Halloween Scary Tails

Donning costumes and overeating chocolate candy are highlights that come with Halloween. It’s fun to be a little scared – but not for everyone.
Motion detector decorations catch us all unawares and can be nothing short of terrifying to your dog. When the Halloween decorations begin to appear in your neighborhood it’s time to de-sensitize your dog to these sights and sounds. Start at a distance where your dog can relax. Ask your dog to sit and reward her with a treat. You will know to increase distance, if your dog is too nervous and distracted to eat the treat. Gradually work your way closer while pairing a treat with the sights/sounds of scary objects.
Place a mask beside your face and assess your dog’s reaction. If he’s scared, place the mask on a surface where he can sniff and investigate. Reward his courage with a treat. When he’s more relaxed, try it beside your face again. Gradually move to placing it over your face while talking to him in your usual, gentle voice.
If your dog presents as nonplussed by costumes and masks and doesn’t react to the ringing doorbell, try answering the door together. Keep your dog leashed as an extra measure of security. If you have trained in a “wait” cue at the door, use it. If not, there’s always next year.
Fright night sensitive dogs are best crated with a delicious stuffed Kong or chew toy. There is no point in subjecting a nervous dog to the range of stimuli that comprises Halloween evening. The door is open for further rehearsal of undesirable behaviors. Have a plan.
If your dog participates in Halloween festivities, here are several reminders. Everyone knows that chocolate can be fatal to some dogs. Wrappers and raisins are no good either. As much as we love our dogs, they are opportunistic scavengers. Corral the candy!
Watch for stress signals, such as restlessness, refusal of food treats, yawning, and an inability to respond to learned cues. Your dog’s stress level is unlikely to decline as the evening goes on. Do him a favor and take him home. Place him in his crate if necessary.
It’s a real crowd pleaser when a dog wears a costume. A dress rehearsal is in order, though, to ensure that his movements aren’t inhibited and his vision is not obstructed by the costume. It’s dark and scary out there!
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2015
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC