5 tips to help ensure Halloween isn’t scary for your dog
Whether you’re planning a Halloween house party, going out with the family or friends trick-or-treating or drawing the curtains and hoping it will all just pass you by, it’s important to consider how your dog is likely to feel about the strange and unusual commotion associated with the 31st October.
Read on for our top tips to help you make sure your dog’s Halloween is not harrowing!
1. Halloween costumes for dogs
When to leave that pumpkin outfit on the hanger…
No one likes to be a killjoy, but the truth is that most dogs do not enjoy being dressed-up. Many find it psychologically distressing, and for those with various health conditions it can be physically painful even if they would otherwise be mentally relaxed about it. Imagine having aching arthritic joints squeezed through the sleeves of a Halloween sweater, or supporting a big pair of bat wings on a sore back.
The following are some examples of the way your dog may behave if they feel uncomfortable about being dressed-up:
Running away / hiding when you approach them with clothes
Struggling to avoid the clothes being put on / to get away from you whilst you are attempting to put clothes on them
Mouthing at your hands and / or the clothes whilst you are trying to put them on
Going still and stiff
Wide eyes / dilated pupils
Holding their ears back
Licking their nose
Holding a forepaw off the ground
Looking / turning away from you
Hunching their back
Tucking their tail between their legs
Flashing their teeth or ‘smiling’
Vocalising – whimpering, barking, growling
Trying to get the clothing off
Not moving or moving tentatively once the clothing has been put on
Dogs are entitled to object to things they don’t like and have their opinion respected, therefore it is important that we recognise when our dogs are trying to tell us that they’d really rather just be left in their birthday suit.
If your dog doesn’t like being dressed-up in a full outfit, you can still include them in your festivities with a simple accessory like a Halloween-themed collar or bandana.
Tips for seasoned costume canines…
If your dog is relaxed and comfortable about having a costume put on / wearing a costume, then the following tips can help keep them safe and content:
Choose an outfit which fits well (not too tight, too loose or bulky) so that it does not rub, slip, trip your dog up or make it difficult for them to access places of comfort such as their crate
Opt for a light-weight material so that your dog does not feel weighed-down by it, and so they do not get over-heated
Check that the outfit does not have any parts which could easily come loose or be pulled off by your dog and be dangerous if chewed / ingested, for example avoid anything with lights / a battery pack
Ensure that the costume meets national standards for fire safety
Avoid masks – dogs are usually least comfortable with something covering their face and if a mask slips it can also restrict their vision which can cause distress
If your dog is going outside in their costume, be mindful of the way the outfit (and therefore your dog) may be affected by different weather conditions, and try to choose something that is bright coloured and ideally has a reflective component for additional safety when you’re out after dark
2. Trick-or-treaters at your door
If your dog usually gets anxious or over-excited by visitors coming to your door, keep your dog in a room away from the front of the house on Halloween night and put out a sign to politely ask trick-or-treaters to bypass your house.
Your dog will become highly stressed if there are people knocking / ringing at the door throughout the evening (even if you keep your dog in another room where they can’t see the people at the door). Having a negative emotional response triggered repeatedly is very unpleasant for your dog, and you may observe their increasing distress through the intensification of behaviours such as barking.
If you really want to offer something to potential visitors, you could leave a weatherproof container of sweets outside of your house with a note inviting trick-or-treaters to help themselves to a few sweets whilst asking them politely to do so quietly.
If you have a very sociable and relaxed dog who doesn’t get aroused by the sound of the door knocker / bell and people arriving at the door, it is still advisable to shut them in a different room whilst you answer the door. Groups of people, dressed up in weird costumes and chanting ‘trick or treat’, can be frightening to even the most laid-back canine. It’s simply not worth exposing your dog to potentially frightening experiences which could have both short and long-term negative consequences for their emotional well-being.
By shutting your dog safely away in another room, you also help to minimise the risk of your dog escaping out of your front door or grabbing a potentially toxic sweet from an unwitting trick-or-treater!
