Trick or treat?
We all want to keep our dogs as safe and as comfortable as possible throughout the year.
But have you thought about Halloween from your pooch’s perspective? In many ways, it can be a frightening holiday.
There’s an endless stream of strangers ringing at the door, rattling skeletons and creepy decorations dangling from the ceiling. Their neighborhood has decorations a plenty and their favourite humans dress up and can turned into terrifying ghosts and monsters.
Not to mention all those candles burning perilously close to furry tails and potentially poisonous chocolates scattered about the place.
How does your dog feel at Halloween?
No wonder Halloween can be an unsettling time for your canine best friend. Put yourself in your dog’s paws for a moment and think about how it might feel to them.
Tell-‘tail’ signs that your dog is experiencing anxiety
Now you’ve got an idea of how your furry best friend might be feeling at Halloween, you might wonder how you can spot these feelings. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Refusing food
- Seeking comfort from you
- Yawning and pacing
- Licking their lips
What stresses your hound at Halloween?
Halloween can be nerve-wracking for your pup for a variety of reasons.
- Loud noises – It’s really common for dogs to be spooked by loud noises, whether they’re sudden shouts from children at a party or things that go bump in the night. When you remember that their sense of hearing is four times as sensitive as ours, imagine how scary it must be to hear a strange noise and not understand what’s causing it. For some dogs, the loud noises at a Halloween party can easily trigger a stress response and have them diving for cover.
- Neophobia – Neophobia is the fear of new things. It can affect puppies and dogs who haven’t had the chance to be exposed to new objects and situations. That’s why animal trainers suggest we should introduce puppies to new people and other dogs early on, and occasionally wear accessories such as a hat or sunglasses, so they can get used to us looking a bit different. Now picture a Halloween party, where all your pup’s best-loved humans are in disguise, dressed up as wizards, witches, vampires and zombies. For a nervous dog who suffers from neophobia, it’s a nightmare scenario.
- Overload – There’s an interesting theory about what it calls ‘situation stacking’, where lots of small events, each fine on their own, add up to stress overload for your pup. On Halloween, this might mean the combination of lots of visitors, new faces, different food, trick or treaters and people in costumes could end up being too much for your dog.
Countdown to a calm Halloween
What can you do to help your pup float serenely through the Halloween festivities? Here are a few practical suggestions.
- Get help from an animal behaviourist
If your dog’s nervous or shy, now's the time to start working with them to make Halloween less stressful. We recommend talking to your vet or a certified animal behavior expert to create a special program to calm their fears.
This might include positive reinforcement exercises to build their confidence around unexpected loud noises or to help them stay calm when lots of people are knocking at the door.
- Soothe stress with a supplement
You could also try a calming medication or supplement. They can have a clever combination of ingredients that work on the calming pathways in the brain to help reduce stress.
- Create a safe space for your dog away from the human fun
Creating a calm, quiet den where your dog can retreat is a great idea for Halloween and the upcoming holidays. A few days before you expect your first visitors, set up the space and help your dog build positive associations by offering them treats or a stuffed Kong while they’re in the den.
By keeping your dog away from party central, you’ll help them avoid the stress of seeing a big influx of visitors dressed in potentially scary costumes. You’ll also avoid the scenario where your lovely new Halloween decorations end up as chew toys!
Alternatively, if you don’t have a quiet space where your dog can retreat, perhaps see if a friend or relative can look after your pup until things are a little less spooky at home.
- Go for walkies during the day
Even calm, confident, well-socialised dogs can find costumes, noises and lots of people scary, and scared dogs can behave unpredictably. That’s a risk that’s not worth taking around little ones.
So on Halloween, swap your evening walk for a daytime adventure to minimise the chance of running into people wearing costumes. It also follows that it’s a wise idea not to take your pup out with you on a trick or treat mission.
- Think twice about doggie costumes
If you choose to wear a werewolf mask or swathe yourself from head to foot in mummy-style bandages, that’s up to you. But, given the choice, your pup probably wouldn’t choose to wear a costume, even if it is a self-illuminating unicorn cape complete with realistic golden horn.
The ‘situation stacking’ theory comes into play here. On top of all the other small stresses of Halloween, wearing an uncomfortable costume could be the last straw for your pup. If you’re not 100% sure that you can read the subtlest signs of stress from your dog, it might be best to avoid the costumes.
- Watch out for the treats!
Human candy isn’t great for dog digestion. Chocolate is poisonous, and these days, many sweets also contain artificial sweeteners and can be a doggie choking hazard. If your pooch finds their way into your Halloween candy stash, you may end up having to make an emergency trip to the vets. So, make sure you keep chocolate and candies safely out of reach of those paws.
- Try some soothing sounds
Did you know that you can now get special playlists to calm down excited or stressed pets? We like this playlist – and the profits go to a Collie Rescue charity, too.
- Take care late at night
When it’s time for a late-night bathroom trip, be sure to keep your dog on their lead, even if your garden is fenced as they may bolt if spooked. Scared dogs have been known to clear 6ft fences, so better safe than sorry!
Does your dog get spooked at Halloween? Or maybe you’ve had some spooky, ghostly encounters together? We love to hear from you and your furry friends, so feel free to share your experiences and advice on our Facebook and Instagram pages.