If your dog is only mildly nervous or just exuberant, you can use Halloween and trick-or-treaters to take your dog's training to a whole new level! Get a baby gate or ex-pen, leave your front door open and place the baby gate across your front doorway. Set up a bowl of treats for your dog just outside your door, and get a chair for yourself just inside. Put your dog on leash and wait for trick-or-treaters to start arriving. (Don't feed your dog dinner – make sure he's good and hungry.)
HAVE A HAPPY AND PET-SAFE HALLOWEEN
|Trainer Amanda and her Pup Eliza on Halloween!|
Halloween is probably my favorite holiday, but the things that I love about it – happy kids, costumes and spookiness – are the same things that can make it a very stressful day for your dog. A little planning and set-up can make the night much easier, and even fun, for your best pal.
If your dog has problems with people coming to the door – barking, getting anxious or even just becoming excessively hyper – you may want to take the simplest approach and put your dog in a back room where they can avoid the stress of dealing with people showing up all night long. Make sure you give your dog a bully stick or a peanut butter-stuffed bone or Kong to keep them occupied and happy (and switch it out every so often if they finish it). And in the meantime, keep your front door open and stay by it so that you can greet trick-or-treaters without them having to ring your doorbell, which can be very stressful for many dogs. Tape a piece of cardboard over your doorbell so that if you do walk away from the door, no one rings it accidentally.
(For dogs that are more toy-motivated, you can set up a basket of tennis balls instead of treats outside.)
Whenever a child comes to your door, ask them to pick up a treat (or toy) and hold it up high while asking your dog to Sit. When your dog sits (help your dog out if necessary), they can give or toss the treat to your dog (or throw the ball). If the child is afraid, they can give the treat to you and you can give it to your dog.
Make sure to keep a foot on the leash so that your dog doesn't jump the baby gate – but also be sure to keep the leash slack so that your dog isn't pinned down and has some room to move.
This will do wonders for your dog – it gives dozens or hundreds of opportunities to practice Sit and polite behavior, and to learn that visitors to your door (especially children) are to be welcomed, and that costumes are not scary at all.
(Alternate method: If this sort of direct exposure might be a bit much for your dog, you can use an ex-pen to set him up a bit back away from the door. Then, each time someone comes to the door, you will ask your dog for a Sit and give them a treat or throw a ball. They still get to make the fun connection between trick-or-treaters and a treat, but don't have to get directly face to face with the oddly dressed little people.)
If you cannot be home with your dog on Halloween, place him in a safe area away from any windows where he can't see all the people passing by. Give him a bone or Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter. Turn off all porch lights and place a sign saying not to knock on the door. Clearly cover up your doorbell with cardboard to prevent people ringing it. Don't keep your dog outside – too many chances for pranks from kids that may scare or even injure your dog.
If your dog is well trained and social, you can take your dog with your kids trick-or-treating around the neighborhood! Make sure to bring lots and lots of great treats as well as his favorite toy. Remember to bring poop baggies! I recommend not bringing your dog up to people's doors - even if your dog is great, you don't know how the people inside will react. Some people are very afraid of even the best behaved dogs. Work your Sit-Stays and Down-Stays on the sidewalk or porch while the kids go up to each door.
So, in short:
- Play it safe!
- Use those training opportunities
- As always, have fun!