And above all: DO NOT give your dog Halloween candy. Don’t leave it on the counter or the table or anywhere he can get it. Make sure the kids don’t leave their candy out where the dog can get it. It is going to smell delicious, but chocolate, especially lots of really dark chocolate can be bad for your dog. Things like gum, suckers, anything sticky can also cause serious issues. You don’t want to end your Halloween at the Emergency Vet.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!