I was in Lithonia yesterday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his two year old Harrier Hound named Toby. My client had rescued Toby about six months ago and just needed some help with obedience and misbehavior. Being a rescue, it took Toby a little time to fully understand that he had finally arrived at his final, life-long, happy home. His initial wariness of the environment kept him inwardly focused, mistrustful, and constantly challenging. None of these things meant that he was a bad dog. They were simply natural defense mechanisms Toby used to keep him (in his mind) safe and secure.
I worked on getting Toby to understand that my client was a great guy and the one that he was looking for all his life. I wanted to have Toby understand that he was finally safe and looking forward to a wonderful life. To accomplish this, I taught my client how to communicate with Toby and teach him the rules of the family. We established a respectful level of focus between Toby and my client so that Toby felt safe and my client understood how to properly communicate with Toby.
After about three or four hours everything was much better. Toby was happy and calm. My client loved the results and was excited to continue the lessons with Toby going forward. As we started to finish up, I asked my client if there was a lot of Halloween activity around his neighborhood. Halloween was just a few days away and I wanted to make sure he knew what to do to keep Toby safe and secure. My client said that his neighborhood always “came out big” for Halloween and the streets were filled with little ghosts and goblins from just before sunset to way into the evening. He was pretty sure that was going to be a very busy Halloween this year.
I told my client that we weren’t quite finished with the lesson just yet. Since this was his first Halloween with Toby and since we didn’t know if Toby had ever been properly socialized with Halloween, he needed to know what to do.
I first told him that we all love Halloween because we all love “to be a little scared”, and Halloween is designed to do that. Since we (humans) know that it is all for fun and nothing is real, we can enjoy the night and the times that we get a little scared.
A ghost jumps out from behind a bush and scares us. We may flinch for a moment, but then we laugh because it was fun. We see scary shadows or hear weird noises and we know they are all for fun. We may even jump out from the dark to scare a neighbor. In the end, we always laugh and go on to find someone else to scare.
Our dog doesn’t see that way. Nobody ever sent him the memo that this was all fake and that nothing was going to hurt him.
For three hundred and sixty-four days a year, our dog lives in a calm and consistent environment. He knows all the sights, sounds, and smells around him. Through consistent interaction, he has learned that none of those things are going to hurt, scare, or frighten him. When he hears, sees, or smells the things that can hurt him, he can easily take calm and appropriate actions to keep himself safe.
But, now comes that three hundred and sixty-fifth day; Halloween. All of a sudden he hears strange howling sounds from unusual places. He sees ghosts, ghouls, goblins, wookies, and other animals he has never seen before. The smoke from all the lit pumpkins and people are all new and strange to him. All these things can be very scary for him.
Halloween creates a unique and scary environment for our dogs. We need to control that environment and reassure our dog that everything is great, we are still here, and we will protect him. I gave my client the following suggestions:
- Keep your dog inside. Even if you have a fence around your back yard, bring your dog inside where he cannot be harmed or overwhelmed by the strange sights, sounds, and smells. If he is an outside dog, bring him in a few times before Halloween to get him used to being inside. Remember, it is a natural instinct for dogs to protect the family from strangers, and on Halloween there will be many strangers.
- Have your dog in a contained area. If your dog is timid or scared, or if he tends to jump on people, place him in another room away from the front door. This will minimize his excitement, aggression or chance of running outside and getting lost or injured.
- Reassure your dog by staying calm. If your dog seems to feel unsettled by all the Halloween activities, act as normally as possible. By over-reassuring your dog or giving him extra attention, you are communicating that something is wrong and he may not be safe.
- Get your dog used to seeing you in costume. Your dog may regard his family members as strangers once they put on their Halloween costumes. Before the kids put them on, allow your dog to smell the costumes. If the costumes have masks, do not put them on around him. Wait until you are outside and out of sight.
- Make sure your dog is wearing his tags. Check that his identification tags are securely attached to his collar — just in case.
- Keep your dog away from the candy bowl. Many candies — especially those containing chocolate or xylitol, an artificial sweetener—can be poisonous to dogs. Problems can range from a mild upset tummy to vomiting and diarrhea, or even death. Dogs will always “find a way” to get to the candy, so keep the candy high and watch him like a hawk.
- Do not let your dog get near candles or the pumpkin. Excited dogs (and their swinging tails) can easily knock over a candle on a table or a pumpkin with a candle inside. Keep these items out of your dog’s reach, or consider using a battery-powered candle that does not burn.
- Remember, most dogs don’t like to be dressed up in costumes, no matter what you may think! While some dogs do enjoy being dressed up, many don’t. Try your dog’s costume on several days before Halloween to see if he really wants to wear it. If he shows any resistance, don’t do it. You may try having less parts of the costume on him or simply put a bandana around his neck or bow in her hair. You could also try a fancy collar. Again, if your dog shows resistance, don’t go with the costume.
- The Trick-or-Treat experience is meant for children. Think carefully about taking your dog with you when you and the kids go trick-or-treating. When you are out with the kids, you need to spend as much of your time as possible making sure that they are having a great experience and they are safe. You cannot give your dog the time he needs to make sure he is safe. As I mentioned earlier, we know that everything outside is for fun. He may think you have walked him into “doggie heck”. Being out and about can easily scare him and may cause him to lunge and bite. You definitely don’t want this.
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 sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.