By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a cat insurance and dog insurance agency.
Got a people-pleasing dog, but not sure how he will fare on that one night of the year when your door bell seems to work overtime? Halloween can unleash plenty of stress in even the most even-tempered canine.
Think about it from your dog’s perspective. Most nights, no one rings your bell. The two of you are more likely relaxing on the sofa catching up on favorite television shows with no noisy outside interruptions.
Before the witching hour arrives, candidly assess your dog’s tolerance for strange people boldly coming to your front porch, ringing your doorbell and loudly proclaiming, “Trick or treat!”
Your primary objective should be keeping your dog safe and calm. If you have a dog who is overly protective of you, growls or cowers at people wearing hats, sunglasses or strange outfits; or copes with frightening situations by trying to flee and bolt out of the door, please usher your dog into a quiet room far from the front door. Inside that room, be it a bathroom or bedroom, provide your dog with keep-busy toys, water and food, a comfy bed and turn on a classical music station on a radio or television that serves to soothe your dog and muffle the front door trick-or-treat activity.
Dogs are masters at reading our moods, so be confident and upbeat as you take him into this room. He should not regard this as a punishment, but as solo playtime. If you do have a family member or friend who is willing to spend time with your dog in that room while you greet the costumed visitors that would be an ideal remedy.
Now, if you have a dog who eagerly loves greeting people and behaves like a four-legged political candidate on the campaign trail, I recommend these strategies:
1. Tether your dog.
As the sun sets on Halloween, attach your dog to you using a waist leash. This allows you to have your hands free to hand out candy (and controlling your dog if necessary) while limiting your dog’s movement toward strangers.
2. Give your dog a workout.
If possible, exercise your dog’s mind and body a few hours before trick-or-treaters arrive. Your goal is to tire out your dog. If you are unable to take your dog on a vigorous walk and then play some fun doggy mental games, consider hiring a professional dog walker or pet sitter to be your proxy for that afternoon.
3. Reward the parked position.
Keep a bag of your dog’s favorite treats in bite-sized pieces. Only give him a treat when he plops into a sit on cue as you answer the door. By the fourth or fifth Halloween visitor, he will figure out he is rewarded for sitting politely.
4. Size up the visitors.
By having your dog on a waist leash, you have the ability to body block him in case one of your doorbell ringers is accompanied by a dog. Some turf-protective dogs do not take too kindly to having a strange dog dare to come to the front door. You can’t always count on someone else controlling their dog, but you will have the ability to quickly pull your dog behind you.
Each year, Chipper, my Husky-Golden retriever mix, breaks out into a wide grin when we greet our costumed guests on Halloween night. Now 12, she has the routine for this holiday down pat. I’m not certain, but she seems to have a special affinity for those dressed up like cats and on cue, will raise her front paw to greet them.
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