Let's be real, I love dogs in costumes. I actually am not sure there is anything I find more delightful then a dog dressed up. I'm a sucker, what can I say?
But Halloween can be a minefield for our canine friends, and there are a few things we can do to help them get ready, and enjoy the holiday aside from winning Insta. So what should we be doing to help our dogs enjoy the season as much as we do?
Well firstly, if your dog(s) goes bananas every time the doorbell rings, or a door knocks, you may be dreading trick or treaters. Conditioning to stimulus takes time, but here are some tips to get started. You may not be fully prepared for this upcoming Halloween, but these exercises will help your pup all around.
1. Ask a friend or a member of your household to help you. Put your pup on a leash. Practice getting "look" a few times with a high value treat. Then have your assistant go outside. Ask them to knock lightly on the door. When your dog gets over excited or stimulated use the leash to guide them away, and then do not answer the door until they have calmed down and are are giving you "look". Reward the calm and alternative behavior. Repeat the exercise for either 15 minutes or until a light knock no longer provokes an extreme reaction, but the alternative behavior- which ever comes first. If within the first 15 minutes you can not get an alternative reaction, just practice look until you get that. The goal is always for the dog to be successful, and that is where you end your training session. As your dog becomes more successful, increase the stimulus level. Keep your training sessions short, and again, end on a high note. If your dog is crate trained, you can do the same exercise, but with them in the crate, they can still give you their attention from inside their little den. It can take up to a month or so of practice to really get the results you want, but the impact is life long. Once your dog is successful with increasingly loud stimulus, you can even add in Halloween masks, treat bags, etc. All of those things are foreign to your dog and can be really intimidating!
2. Create a "safe space" for your dog the night of Halloween. Ideally, Fido would be crate trained, but even reducing their space down to a room they hang out in can be helpful. Set up some soothing background noise. Dogs like the radio, or a low level television. Our dogs genuinely like Animal Planet, not kidding- because it's not a super loud channel with people yelling or anything. Consider investing in high quality calming treats- we swear by the brand Treatibles- they are by far the highest quality and most consistent calming treat on the market. Get a plug-in Adaptil(TM), and set it up a few days ahead of time. Make sure that the day of Halloween your dog has had a good amount of exercise, more than usual, so that they are tired and ready to relax. Make a Kong with frozen peanut butter or wet food, or get a bully stick/marrow bone for the occasion. Essentially the goal is to prepare your dog physically and mentally to relax. It will save you a headache later and make your dog look forward to exciting nights as opposed to anxious. If your dog isn't crate or space trained, consider having a member of the household serve as the dog guardian for the night, keeping pup on a leash and safely away from doors and the loud noises. Even if your dog LOVES company, trick or treating can be overstimulating. Especially if there are some sparklers or other small fireworks happening, too!
3. Costumes. Costumes. Costumes. Familiarize your dog with your costume if you are wearing one, especially if it has a mask. It can be confusing for dogs to smell their human but see something on their face- leave the mask out for a few days where pup can see it casually. The same goes for those perfect and adorable costume you plan on dressing Spot up in. Leave it out- let them eat treats off of it- and practice. Seriously. Dogs do not automatically tolerate wearing clothing, as much as we would like them to. When I'm familiarizing dogs at first with wearing things, even a back pack- I use a Kong with a frozen treat inside. I hold it out for them to work on while I pick up their paws, handle their ears, and rest my arms over their backs. Once they are comfortable with that, I lay a towel over their backs while they still work on the kong to get used to weight and draping. Then we work up to different pieces of the costume, letting them smell and then conditioning them to put it on. The benefit of this is that most of the time, they are so used to me putting crazy things on them, I'm able to get AMAZING photos because they aren't trying to pull it off. Costumes have been associated with fun and treats, and they aren't spending their whole time trying to escape or looking depressed. It's ok for your dog to be a little anxious when you first start introducing any upper level stimulus- but it's important that you give them the chance to associate it positively, rather than forcing the issue. Practice handling your dog slowly, and soon you will have a pup that gladly wears whatever ridiculous thing we come up with next.