Welcome to “Ask Crystal,” where you can ask your pet behavior questions! You can submit your question for Crystal at the bottom of the page!
I am planning on celebrating Halloween at my house this year. I have never had a dog before, so I am not sure how you are supposed to handle Halloween festivities. I want him to join in the fun but also to keep safe. Do you have any tips for celebrating Halloween in a safe way for dogs?
Halloween can be great fun for humans but from a dog’s point of view it can be downright scary. It can potentially be dangerous for pups if we don’t take proper precautions. If you have a plan for Halloween with your pooch in mind, you can keep them safe and keep the stress levels down for them.
Before Halloween even arrives, people often put up large inflatables and other spooky decorations. These decorations often take our dogs by surprise and can be quite scary for a more fearful dog. If you notice your dog stopping and staring at the yard decorations, he is probably feeling nervous about them. Rather than forcing him to walk up to things that scare him, we want to encourage him with a happy tone of voice and treats for any steps towards the object. We can teach a “check it out” cue to encourage our dogs to investigate objects. If you want to teach this, you should start inside your home with household items. Place the object on the floor in front of the dog. Tell your dog to “check it out”, give a treat for any movement towards the object and hopefully ending up with the dog going all the way up to the object where you can toss treats around and on the item. The idea being that rather than you placing the object in the dog’s space, you let the dog make the choice to go up to it on their own and reinforce those decisions. You want to start with objects inside your house that you know aren’t going to scare your dog. We want this cue to be a confidence building cue and if your dog gets accidently scared during training it will ruin the cue for them. Once you have practiced with a variety of objects in the home, you can start working on the yard decorations. I would suggest starting with smaller yard decorations and ones that aren’t going to move. If you aren’t sure if the object is going to move or make noises, I would suggest just quickly walking by it.
On the night of Halloween, I suggest that you have a plan for the evening for your pooch. Be sure to take him outside to potty before trick or treat time so he won’t risk finding any ghouls in the yard. It will probably be best to keep him inside until the festivities have concluded. The risk for dogs escaping yards are much greater this evening. Have a quiet spot in the house away from the front door for him to stay. If you have any kitties at home, I would suggest putting them in the room as well. Cats generally do not appreciate Halloween either. There is a great risk for dogs and cats running out the front door with it being opened all night. Be sure he has an ID tag on just in case there is an accident and he runs out. Close all the window shades so he can’t see people walking up to the house. People are going to be walking in large, noisy groups in strange costumes which can be scary. You may want to play some white noise, a radio or the tv in the room that he is staying in to block the noises from outside. The majority of dogs get really worked up when the doorbell rings or people knock on the door. You may want to set up a candy station in your driveway instead. Grab some lawn chairs and meet people outside. Or you can set up a candy station in your trunk and have fun decorating your car. If you prefer to stay inside, you could also set up a motion detection light on your porch to alert you to trick or treaters before they knock. If you don’t want to keep your dog in another room, at the very least keep them on a leash so that you always know where he is and have control of him. Since he is fairly new to you and you don’t know how he is going to react, keeping him in another room is a much safer option.
Another reason to keep your dog away from the door is that costumes can be quite scary for many dogs. They have never seen people looking this way and are not going to know what to make of it. Even the friendliest dogs can be scared by a costume. Even humans get scared by some costumes so give your dog a break!
Many people want to dress their dogs up to join in on the fun. Some dogs really don’t enjoy being dressed up, especially if they have never done it before. Try to make the experience more pleasant by pairing each step of the dressing up with a yummy treat. The costume should not restrict the dog’s movement and you should always be supervising them to be sure they don’t get caught in anything. The costume should not restrict their ability to see, breathe or bark as well. Try the costume on him before Halloween and make sure the pet seems happy and comfortable. The evening can be stressful enough for him without being forced into an uncomfortable costume.
Lastly, we need to keep a close eye on that Halloween candy. Dogs don’t understand that chocolate is doggie poison. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate is especially harmful to dogs. The toxic component of chocolate is theobromine. Dogs process it too slowly and it can build up to toxic levels in their system. A large dog can consume more chocolate than a small dog before suffering ill effects. If they eat only a couple pieces, they may get diarrhea or vomiting. Large amounts can cause rapid breathing, increased heart rate and seizures. The onset of symptoms is usually severe hyperactivity. If you fear your dog consumed chocolate, call the emergency vet right away. Candy may also include xylitol which is an artificial sweetener. Consuming xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar as well as a loss of coordination and seizures. Call the emergency vet immediately if you believe your dog has consumed xylitol.
Halloween is great fun for most humans, but it is a human holiday. For animals, it can be strange and possibly scary. I appreciate your forethought for your furry buddy, and I hope these tips help to keep his stress down and keep him safe. Have a safe and fun Halloween!
Until next time,