Halloween -- tips from Agria's behaviourist and trainer

Things are about to get scary!

Celebrating Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve is a highlight of the year for many, and the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of winter and the start of the ‘darker half’ of the year.

Dressing up in fabulously scary costumes, carving pumpkins and trick or treating around the neighbourhood is great fun for the whole family – but how can you make sure it is as much fun for your dog?

As always, it is about stopping to think about things from your dog’s point of view – and realising just how scary Halloween can be!

First of all there are the costumes. All the people the dog knows and trusts suddenly turn into ghosts, and witches and zombies! They look strange, they behave oddly and for a dog who looks at outlines and not details, they can be truly frightening.

And though they may recognise their family – no matter what they are wearing – they may not recognise the endless stream of bizarre people who knock at the door.

Some dogs can take this in their stride, get into the spirit of the celebrations, and enjoy the apparent madness of it all but for many, it is a confusing and worrying time.

  1.       Make sure if you are going to dress up, you let your dog see you do it – and give them a chance to investigate and smell you so they know it is really you! The same goes for all the rest of the family.
  1.       If you are having a party - or having children in crazy costumes visiting the house – consider whether your dog might be better off behind a baby gate or in another part of the house. Even if he is usually good with visitors, visitors dressed up in unusual costumes can be too much for many dogs and you don’t want him feeling he has to take defensive action or fend off a perceived zombie apocalypse!
  1.       Have a baby gate – or just use internal doors – to prevent access to the front door and to trick-or-treaters. Your dog may well find the endless procession of people knocking the door or ringing the bell stressful – and not all children are happy to be greeted at the door by a dog either. The law says that anybody has to have safe access to your front door without fear of harm from your dog – and that includes witches, elves and the undead!

Then there is the temptation to dress up your dog and make them part of your Halloween fun. Most dogs will happily wear a Halloween bandana and enjoy showing that off – but every year social media is full of photos of dressed up dogs looking stressed, worried or just really fed up while their owners post about how much fun they had. Don’t let this be you. As well as not being enjoyable for most dogs, costumes can block sight, sound or movement, or even cause them to overheat or itch – all of which can result in dogs acting unpredictably or even aggressively.

And of course lastly, with trick and treating comes lots of sweets and chocolate.

Remember that chocolate is toxic for dogs, and keep human treats out of reach of doggie noses! If you really want to involve your dog in Halloween, some special dog treats can make their Halloween as much fun as yours.

So enjoy Halloween, have a fabulous time but make sure that your dog enjoys it just as much.

Note: If you have any concerns that your dog may behave aggressively to family members or visitors, consult a qualified and experienced behaviourist for help.

Article written by Agria's behaviourist and trainer, Carolyn Menteith. Carolyn has over 20 years experience working with dogs and other companion animals. Her passion is for helping owners build a strong and positive relationship with their dogs and fully develop the potential of the bond between them.