Trick or Treat? Halloween and how it affects our dog

By | Published On: October 25, 2023 | Categories: Behaviour, Dogs |

It will soon be Halloween, so please keep a close eye on your dogs at this time of year. Our dogs must think we are crazy, changing appearance with masks and costumes and facepaint too. It can be fun for us, but they could find it terrifying in a way we would not welcome. Here are my tips to help them have fun without the spooky scares.

Trick or treat!

Sweets, sweets and more sweets. If your children come home with a huge assortment of goodies, put them out of reach from the dog. With all the excitement it is easy to leave a trick or treater’s cauldron of chocolate that will land your dog at the Vets with cocoa poisoning, or at best a stomach upset if they eat it. Make sure sweet wrappers are also put straight into an inaccessible bin. Dogs often don’t mind eating the paper even if the sweet has long since been consumed by a human.

Scary faces, scary places

Remember that dogs are not used to people dressing up in weird masks or face paint. Well, most dogs aren’t! I see some dogs that literally freak out at the sight of people in a hat or sunglasses… so making your face or body totally change shape is going to be noticeable for some dogs.

Research has shown that dogs read our expressions with a left hand bias – meaning they look to the left hand side of our face first, reading our emotions. They can even do this upside down! You can imagine the impact a brand new face or a mask will have.

Your dog may not appreciate your sudden transformation into a Werewolf (a bit close to their ancestors, maybe) so don’t aim to deliberately scare him. Take the mask off and let him sniff it, let him hear that it is you, but most of all if he appears at all worried, settle him away from the excitement or don’t wear the mask when your dog is about, ESPECIALLY if you are holding a Halloween party at home.

I once helped a family whose dog panicked at the twilight knock at the door from trick or treaters. He ran to the door and bit the child visiting, giving the poor kid an unexpected fright that Hallowe’en. If you do not normally have visitors after dark, especially not ones dressed as Dracula, keep your dog shut away with a nice tasty chew to keep him busy instead.

Walk your dog in daylight

There are likely to be plenty of little trick or treaters wandering about in the dusk, so try to give your dog a good walk earlier than normal so he does not need to meet and greet them. It will also help you remain vigilant for dropped sweets and chocolate that your dog may otherwise hoover up in the dark.

Doggy costumes

Are you dressing your little devil up as a little devil? Make sure if you have chosen a costume for your dog that they do not mind wearing! I admit I’m not a big fan of dressing dogs up, but some dogs tolerate it more than others. If you are going to dress up your dog, make sure they’re actually pretty much ok with the spider outfit or the pumpkin costume! The important part is that the dogs will feel no different to any normal day, and will attract nothing but smiles and doggy treats.

If the dog is panting or yawning, that means they are not enjoying it. At least train the dog to enjoy it by giving them a nice tasty treat as you introduce the outfit a few days before you expect them to wear it, and practice regularly. Get that clicker out and have a play, or some nice voice and treat reinforcement.

I feel like the voice of doom on this subject but as it’s Halloween then maybe that is appropriate!

– Karen Wild

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