As Halloween quickly approaches, we thought it would be helpful to write a column on how to keep your dog calm, cool, and collected during the celebrations. First and foremost, remember that costumes, trick or treaters, and parties may be fun for us humans, but they are generally terrifying things for dogs.

The best thing to do during Halloween is to stay home with your dog, especially if he does not handle stimuli well. Try to keep the routine as normal as possible, and make scary situations (like trick or treaters knocking) positive by doing training exercises, or playing games with him. This keeps his mind off of what’s going on outside, and keeps him focused on something and someone he knows. You may also need to use more treats than normal, even if practicing a command your dog already knows. Remember he’s scared, and we all need a little extra bribe when we’re in a scared state of mind. Giving him treats will also make the situation positive, and help desensitize him to trick or treaters knocking at the door. If he gets treats every time the doorbell rings, he might start to think that those scary looking kids behind it aren’t so bad after all.

If you are planning on dressing up, or taking your dog trick or treating, you will need to prepare him for these unfamiliar situations. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, it would be a good idea to get him used to being around costumes, and being greeted by strangers.

Let’s first start off with the costumes. This can be done by adding in small costume items while training him. Try this in very small steps by first wearing a hat while training him, then adding some glasses, then perhaps a cape. Make sure to keep your commands simple, and give your dog plenty of high value treats. The idea is to make the costume items normal, positive things.

When it comes to greeting strangers it’s important to teach him that he needs to be calm in order to get attention from people. The absolute best way to set your dog up for success while out and about is to put him on his leash. Have a friend or family member go with you to a public place to practice, and follow these steps:

  1. As you approach someone, put your dog in a sit position at your side.
  2. Have the person calmly approach him.
  3. If he gets excited, or gets up from the sit position, have him sit again, and tell the person to turn around, and walk away.
  4. Once he’s calmly sitting, the person may approach again, and attempt to give your dog attention.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 as many times as it takes for him to remain sitting for attention. He needs to learn that he must be calm and sitting to get pet.

Once he is well-versed in sitting politely for calm greetings, you can then practice these same steps with more exciting people, and people in costumes.

If you would like to take your dog with you trick or treating, please remember to take his needs into consideration. Don’t force a dog who is timid, anxious, nervous, or unsure in new situations, to go walk the neighborhood or greet unfamiliar people. If your dog is not going to enjoy himself, consider leaving him at home where he is comfortable. Keep in mind though, even if your dog is not generally anxious, and is normally comfortable in loud, unfamiliar situations, make sure he is microchipped, or if he already is, that the chip has up to date contact information. Also make sure he is wearing his collar with a current license and tag on it. It’s important to plan for the worst, so just in case your dog gets spooked, or gets away from you, he can be properly identified by someone, and his chances of returning home safely greatly increase.

If staying home with your dog is not an option, and if you have a dog who is especially anxious, you may want to consider crating him, or putting him in a small area away from any doors or windows, like a laundry room or bathroom. Even if a window is closed, a dog may go through it to escape a scary situation. Dogs are den animals, so a crate or smaller space can provide much needed comfort for a dog who is in the middle of a “panic attack.” Give him plenty of toys to chew on that will last awhile, like bully sticks or Kongs to keep him occupied, and his mind off of the scary noises. Make sure all doors and windows are secure, and consider shutting the blinds or curtains to help shut out the festivities even more. You may also want to put notes on your porch to let your neighborhood kids know there is no candy available to keep them from knocking on your door, and adding more stress to your dog.

It’s also important to try to provide a soothing, calm environment. Providing some white noise in the background can help soothe him. Items like a table fan, a radio set to static or classical music, or a ticking clock can create white noise to drown out the fireworks, loud music, and other holiday sounds.

If your dog has absolutely uncontrollable anxiety, consider checking with your veterinarian to see if there’s something he or she can prescribe to take the edge off. You may also want to consider making an appointment with a Certified Behavior Specialist to discuss his behavior issue, and create a training plan to keep him safe and happy.

Happy Halloween! Keep yourself, your family, and furry family members safe and happy! WOOF!