I’m a big fan of Halloween. I especially get into those TV shows about paranormal activity and historic haunted houses that air around this time. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the few times it’s generally acceptable to polish off a bag of mini Reeses Peanut Butter Cups all by oneself! Halloween can also be an especially spooky time for your dogs and cats–and not necessarily in a good way. Just look at it from their perspective:
- People are constantly coming to the door, knocking and ringing the bell (creating major stress or excitement for many dogs);
- People are dressed in concealing or flowing costumes that make otherwise familiar body movements look unnatural and abnormal, arousing many dogs’ suspicions or anxiety;
- There’s a higher than normal incidence of noisy little kids running around (another major stressor for many animals);
- Much of the Halloween fun and fright takes place after dark, when many dogs naturally have a heightened level of suspicion;
- And Mom and Dad (that’s you) may be acting a little jumpy or strange too. While we might enjoy a little Halloween fright watching a scary movie or playing a prank, our highly sensitive dogs and cats don’t necessarily know that the fear they’re sensing with our increased heart rate and adrenaline is contrived and not genuine.
With this in mind, here are a few tips for helping your pets get through this frightfully fun holiday. Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!
Tips for Halloween at Home
- If your dog is the fearful type in normal interactions, take extra precaution on Halloween to help him relax (especially if you’re hosting the festivities). Confine him to his crate in a quiet room of the house where he’ll feel most secure (leave the lights on). Set him up with a chew toy like a Nylabone, and turn on a TV or radio to provide some background noise so he’s not so tuned in to every sound.
- If you don’t feel compelled to attend the door all night or put your dog through the stress of the ringing and knocking but still wish to hand out candy, place a bowl on your front walkway (a little ways away from the front steps) with a sign. While your dog may still alert to noisy groups of kids moving between houses, at least he’s not being subjected to the constant ringing and knocking at the door. If your dog is anxious or nervous about the doorbell, you can use it as a desensitization opportunity: keep him well away from the door–possibly even out of sight of the door. When the bell rings, immediately feed him a treat or two so he associates the doorbell with treats. In this scenario, be careful that you don’t accidentally reinforce his anxiety. If he has an immediate or severe response, he may not be ready to participate in this desensitization exercise, especially if you have a lot of Halloween traffic. A remote-controlled treat dispensing machine can be helpful.
- If your dog generally has an easy-going personality and is highly social, you may want him to partake in the evening with you. Know what your plan is going to be to manage your dog when the doorbell rings and do a couple of practice runs with a friend prior to Halloween night. For example, you may want him to sit a few feet away from the door but where he can still see the action. Put up a baby gate in your doorway so he can’t slip past you in the event he makes a break for it. If you’ve been working obedience with your dog, use Halloween night as a proofing opportunity to practice sit/stay, down/stay, or place mat and desensitize to the doorbell. Of course, if you’re interested in obedience training to help your dog be a better Halloween helper next year, check out our obedience training service!
- If you need to work on socialization and manners around people, especially kids, take the doorbell out of the equation and camp out front of your home. With your dog on a loose leash, treats, and your candy bowl at-hand, be prepared to facilitate some positive interactions. When people approach, ask them to give your dog a treat before you give them their treat! Have them toss a treat on ground in front of them or feed it to the dog and allow the dog to sniff them. This can be a great way to socialize puppies as long as they don’t become extremely frightened. If someone approaches wearing a mask, is over-excited or scared of the dog, or the person is too frightening to your dog, don’t force the socialization interaction.
- Keep decorations and candy up high and out of reach. Do not feed your dog any candy. Be ready with some healthy dog treats, or bake your own festive dog biscuits. Check out the links to pet Halloween treats at the end of this post.
- ID tags are a good idea everyday, but your dogs and cats should definitely be wearing them on Halloween since there’s an increased risk your animals could slip out. Similarly, if your pet is micro-chipped, this is a great time to verify that the information your chip vendor has on file is current.
- Your dog should not be allowed outside without supervision on Halloween, even if it’s in a fenced yard. There are some sick people out there that will do bad things to animals on Halloween night in the name of a prank, including tossing stuff into your yard or at your dog like candy and eggs, or leaving your gate open to allow your dog to escape.
- Related to the above item, prior to letting your dog out unsupervised the next day, take a walk through the yard to make sure nothing was launched in overnight.
Tips for Trick-or-Treating with your Dog
- If you must take your dog out with you on your trick or treating adventure, try to do as much of your route as possible before dark and keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior and body language. If he appears nervous, anxious, or fearful, it’s time to call it quits and head home, even if the kids haven’t gotten their fill. (Pick up a bag of clearance candy the next day!) Signs of anxiety include: excessive panting (even when it’s not hot), ears pinned back, wide eyes, creased brow, lifting a front paw, shaking, slinking movement, stiff or rigid body, tucked tail, startling easily at sounds or gentle touch.
- Do not approach a house with your dog, rather, wait at the street with him. There may be a stressed dog in the home and allowing your dog to come into close proximity could put one or both dogs over the top.
- Make sure he’s wearing ID tags and get some of those red blinking LED lights that runners and cyclists wear and affix them to his collar and leash so he’s easily visible to cars and other people. And of course, keep him on a short leash at all times (no roaming out 20 feet in front of you in the dark on Halloween night on a retractable leash). Even better are Glowdoggie LED collars (we love ours!). Check them out now so you’re prepared for next year!
- If your dog is sensitive to the stresses previously mentioned, don’t add to his anxiety by putting him in costume. It’s unnecessary and also potentially harmful if he ingests any of it.
Tips Especially for Cats
- If your cat usually goes outside, keep him inside during the week leading up to Halloween and especially on Halloween. There are some sick people out there that will use Halloween as an excuse to do unkind things to any cat that crosses their path. For more information about this, check out this link.
- It’s a good idea to put cats in a back room or the basement with their litter box, toys, and some water if your door will be opening periodically for you to hand out candy. Close windows in ground-level rooms as there have been instances where people actually cut through screens to access cats perched in window ledges.
- Be extra vigilant when re-homing your cat at this time of year. Don’t offer your cat “free to a good home.” At the very least there are irresponsible people just looking for a good accessory for their costume. The animal may be dumped come November.
- DO NOT give your cat candy and make sure all unsupervised candy is behind closed doors. Most cats will also enjoy the dog treat recipes included in the links at the end of this post.
- If you have a cat, consider using battery-operated candles and tea lights with your Halloween décor instead of real candles. They make some great ones now that flicker so you get the authentic flame effect.