Halloween is quickly approaching, and many parties and events are on the calendar. For some people, Halloween is their favorite time of the year. They have put together creative costumes for themselves, and for many dogs, they too have a costume ready to be worn, however, they just don’t know about it yet. No one can argue that the creative costumes are enjoyable to see. Some are meant to be scary, some to elicit a laugh. However, it is critical to take a moment to think about Halloween from a dogs’ perspective. While we know the costumes are just for fun, and that the approaching zombie with an unusual gait is just a person dressed in costume, this could be an extremely confusing and possibly frightening time for your dog. Factor in the louder-than-normal shrieks of laughter or attempts to scare. Whether you are at a fall festival, Halloween parade or having a party at your house, please take time to plan to ensure your dog also is enjoying the festivities.
This is the time to be keenly aware of all dogs’ body language. Keep an eye out for any signs of discomfort.
- Frozen or stiffy body
- Ears going back or down
- Furrowed brows
- Lip licking
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Turning their head or bodies to the side
- Showing the whites of their eyes
- Attempts to increase their distance, i.e. pulling on the leash to get away.
If you see any signs of discomfort, this is not the time to force the dog to stay in the presence of something that is scaring him or a time to “force” your presence on a dog that is scared. Please, allow your walk your dog away from the scary thing or if you notice someone else’s dog showing discomfort with your presence give the dog plenty of distance.
If we do not acknowledge the subtle signs dogs give us that they are uncomfortable, they have no choice but to resort to more obvious signs, growling, lunging or even biting.
If you are hosting a Halloween event please consider your dogs’ personality. Even the most social of dogs could find the festivities overwhelming. If they are already fearful of new things, perhaps the kindest and safest option for your dog is a quiet place away from the action. A “safe room” with white noise (a tv, box fan, or music) to drown out the sounds of the party and visual barriers (hang a sheet, close blinds, etc.) to prevent them from seeing the potentially scary things. Ensure your dog has many items to occupy himself with, perhaps a favorite bone, frozen lick mat and snuffle mat with small treats. To keep your dog safe from well-meaning people, post a large “Keep Out” sign on the door.
Halloween should be a fun time for all who would like to participate. And for those of us who prefer to be on the sidelines for the shenanigans, provide the opportunity. The ability to make choices is important to us all. It is a time to remember we all have our own personal preferences, and ideas of what is fun, funny, scary, or not. This includes your dog.
Happy Halloween friends.
-Kathleen McClure with The Happier Dog is a graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers where she earned a certificate in dog training and counseling. She is also a Fear Free Certified® dog trainer with a BA in Psychology. She has lived with more dogs in her home at any one time than most people will in their entire lifetime. Kathleen has worked with hundreds of families over the years to help them build the relationships they want with their dogs – and that always starts by realizing challenging or “problem” behaviors serve a purpose, pinpointing the purpose and devising a plan that works for both the dog and their human companions. Her life purpose is to create empathy for the positions we put dogs in and work with her clients to create your best-ever human-dog bond and relationship.
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