I was in Suwanee last Thursday on a Home Dog Training lesson with a client and his Shepsky named Rocky. We spent a great deal of time working on the front door exercise because Rocky always rushed to the door the moment anyone knocked on the door or rang the Ring doorbell. Rocky constantly jumped on the “unsuspecting entrants” and often tried to nip at their shoes.
We focused on boundary control and my client’s display of confident body language during the exercise. Although Rocky was a little stubborn, we ultimately received positive results. My client was thrilled at how effective the exercise was with Rocky’s behavior and happy with how easy it was for him to perform.
As we were finishing the lesson, I knew that I had one more thing to discuss. With Halloween quickly approaching, I thought that I better give him some tips to make sure that Rocky was fine with all the ghosts and goblins that they would experience on that day.
Question: “What is the one day of the year that you try to poison your dog and think it is really fun to try and scare him?” If ever asked that question, we would clearly respond that we would never think of doing such a thing. What a horrible thing to even ask?
The “uncomfortable truth” is that many of us do that to our dogs every Halloween. We place candy on the table for the trick-or-treaters and get dressed in scary and weird costumes. We act entirely different than we normally act. We do things like jumping out from doorways with our hands raised in the air while making loud and scarry sounds.
We believe that this is fun. We can easily understand the uniqueness of Halloween and the inconsistency of our actions. Our dogs don’t like unique and inconsistent things. Their safety and security is built around a calm environment and regular events. They like things to be “business as usual”. The problem is that Halloween is not “business as usual”.
Dressing our dogs up in funny costumes and then parading them around the neighborhood surrounded with “weird things” like ghosts, monsters, and witches can be very unnerving and scary to them. They will almost always become scared and hyper-adrenalated. To be quite blunt; Halloween and our dog’s wellbeing sometimes just don’t mix.
So, what can we do to have a fun Halloween and still make sure our dog stays calm and happy on this weird day? I suggested the following:
- DON’T LET YOUR DOG ANYWHERE NEAR THE CANDY. For most of us, Halloween is the one time it is fine to leave candy all over the house. This is because it is for the Trick-or-Treaters. We will often leave bags of candy on the kitchen counter as “our reserves” in case there are a lot of Trick-or-Treaters. The unsupervised distribution of this plethora of candy is a large safety issue for our dogs. That is because the ingredients in these goodies is often poisonous to our dogs. If they sneak one or two of these bags of goodies to a hidden corner and eat them, it could make them very, very sick. Only keep one bowl of candy out where you will be greeting the Trick-or Treaters. The bowl should always be under your watchful eye. Store the “reserve candy” somewhere high up and out of your dog’s reach.
- DO NOT DRESS ROCKY UP IN A COSTUME. I completely understand that many dog owners love to dress their puppies and adult dogs up in something cute, but this is something completely unusual for most dogs. When they are “stressed out” because of “this strange stuff all over their body”, they may react by nipping and lunging at people nearby. If there are little buttons or ribbons on the costume, they may pull them off and swallow them. This could cause them to choke or cause internal blockage. This is not good at all. If you “must dress your dog up”, put a ribbon in their hair or a bandana around their neck.
- PRACTICE “TRICK-OR-TREAT” BEFORE THE BIG NIGHT. If your dog is normally calm around strangers and people entering your house, it should be fine to include Rocky in the festivities. Just to be on the “safe side”, you should probably “practice Trick-or-Treat” to see how your dog will react. Ask a friend to put on a Halloween costume a few nights before Halloween and ring the doorbell. Have Rocky on a leash being held by a family member about twenty feet back from the door. Greet your “goblin friend” and invite him in to “receive his candy”. See if Rocky becomes nervous, assertively barks and jumps, or engages in other over-adrenalized activities. If he does these things, he may not be a candidate for Halloween festivities.
If he is calm and sedate, slowly invite him to greet the Trick-or-Treater. Before you start allowing him to greet the Trick-or-Treater, have your friend remove his mask, hat, etc. so that Rocky can see that he is “only another human”. Keep him on a tight leash so that he can’t unpredictably jump towards your guest. If he remains calm, allow him to sniff your guest. Finally, escort him away from your Trick-or-Treater and away from the front door. Repeat this several times for several days to make sure Rocky is comfortable in greeting Trick-or-Treaters.
- WHEN YOUR DOG DOESN’T ACT APPROPRIATELY. If Rocky did not behave during your Trick-or-Treat experiment, you need to place him in another area where you can keep him away from the craziness. Take him to a back room with a family member. Turn on the TV so that the noises of the “ghosts and goblins” are muted by the TV noise. Keep him on a leash so that he won’t unexpectantly leave the room and confront the Trick-or-Treaters or discover the candy. If he has to potty, take him on a leash out the back door to the most remote and quietest spot of your back yard. Feed him early and engage him in some strenuous play so that he is tired before “stuff starts”. If you are lucky, he will sleep through all the Halloween activities.
- THE NEXT DAY. Even though Halloween is over, you still need to be aware of some issues. There will probably be empty candy wrappers on the floor, in the yard, and on the sidewalks. Although “the candy is gone”, eating the wrappers still could make Rocky sick. Be sure to pick up your costume and put it away. If Rocky gets ahold of it, he may chew and swallow all the funny buttons, pins, fake hair, etc. on the costume.
- MORE IDEAS. For more information on Halloween safety, please visit our special page at Your Dog’s Halloween Safety in Suwanee Georgia.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.