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  • Holly Leake

Keeping Your Dog Safe this Halloween

Does your dog get stressed when they hear the doorbell ring? Are they reactive towards children? Do they hate people in hats? Are they afraid of people in costumes? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, Halloween may be just as scary for your dog as it's supposed to be for us.

So, how can you reduce your dog's stress during Halloween?

If you have a reactive dog, it's understandable that Halloween costumes would be terrifying, after all that's their design. Even young puppies and confident dogs could find costumes scary, and due to a phenomenon known as 'single event learning', one scary experience with someone in a costume, could be enough to trigger a life long phobia.

Sadly, social media is currently circulating videos of people in costumes pranking dogs, and while it may seem like harmless fun, we could be triggering anxiety and future behavioural struggles, such as reactivity and even aggression. When dogs feel threatened, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered and they go into fight or flight. This is also known as a survival mechanism, and dogs in this state could potentially bite, causing serious harm to others and putting their own life at risk.

Even if your dog is confident with children and people in costume, please remember that other dogs won't necessarily be. Therefore, it's important to avoid pranking your own dog as well as other people's dogs. Please also keep your dog away from people in costume and avoid walking them near Halloween decorations or children they don't know.

If you are taking any children trick or treating, it's imperative to closely supervise them. Make it clear that they should not pet dogs without asking permission, neither should they chase or corner a dog. Being aware of nervous dogs and teaching your children how to behave around them, can prevent bites and save the lives of your children and the dogs involved.

If your dog is anxious, arrange your walks during the day and avoid being outside when it becomes dark. Also try to stay away from parks or outside schools, or anywhere you are likely to see children or people in costume, in order to keep your dog below their coping threshold.

Towards the evening, close your blind's and curtains to prevent your dog from seeing Trick or Treaters, as removing the visual can alleviate their stress. If you have furniture near windows, it is worth temporarily removing them, so your dog can't use them to watch from the window.

Some dogs will find the sound of talking and laughter from children distressing, so leave the radio or TV on, to mask the sound of trick or Treaters in your street. If your dog finds guests or the sound of someone at the door stressful, it's really beneficial to tape a note or poster to the front door, to state you don't want any trick or treaters calling.

Download the picture below and feel free to print it off and tape it to your front door. This poster will politely deter anyone from knocking on your door, which will make Halloween a stress free night for both you and your dog. In the event that someone does come to your door, keep your dog in a separate room, so they cannot access the front door while you are answering it.

Feel free to download and print our poster

If you want to be involved in Halloween but don't want to stress your dog out, it's best to leave your dog in the safety of their home, while you go trick or treating. If you are staying home but want to give out sweets, leave sweets in a designated place on your property where your dog will not be disturbed.

Most people know that chocolate is toxic for dogs because it contains theobromine. However, not many people know that sweets and candy (even sugar free) contains xylitol (also known as Birch sugar), which is also incredibly toxic to dogs. Therefore, keep all chocolate and candy out of your dog's reach and remind your children not to feed any sweets to the dogs.

In the event that your dog ingests chocolate or Halloween candy, please contact the Animal Poison Line. They provide 24 hrs emergency advice in the UK. All details are on this link Also see the advice and care of your local vets.

While it may be considered cute and comical to dress dogs in costumes, very few dogs enjoy the experience. In fact, being forced to wear things can cause fear and even stress. This can be particularly damaging for dogs with past trauma and those that already struggle with anxiety. If you really want to dress your dog up, please reflect on whether your dog will be happy and comfortable. If you are eager to do it, start with something small and desensitise your dog to it over a couple of weeks, prior to Halloween.

It is important to respect your dog's wishes and allow them to move away if they don't want to put the costume on. It would be counterproductive to force your dog into the costume and then give them a load of treats. So go at your dog's pace and let them give consent. If dressing them up causes them any distress, consider if putting their wellbeing at risk is really worth it.

If you have an anxious dog, you will likely already know the benefits of enrichment. I recommend preparing lots of sensory enrichment for your dog during Halloween to keep them calm and engaged. Puzzle feeders, snuffle mats, hide and seek toy's and trick training, can all provide excellent mental stimulation and reduce your dog's heart rate. Why not introduce a brand new puzzle as a treat or create a DIY snuffle box for your dog to destroy. Anything which encourages natural behaviours will help your dog to feel calm and safe.

Although you may want to help your dog overcome their fears, Halloween is definitely not the ideal time to do it, so focus on managing your dog's stressors and keeping them as calm as possible. If you have a confident dog, then that's great but please be kind and considerate to others, and recognise that some dogs may really struggle with Halloween and all it entails.

Although humans may enjoy being scared, I can assure you that dog's definitely do not. When they feel afraid, they can feel that their very survival is at risk. So, please do everything you can to ensure all dogs feel safe and happy this Halloween and save the jump scares for yourselves.

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