I really enjoy Halloween. I especially love seeing the little children dressed in costume. There is something so very special about that to me.
But, as much as I look forward to the holiday, there are many dogs who would be more than happy to forego the whole night. I’ve written about Halloween in the past. I thought I’d take a different spin on things this year and seek the perspective of a few four-legged companions.
Ugh, do I really need to wear that thing?
“Seriously, why do I have to wear this big clunky thing on my body? It is strange, uncomfortable and itchy. And it restricts my vision and my ability to move freely. Will you please take it off?,” said one dog.
How did he tell me? His muscles were taught, his mouth was closed and even clenched (except when he yawned), his tail was down, and his ears were back. Some ways other dogs have shared this same sentiment by trying to get their outfit off, scratching themselves, excessive panting, licking their chops, shaking their bodies as if they are wet, moving slowly or running around to let off nervous energy, or showing the whites in their eyes.
I know, it sure can be fun to plan what you are wanting your pet to wear this holiday but please remember, for dogs who do not wear costumes the rest of the year, it can be pretty unnatural and downright irritating to be forced into having things cover their body. Wearing costumes has the potential for causing a lot of stress for dogs that are sensitive. In fact, many dogs are uncomfortable being outfitted in strange things, and, while some may show more visible body language than others, it is important to note that stressed dogs are more likely to react to other unfamiliar stimulus in their environment. (Please read my post on trigger stacking.)
Some signs of a happy dog are: relaxed body muscles; loose lips or even open mouth with loose tongue; rhythmic panting.
If you are wanting to dress your pet up for Halloween, spend time in advance of the holiday, practicing getting your pet acclimated to wearing things in a positive and systematic way, always paying attention to your dog’s body language. And please be willing to accept that your dog may be a whole lot happier wearing a colorful bandana around his neck than a full body costume.
The night hours get really creepy!
“There is no escape for me on Halloween. I think these strange creatures and noises have gone away and then suddenly, there is another one. They are coming onto my property and even reaching over to me. And if I bark or growl or even get excited, my normally happy human scolds me. Make it stop!,” said one dog.
Another dog told me, “This night is just down right exhausting as I have to pull extra duty guarding my house while my people are enjoying themselves. I had to spend nearly two hours straight, barking my head off to try and keep weird creatures away.”
Before they grow up, it is really important to teach young puppies that their world is a good place, that new people, places, noises, and animals are ok. But not often (unless puppyhood occurs around Halloween) are young puppies exposed to the kind of weirdness they are going to see on October 31…in the dark no less, and even coming into their homes! We need to understand there is just a lot about the different stimulus involved with this holiday that can be stressful and frightening for a lot of dogs.
Yes, absolutely, it is great if you can help your pet in advance by teaching him positive associations with all this strangeness. However, if you are not fully confident that this will be a stress-free night for your dog, the best and safest place for your dog is a separate, quiet room away from the door (with closed drapes and no access to outside stimulus) and with white noise. You can even give your dog a stuffed Kong to stay busy. if your dog has an established fear response, you could actually be increasing your pet’s emotional response by exposing him to Halloween night. The time for successful counter conditioning is not in the height of an environment where the dog is overwhelmed with stimulus.
Additionally, you can exercise your dog before trick-or-treating time (with enough time in between for his adrenal to come back down) so that he will value resting more; and you can make life easier for your dog by staying outdoors to hand out candy so that trick-or-treaters can stay away from your door and doorbell.
How come I don’t get treats?
“It is just unfair. All these kids and adults are being given yummy treats and I get nothing. Even if I look at my people with loving eyes, they won’t give me what they are having,” said one dog.
“For me, Halloween gives me the willies because I remember how horrible I felt vomiting and spending the day in a crate at the vet because I got into some candy,” said another dog.
A big issue for this particular holiday is the dangers for dogs with the types of food they can ingest. Chocolate has theobromine and caffeine, both of which are toxic to dogs. Sugar-free candies are also problematic as they can contain artificial sweeteners such as xylitol that is extremely toxic to dogs. And other treats have the potential to cause upset stomachs too.
What can you do? Make your own dog-safe treats that are yummy – from a dog’s perspective!