Unusual activities, costumed visitors, carved pumpkins with candles, lights, decorations and copious amounts of chocolate and sweets can all pose a threat to our pets on Halloween. Here are some top tips to ensure your dog has a happy one!
Dressing your dog up
Many dogs dislike wearing costumes. If you are unsure whether your dog is one of them, look at their body language - are their ears pinned back? Is their tail between their legs? Are they unwilling to move and exhibit normal behaviour? Is their head down and are they averting their gaze? All of these are signs that your dog is not comfortable with wearing a costume.
You can use positive reinforcement training to condition your dog to feel happy wearing clothing, but if you aren't willing to invest the time to do this training at a pace your dog is happy with, just don't dress them up! If your dog is one of the dogs who does enjoy dressing up, then great! My own dogs get really excited about wearing something for a quick photoshoot, however, my mum's Shih Tzu won't even take a step in a sensible outdoor coat to keep her warm - they are all different.
If you do dress up your dog, make sure the costume is safe and doesn't restrict their movement, hearing, breathing or ability to bark. Don't leave them unattended in a costume in case there are parts of the costume that they can chew. Unless a costume is designed like a normal coat, personally I prefer to just pop it on for a quick photo and take it off again.
Using props to get cute Halloween photos
If your dog is not happy wearing a costume, you can still get cute Halloween photos using props. Most dogs are happy to wear collars, so a cute Halloween bandana would be a great idea. In the picture on the right, Trip's "cloak" is just attached like a collar by velcro.
Take them out for a walk or play before dark
Where possible, take your dog out for a nice walk before dark so they are more likely to be calm, sleepy and happy at home and so they don't encounter loud children in strange costumes to potentially frighten them on their walk.
With all of the extra activity around the door, be sure that your dog is wearing their ID tag just in case they get out, but preferably keep your dog in a separate room where they cannot access the front door.
Dog's can be scared by costumes, and scared dogs can bite!
Halloween costumes can make people look like nothing many dogs have ever seen before. Masks, hats, wings and all the unusual elements of Halloween costumes can scare dogs and envoke a fear response. This may be "flight", or running away to hide, but other dogs may respond with aggression. If your dog shows any signs of nervousness, play it safe and keep them away from the adults or children in costume.
Set up a safe space for your dog
Set up your dog's "safe space" in a place away from well-walked areas. You may have already noticed your dog has a place they take themselves off to, such as behind the sofa or under the table - if so, you could make their safe space there. My dogs are crate trained so they are most happy with a crate, but if they are not this could just be their bed or blankets. My Border Collie Indie is not keen on fireworks and her safe space is a crate underneath the dining table, with a comfy bed inside and blankets over the top. When your dog is in their safe space, make sure everyone knows to leave them alone and not bother them.
Keep your dog calm and busy
Give your dog something to do that will keep them busy but calm.
Feed your dog their dinner in a slow feeding bowl such as the Green Feeder.
You can stuff a Kong with dry and wet dog food, or dry dog food and peanut butter, or raw food if you feed raw. This will keep your dog busy and quiet for a good amount of time. Click here to find more reciepe ideas for stuffing Kongs.
Lickimats are great for wet food or spreading soft treats.
For the more active dog, the Kong Wobbler is great. You can fill it with dry treats or kibble and your dog must use their nose or paws to push the wobbler around so it dispenses treats.
Keep your dog away from sweets and chocolate
Everyone knows that chocolate is not safe for dogs, but certain sweets often contain the sweetener xylitol that is toxic to dogs. Keep any Trick or Treat goodies away from your dog, in a cupboard or on a high up surface that your dog cannot reach. If your dog has ingested chocolate or any other sweets, call your vet immediately for advice.
Wires from electric lights and other decorations should be kept out of reach of your dog, not only because they may chew them, but more likely because they may get caught on them.
If you choose to add a lit candle to your carved pumpkin, keep it out of reach of your dog.
Make a sign for the front door
If your dog is really not happy with the hustle and bustle of Halloween and trick or treaters, make a sign to put on your front door. "No trick or treaters, my dog is in training" or something along those lines should suffice.
Finally for a bit of fun, here's an old video of me and my friend Jem with our dogs doing tricks to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" - it was part of a big fundraiser for Cancer Research!