dogs in halloween costumes
Play,  Wellness

Halloween Safety Tips for Dogs

Dog trainer Tracy Donaldson, owner of The Woodlands Dog Training, shares her Halloween Safety Tips for Dogs in this guest post. You can follow her on Facebook at The Bryi’s Dog Training.

Truth be told I love Halloween. It might actually be my favorite holiday. But it can be a potentially stressful time for even the most confident of dogs. Let’s look at some of the stressors our dogs can encounter. There are:

  • Strange inflatable and flashing objects in front yards that can spook dogs on walks
  • Different decorations in your house which can unsettle sensitive dogs
  • More traffic to your door (and doorbell ringing) than any other night of the year.
  • People unknown to you and your dog will arrive at your door dressed up in strange outfits
  • You might even dress up yourself and expect your dog to as well!!

Once we start thinking about all that Halloween brings, I think we can all agree. It’s really no surprise that many of our dogs get stressed out and a little bit frazzled.

Halloween will likely be a little different this year due to Covid-19. But there are ways you can help your dog build confidence and manage the situation.

Build Your Dog’s Confidence Ahead of Halloween

Many dogs can lack the confidence and optimism needed to manage in novel or unusual situations. These dogs can also be hypervigilant and notice the smallest changes.  Do you have a dog that notices and spooks at a new leaf on the sidewalk?  If so, how are they going to react when there’s a blow up pumpkin in your neighbors garden?   

These can definitely be scary for a nervous dog. Playing confidence games and thinking about your walking route ahead of time is a great idea.

For nervous dogs, build their confidence and optimism. Games like cardboard chaos and noise box are a great place to start. Then check out this confidence games playlist on YouTube for more games to play with your dog.  

Tammy the tenacious isn't afraid of the halloween blowup but a lot of dogs are.

Limit Doorbells and Knocking on Halloween

My husband and I have 6 dogs, and an occasional foster. In previous years I have left a bowl of candy with a sign in my driveway. Or I’ve sat out in the driveway with a bowl of candy. All to prevent trick or treaters coming to my door!

Check your neighborhood Facebook or Nextdoor to find out what time trick or treating will start.

Keeping dogs quiet and relaxed when the doorbell is ringing constantly can be a challenge, especially if there are foster dogs present. Halloween night is not the best time to work on training your dog to ignore the doorbell. If you have time, work on modifying the barking behavior ahead of time. Or, keep your dogs away from the front door, or away from any windows near the door.

Costumes Can Spook and Stress Dogs

Fancy dress costumes can definitely stress some dogs out (and who can blame them).  If you need to bring your dog to the door for any reason during Halloween night, make sure they are leashed. This will reduce the probability of them running out an open door. 

Some dogs may bark and lunge when scared. If so, it’s a good idea to limit their access to the front door.  They may appear  fine for the first few interactions. But just like humans, dogs can take so much. Once their stress bucket overflows you are likely to see some unwanted behaviors occurring. 

The most noticeable behaviors that indicate our dogs are uncomfortable include running away, cowering, shaking, barking or lunging. But lip licking, turning their head away, panting, sniffing and even over enthusiasm can all be signs of stress in our dogs. 

If your dog is stressed by the costumes or simply meeting people on walks? Then change the time or ditch your evening walk to prevent them meeting lots of trick or treaters. That’s the best and safest option for everyone!!

If you aren’t sure how your dog is going to react? My recommendation is to give them a nice long lasting chew in their safe space instead. That could literally be the best Halloween for them!!

Some dogs may need a little extra help to get through the holiday periods. If this is the case please speak to your vet now about appropriate medication for the upcoming holiday period. Not all prescription medications work in the same way. Always be specific about your dog’s struggles so that the vet has the necessary information to prescribe the correct medications. 

Should Your Dog Have a Halloween Costume?

Dressing up is a stressor for many dogs and they don’t feel comfortable wearing clothes and additional ‘Halloween’ accessories.

Although we all want our dogs to participate in the holidays, take a moment to consider if your dog really needs to dress up for Halloween.

If your dog exhibits lower level behaviors such as lip licking, panting, turning away or yawning? Those can all be indications they are not comfortable wearing costumes.

dog in halloween costume
Really mom? Really?

We all want our dogs involved in our family activities. But we have to realize that they may not want to be involved in all of them.

If your dog doesn’t like  dressing up? Don’t force it just to have a photo of your anxious dog in a costume. Just because your dog lets you dress him up doesn’t mean he is comfortable or relaxed. If in doubt leave the costume in the drawer!

How to Provide a Safe Space for Your Dog During Halloween

We all know people that want to be the center of attention and love to go to parties. And we also know those that would rather stay home and read a good book. So it probably won’t surprise you to hear that our dogs are very similar. With this is in mind, providing a safe space for all our dogs is an excellent idea.

Genetics, breeding strategies and environmental factors all contribute to dogs exhibiting different behaviors. 

Even the most robust of dogs needs quiet time on a daily basis. If your dog doesn’t already have a safe space, consider creating one. This can be a quiet room (bedroom closet or study) or a specific bed or crate that they can head to when they need quiet time. 

Think about where your dog usually heads to for some quiet time. Then see if you can replicate that in other ways.  Dogs that head under the bed or table may prefer a covered crate. Others may prefer chilling out on higher areas so a raised dog bed may be an excellent choice for them. 

Once you’ve created your doggy safe zone, you may want to think about ways to help your dog settle and relax here. 

Dogs chew to relax and lower arousal levels. Adding an appropriate chew to their safe space is a great way to help them naturally relax and create their perfect doggy zen space.

You may also want to consider playing some music or keeping the TV on in their room so that the sound of the doorbell is less noticeable for them.

If possible why not hang out with your dog as much as you can on Halloween night:

  • Take turns being on door duty and hanging with your dogs
  • Play some simple games including nose work with your dog
  • Do something with your dog that they enjoy: it could be cuddles, being brushed, massage, etc

Post Halloween Walks – Avoid Street Treats!

After Halloween, watch for street treats. You know, that exciting surprise your dog sniffs out in the grass and has in their mouth before you even realize it.

Candy that’s lost on the street could include chocolate or sugar-free gum containing xylitol.  Ingestion of either chocolate or xylitol can be extremely dangerous for your dog. Make sure to keep them out of your dog’s reach.  No one wants to end up at the emergency vet! That comes with a spooky surprise bill.

This information should help you make a plan for Halloween. Working with your dog to improve their behavior and boost their confidence will make every holiday better. Contact us at The Woodlands Dog Training!

HoustonDogMom Rebecca G. is a Houston-based dog lover and shelter volunteer.