Preparing your dog for Halloween

A dog in a Halloween costume

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With Halloween fast approaching, it is so important to plan ahead so that we can help our sensitive dogs as much as possible on the night of. 

Did you know that Halloween is one of the top 3 days of the year when the most dogs end up at the emergency vet? It’s important to take extra precautions for their physical well-being and their mental well-being on what can be a really overwhelming day for them.

So many dogs suffer on the eve of Halloween as the sound of fireworks and firecrackers terrifies them, let alone the droves of children and adults running past the house and people consistently knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell. Unless you have a unicorn of a dog that is impossible to rattle, your dog will likely have a really hard time. 

Now there is a whole spectrum of stress for dogs when it comes to Halloween. Some dogs will be hyped up and barking at all the sounds and visitors. And then there are the poor souls who will be shaken to their core and can’t get far enough under your bed or in your closet. 

The best thing you can do is start counter-conditioning them right away.

  • Start practicing ringing the bell or knocking on the door and then tossing a handful of treats on the ground every time you do.
  • Find a sound bite of fireworks and firecrackers on Youtube or Spotify, and with the volume as low as possible, press play and then pull out their favorite toy or absolute favourite treat.  And have a party.  Turn the sound off > party stops. Sound on > party resumes.  Very slowly, turn the volume up, but only if they’re acting as if it’s a non-issue.  When they aren’t reacting at all, that’s when you turn it up a notch and start the party all over again.  Do this over the next few days, over and over. Help desensitize them. They will be so thankful.
  • Put your costume on in front of your dog! Making sure they see you take masks on and off while giving treats will help create a less scary interaction than if they’re surprised by it for the first time.
Kid and dog in costume

Make sure to meet your dog’s needs before Halloween kicks off.

Night time on Halloween is when the most triggers are happening for a sensitive dog, so make sure their essential needs are met ahead of time.

  • Be sure to walk your dog early that day, ideally hours before dusk, and before the trick-or-treaters are out.
  • Avoid walking them that evening. This can be very scary for them – especially if a firecracker unexpectedly goes off close by (or even far away), or if you run into people walking around with scary costumes on.
  • If you have to take them out, keep it quick, and be sure they are wearing a martingale collar or something similar that they can’t slip out of if they get spooked. Remember that some harnesses can easily be slipped out of by a scared dog.
  • Spend some time inside working on training! ReadyDog has lots of exercises you can practice at home to make sure your dog has exercised their brain as well. Working on their place command or practicing crate training is a great way to keep your dog calm and give them a safe place away from the noise.

Opt for a no-contact method of giving out candy or keep your dog in a safe place.

An anxious dog doesn’t have to mean you’re the “no trick or treaters!” house on the block.

  • Try putting a sign at the bottom of your path or stairs that says not to knock or ring the doorbell. You can leave the bowl of candy out with clear written instructions to help themselves to a candy and to please keep extra quiet as your dog is feeling very scared tonight. You’d be surprised at how many people will be compassionate.
  • If you keep your candy inside, make sure it’s away from anywhere your dog can reach it, and be extra careful that none drops on the ground and that it is all put away safely.  Xylitol is a common sweetener in candy and is very toxic for dogs. And, of course, chocolate is also toxic.
  • Keep your dog in a safe place, away from the door and any triggers. Pens, gates, or a crate (only if they’re crate trained) are fantastic tools to keep them out of danger or risk of running out the door.
  • Make sure your dog has enrichment toys and treats to keep their brain busy! They will work wonders in keeping your dog’s focus in the right place.

If your dog is extra fearful, please stay home with them.

Don’t leave them alone in their fear, the elevated levels of stress can be physically dangerous for a dog who’s left alone
If your dog has extreme anxiety, they need your attention and care to make them feel safe!

  • Turn off the outside lights to keep people away.
  • Close the curtains and keep your dog in the room they’re comfortable in, furthest from the front door.
  • Watch a movie with them, cuddled up together, with a bowl of treats for both of you, with the volume turned way up… to block out the scary sounds from outside. Maybe even a white noise machine outside the room you’re in for good measure.
  • Call your vet and ask for their recommendations on anxiety medication, there’s no harm in getting a one-time dose to help your dog’s nervous system deal with the stress. It’s a very kind offer, instead of them having a panic attack. It’s very normal to ask for this!

Stay safe out there, and keep your dogs safe! Don’t forget – it’s just as important to keep them feeling safe, too. 

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