Indoors too, keep all sweet treats out of the reach of your dog. Sweets which contain the sweetener Xylitol and chocolate are both toxic to dogs and can cause fatal poisoning. Sweet wrappers can also be hazardous to your dog if ingested.
3. Taking your dog trick or treating with you?
Keep your dog and everyone else safe and happy by following these top tips:
Only take your dog out with you if they are very sociable and relaxed around strangers – adults, children of all ages and other animals - and you are confident that they are unlikely to react anxiously to the sights and sounds of Halloween festivities
Ensure that an adult is responsible for supervising, and being in control of your dog, and is able to take them home straight away if they are getting worried. It is not recommended to allow children to take a dog out trick-or-treating by themselves
Keep your dog on a lead so that you can:
- prevent them from approaching other people / dogs who may frighten your dog or may be frightened by them
- ensure that they cannot gain access to any sweet treats that are being given out or any dropped sweet wrappers
- stop your dog from running away if they get spooked by something, but be able to lead them quickly and safely home
If you know that your dog gets very over-excited about trying to access food then it’s probably fairest and safest to leave them at home so that a) they are not getting frustrated at every door where food is being handed out which they can’t have, and b) there isn’t the risk of them stealing and consuming sweets which may be toxic to them
If you’ve bought a costume for your dog to wear out, make sure that you’ve checked in advance that your dog is comfortable having it put on, wearing and moving around in it at home, and that it is appropriate for the weather conditions on Halloween night, before you take them outside in it
4. Having a Halloween party?
Any house party can potentially be a source of over-stimulation or anxiety for the family dog. The combination of lots of people (some of whom may be strangers to your dog), lots of talking / laughing, people wandering about between rooms, loud music playing, food and drink everywhere, turns your dog’s place of safety and calm into a comparatively chaotic, invaded space.
A Halloween party brings the extra challenge of people dressed up in strange clothing and perhaps wearing face masks or extreme face make-up, which can make even familiar people appear frightening and difficult for your dog to ‘read’, which in turn can make your dog feel anxious and stressed, which may lead to them reacting aggressively towards your guests.
Some dogs will take a Halloween house party in their stride, but if you know your dog can be anxious with visitors in the home, or if your normally relaxed dog starts to show any signs of discomfort during the party, keep a comfortable room in your house available only to your dog where you can leave them with their food, some toys and a TV or radio playing where they won’t be disturbed. Be sure to have taken your dog out for their walk and to go to the toilet before your guests arrive.
If you are dressing-up yourself for your party or to go out trick or treating, have your dog in the room with you whilst you are getting ready so that they can see your ‘transformation’ as it happens. In this way you can avoid accidentally frightening your dog by suddenly appearing somewhere in the house dressed-up / made-up like a creepy-looking stranger!
5. Halloween decorations
It’s common sense, but be careful about the placement of carved pumpkins, especially those containing lit candles, so that your dog cannot purposefully reach them or brush against them / knock them over by accident, especially if they have a big, waggy tail!
Pumpkin is not toxic to dogs, in fact it can be very good for them in moderation, however ingesting a large quantity in one go could lead to gastrointestinal upsets.
A dog may choose to eat an un-lit candle, if this happens, call and speak to your vet for advice.
If you wish to discourage trick-or-treaters coming to your door, it may be best to place your Jack-O’-Lanterns at the back of your house, since symbolically they can mean that trick-or-treaters are welcome.
Supervise your dog around new decorations initially so that you can ascertain what interest they have in them. Some dogs won’t take much notice whereas others may show their inquisitiveness by taking hold of your decorations in their mouth!
Adjust the position of your decorations as appropriate and ensure that anything which could be harmful to your dog if chewed or ingested is positioned well out of reach, even if you think your dog won’t be very interested in it.
If any of your decorations have an electrical supply, ensure that power leads are not accessible by your dog.
Be particularly careful if you have a young puppy since they are more likely to explore novel objects using their mouth and to chew on anything they can get their teeth into!
We hope you find these Halloween tips helpful, and that whatever your plans, your dog enjoys a fright-free evening.
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