Tricks for Treats: 5 Ways to Make Sure Halloween is Fun and Safe for your Dogs
Happy Halloween! As dog parents, we know that holidays are always more fun when our pups can celebrate with us, but Halloween is one of those holidays that can be really stressful for dogs despite our best efforts to have them be part of the fun. For example, my pup Chewy is super reactive. He’ll bark at any doorbell sound on TV. He’ll bark if he hears our neighbors coming home. He’ll bark if someone farts two houses down. So imagine how stressful trick-or-treaters coming to the house is for him. He’s not a bad dog; he’s just always on alert. It’s one of the things I’ll talk about when I get around to doing a post on training a reactive dog, but for now, I’ll use my experiences with him to share some ways you can make sure your dogs stay safe and happy today.
No candy for pups
Candy may be the highlight of the night for trick-or-treaters, but for dogs, candy can be very toxic. Chocolate is known for being especially dangerous, but also watch out for sugar free candy which often contains the artificial sweetener xylitol. Also, make sure you keep all the wrappers up and away from the dogs too. I don’t imagine swallowing foil or cellophane is any better than actually eating the candy inside of it. Instead of candy, I got my dogs a new squeaky jack-o-lantern as a Halloween treat.
Be mindful of decorations
Decorative pumpkins and corn may not be super toxic to dogs if they get a hold of them, but it definitely won’t make them feel good either. As a general rule, its best to keep all decorations out of the way where pups can’t get to them. Many other decorations like lights or fog machines may have cords that can pose a risk to dogs if they start chewing on them. Also, if your fam is using real flames inside your jack-o-lanterns, make sure your pups can’t tip the pumpkins, because that would really suck to explain to the fire department.
This is why we dressed June Bug as a shark. Here’s my pup trying to eat pumpkins. This is why you want to keep an eye on them with decorations.
Be respectful of your dog’s boundaries with trick-or-treaters
This is where my experience with Chewy really comes in handy. While you see lovely princesses, scary witches, and brave super heroes knocking on your door, your dog only sees lots and lots of strangers. Not only that, but strangers who are interacting with his family and coming unannounced into his territory. Remember that your pups don’t understand trick-or-treating and may not be comfortable with all the commotion of constant guests at the door. Unless your pup is super social and you can tell he definitely loves greeting trick-or-treaters, keep him in a separate room with his crate and favorite toys or blankets so he feels nice and safe despite the commotion.
One way that I can make the trick-or-treating situation less stressful for Chewy is to set him up for success by burning off A LOT of energy before trick-or-treaters start showing up. This is a good way to make anything that might stress your dog out a lot easier to manage. A tired dog is a good dog. So, for Chewy that means I take him on a really long hike or run with me. I want to get him panting – tongue lolling out, awkward doggy smile on his face. He needs to be actually tuckered out. If you have a herding breed like Chewy, you probably know a 30 minute walk isn’t going to cut it. For best results, get your dog to really work. I usually throw in some training along the hike or run too to make his brain tired as well. Usually this means playing a little game to encourage him to be attentive. If you want to play with your dogs, it goes like this: usually we do this on leash, but you could definitely do it off too. In the middle of your normal walk, start varying your speed. Walk really, really slowly, and then suddenly speed up. Then, walk normal again and keep switching it up unexpectedly. The idea is that your dog has to focus on being attentive to you. They should speed up and slow down and be watching you to see what you do next. Humans are so unpredictable, jeeze. Another attentiveness drill (that has a real name probably but I made up my own) called Red Light Green Light, is easy to do while you’re walking with your pup too. For this one, you’ll just take a few steps at a time (try to vary the number of steps) and then stop suddenly. You want to encourage your dog to watch you and stop with you. The games get easier with practice. Once your dog has played them a few times like Chewy has, just slide them in while you’re already walking. Challenge the mind. Tire that pup out!
During our little photo shoot, I let both of the dogs run around to let off some steam. We’ll do the same thing before the trick-or-treaters arrive.
Once your dogs are thoroughly tuckered, another way that I keep Chewy from freaking out on Halloween is to make him a doggy oasis. I put all his favorite things in a room that’s far away from the front door, but still comfortable. Tossing him in a bathroom and shutting the door isn’t what I’m talking about. In our house tonight, I’m putting Chewy and June Bug and all of their favorite things – crates, beds, blankets, toys, antlers, treats – in our spare bedroom and shutting the door to block out some of the noise. I’m also going to give them frozen Kongs to keep them busy and their minds off of what’s going on in the rest of the house.
If you do all this stuff, and your dog is still freaking out every time the doorbell rings, just leave a bowl of candy outside, or sit outside with the candy to see all the trick-or-treaters, give them their treats, and remove the need for the doorbell all together. It’s not a failure on you or your dog’s part. Be patient with them. They don’t know what’s going on.
Remember that even if your dog is social in other situations, the amount of strangers coming to your home on Halloween may cause him to be unusually protective or aggressive. For the safety of younger trick-or-treaters that may not know how to approach an anxious dog, and for your pup, always make sure there is a safe space in another room in case the chaos becomes too overwhelming for your dog.
Remember that costumes may not be as fun for your dog as they are for you
And that’s totally okay! Some dogs dig being dressed in costumes, like June Bug! There are so many cute, funny, and spooky pet costume ideas out there. However, if you slowly introduce the idea of wearing a costume to your dog and give them lots of treats and praise during the dressing up process, and the costume is still causing them stress, it’s best not to force your dog to wear it. Even if your dog isn’t down with a costume, there are a ton of other cute ways to get them in the Halloween spirit that are less stressful like Halloween bandanas and collars. Chewy just got a festive little collar and both he and June Bug got the cutest Halloweeny Bad Tags! If your pup is a fan of wearing costumes, make sure when you’re picking one out for him that the costume doesn’t constrict movement, breathing (panting), or barking, nor does it impair any of his senses like sight or hearing. Of course, I bought June Bug’s costume a couple weeks ago and it already doesn’t fit. Guess we’ll try again next year.
Chewy escaped wearing a costume this year and got this cute collar instead.
Also, I absolutely LOVE the tags from Bad Tags that the dogs are wearing for Halloween.
Really, the key to your dogs having a good Halloween is just planning ahead. This will be June Bug’s very first Halloween on this planet, but I’m still going to let her burn off some energy before all the fun starts happening tonight because I want to give both her and Chewy the best shot at success.
Let me know in the comments how Halloween goes for you and your pups! Also, if you’re dressing your dogs up, I love nothing more than pets in costumes. Use my hashtag #barefoottumbleweed in your dog pics on Instagram tonight so that I can see how cute they look!