(conversation) – It’s Halloween time, and the prospect of “trick-or-treating” and dress-up can be exciting for kids and adults alike. But for our dogs, Halloween can be less fun, and it can actually be a very disturbing time.
Just like us, all dogs are different and will react differently. But for many dogs, Halloween brings its own set of potentially terrifying scares and challenges.
Sweets, chocolates, people in costumes, door visitors, and dark nights can all combine to make for a spooky and dangerous time for our four-legged family member.
But with a little bit of care, it’s not hard to help your dog have a safe and happy Halloween. Here are some suggestions.
1. Ditch the dog costumes
Dressing up can be fun for us, but it can be scary and confusing for dogs. While functional dog clothing — to dry off and keep warm — is sometimes helpful, leisure dressing is not always desirable for our dogs.
Many dogs hate wearing clothes and some costumes can affect your dog’s movement, as well as his breathing and his ability to sit, lie down or relax.
Don’t assume that a dog who stays still while wearing a costume is also happy – he may be showing signs of deep distress and learned helplessness. This occurs when animals seem to “give up” and is associated with fear and distress.
If your dog tries to avoid wearing a costume or otherwise seems unhappy, consider leaving the clothing to the humans in the family.
2. Take care of your clothes
Dressing up your dog may not be on the cards, but it’s also important to remember that your costumes may cause them distress. Dogs often use physical cues and other signals from people to identify themselves. Wearing unusual costumes and makeup and sometimes moving, smelling or behaving differently can confuse our dogs. This may lead to fear and anxiety.
Some dogs simply avoid such situations and hide. But others may display a “startled” response by growling and barking, or they may display aggressive, escalating, fear-based responses.
If your dog is worried about anyone in costume, gently reassure him and offer him some tasty treats. Or it may be easier and safer to provide your dog with a quiet space away from his excitement if he appears restless.
3. Manage your doorstep visitors
Visitors can be exciting or intimidating to dogs, depending on the circumstances and the type of dog. The COVID-19 pandemic also means that many dogs have had little experience with regular visitors to their homes, which can lead to increased levels of anxiety, fear, and behavioral problems.
Unfortunately, dog bites still pose a significant risk to children — and a small risk to adults, too — so careful management is important to protect your dog and any small visitors. Even the calmest dog can be frightened by costumes, noises, and unexpected events, especially as the dark nights approach. Our dogs are often used to familiar surroundings and the sudden appearance of objects or people can surprise them. Darkness can exacerbate this for some dogs.
If your dog gets upset or excited when the doorbell rings, or at the sound of visitors, consider using a simple sign on the door or garden gate to tell visitors to avoid knocking on your door or ringing the doorbell. Alternatively, you can leave a bowl of treats for any trick-or-treaters outside if you’d like to get in on the festivities.
If you want to answer the door, you can prevent your dog from reaching when you answer it, in the same way you would protect postal workers and other workers. This can be especially important if you likely have children trick-or-treating in your area and your dog is not used to being around children, especially when they are excited in costumes.
Or you can give your dog access to an enclosed room or puppy pen with tasty treats, with the TV or radio on as a distraction.
It may also be wise to forgo evening exercise and either provide longer walks earlier to avoid accidental bumping into trick-or-treaters, or provide toys and stimulation for your dog at home.
4. Be careful with treats
Many of the chocolates, sweets, and games associated with Halloween can be dangerous for our dogs. Small toys, sweet wrappers, or tinsel can be ingested, leading to digestive issues or blockages in extreme cases.
Human treats and treats are often high in calories and unhealthy for dogs, but sometimes they can also be toxic.
Take special care with chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Raisins, grapes, and macadamia nuts can also be dangerous, and they are sometimes hidden in candy and other cakes. And look out for artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which is particularly toxic to dogs.
If you think your dog may have eaten something dangerous, always seek veterinary advice immediately. Watch for behavioral changes or signs of digestive discomfort such as vomiting. There are also online calculators that can be useful assessment tools if your dog has eaten chocolate.
Halloween can be a fun time for everyone. By taking a few simple precautions, we can ensure a safe and enjoyable time for our dogs, too.