Although the weather is still warm in sunny San Diego, Halloween is coming quickly. Halloween can be a very scary time for our dogs. There are floods of strangers visiting, humans wearing costumes and masks, and decorations that make noises or make unusual movements, all of which are potentially overwhelming to dogs. If this is your puppy’s first Halloween, it’s important to be sure he has only positive experiences as he is forming his opinions of the world around him.
On Halloween: Keep your Trick-or-Treaters safe and your dog calm and comfortable by providing your dog with a safe, quiet place where he can be confined during Trick-or-Treating hours such as his crate, a bedroom, or an exercise pen. Turn on a radio or television in the area your dog will be to create white noise and help prevent her from alarm barking. If your dog reacts to your doorbell or to knocking at the door, consider setting up a Trick-or-Treat area near your front door (with your dog safely confined elsewhere). Leave your door open and have someone available to sit with the candy nearby so there is no need to alarm your dog with doorbell ringing and knocking. Fill a Kong (or other stuffable toy) with his dinner along with other delicious, long-lasting treats such as peanut butter or honey. When you take your dog to his quiet area, give him the food-stuffed toy so he will work to get the food out and enjoy his alone time.
Before (and After) Halloween: Around Halloween, your house might be filled with wonderful opportunities to socialize your puppy (these techniques also work on adult dogs but may take more work if your dog is already fearful or has passed puppyhood and not been exposed to these sorts of things yet). Remember, you never want to “flood” your dog with potentially scary new experiences. (If you were afraid of snakes, you would likely not feel better about them if I poured a bucket filled with snakes on you). Instead, expose your dog to new things in a way that allows him to feel comfortable and happy around the new thing. To do this, present the new object or situation in small doses. Using your Halloween accessories or decorations (crown, glasses, mask, hat, fake nose, vampire teeth, pretend rats, candy dish with moving claw, etc.) near your puppy while she is eating. Encourage your dog to be interested in these objects and feed her food rewards to entice and reward her. You can hand-feed your dog his dinner while holding these objects, putting them on one at a time, or setting them on the floor next to him, teaching him to associate them with something he loves: food! If your dog appears nervous, place the object further away, gradually moving it closer during each session. These techniques can be repeated to build your pup’s confidence around all sorts of Halloween toys and decorations that might make noise or move in unfamiliar ways. These techniques can be used to build your pup’s confidence in all sorts of situations (think vacuums, sewer grates, umbrellas, the list goes on). Get creative, and help your puppy become confident and well socialized!