Halloween Tips for Pets and Their People
By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP
< A version of this article was published in the OCT2023 issue of Downeast Dog News>
< Updated 2023-09-27 >
Halloween can be very scary for our pets and very dangerous. It is that time of year when many children and even some adults like to dress up in costumes that make them look different and often scary. They may also take on the stilted walk or the pseudo-terrifying vocalizations of the character they portray.
Think about Halloween and all the shenanigans it entails from your pet’s perspective. Was your dog ever socialized/habituated to anything remotely like Halloween? Is it likely that they will find groups of people behaving weirdly and trying to scare one another a pleasant experience? You already know that the answer to both questions, for most pets, is a resounding “No!” Do your pets a favor this Halloween, and keep them inside and safe.
You and your children also need to be cautious when out trick-or-treating as you may encounter dogs that will find you frightening, which may cause them to bark and growl at you.
Tips for You and Your Pets
· Sadly, black cats can become victims of violence and can be abducted to be someone’s costume accessory this time of year. If you have a black cat, please keep them inside and safe before and after the Halloween holiday.
· Dressing your pet in a costume may be fun for you, but it is typically a very stressful experience for your pet. If your pet freezes in place or frantically tries to get out of the costume, they are trying to tell you to STOP! Other signs of distress include calming signals such as tongue flicks/nose licks, yawning, and averting eye contact. More intense signals might be barking, nipping, growling, and biting. Most pets prefer to remain “au naturel” (without costume).
· Either due to guests coming and going or trick-or-treaters seeking candy, you will likely be opening and closing your door more frequently on Halloween. Pets are likely to be frightened or very excited, which increases the possibility of your pet bolting through the door to escape. Secure your pet in a part of your home where they will be behind a closed door and away from the commotion of a party or the trick-or-treaters coming to your door. Please don’t worry about your pet missing the party. A party’s frenetic activity, especially when people dress oddly and act unusually, is often frightening to our pets. A pet that bolts outdoors on Halloween may be injured or become lost.
· If you are having people over for Halloween, ensure everyone at the party knows they must respect your pets and just “let them be.” If your dog enjoys their crate, you may even want to place them in the crate with a stuffed Kong or another favorite chew toy, far from the maddening crowd. It may also be helpful to play soothing music or leave the radio on in the room with your pets to help mask the sounds of your party and the activity at the front door.
· There is a high probability of your doorbell ringing more times on Halloween than during the typical day. If your dog reacts every time someone rings the doorbell, please do not get upset with your dog. It is not their fault. Many people disconnect their doorbells on Halloween for this very reason. Alternatively, you can wait at the door, so the trick-or-treaters do not need to ring the bell or knock on your door.
· Candy is prevalent at Halloween. Anything containing chocolate or the artificial sweeter Xylitol (Birch Sugar) can be deadly to your pets. Make sure to keep all candy out of reach of your pets.
· If you take your children trick-or-treating, I’d strongly encourage you to leave your dog at home, as they will be far happier.
Tips for Parents and Kids
· When trick-or-treating, avoid houses if you hear a dog barking behind the door, see a dog at the door or windows, or see a dog tied in the yard or barking from behind a fence.
· Never approach any dog, even if you know him. He may not recognize you in your costume.
· If a homeowner opens their door and a dog is present, stay still and wait for them to put their dog away. You can tell them you do not want to interact with their dog. Do not move towards the person or the dog; wait for them to come to you and give you their treat, and then wait for them to close the door before you turn away and leave.
· If a dog runs at you while out trick-or-treating, stand still and “Be A Tree” (hold your hands folded in front of you with your eyes looking at your feet). The dog will probably sniff you and move on. Wait for the dog’s owner or another adult to come and get the dog before you turn away. If no adult is around, wait for the dog to go away.
· Ignoring other people’s dogs on Halloween is best if you encounter them while trick-or-treating. The dog may be anxious about all the people and their costumes. Even if you know the dog, he may not recognize you in your costume.
Posters to Help Educate Family, Friends & Neighbors
Our friends at Mighty Dog Graphics have created this fantastic series of posters to help you teach family members, friends, and neighbors how to make Halloween safer and more fun for you and your pets. Click on the link below to take you to the Mighty Dog Facebook page, where you can print a copy.