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Pets at Halloween

pets at halloween

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Here are some tips to help your dog deal with this stressful time from our resident Dog Trainer & Behaviour Consultant Ali Ramsey

Tips for other Pets are further down the page.

For lots of dogs & other Pets, Halloween is literally the stuff of nightmares. The sky lights up with strange colours accompanied by loud fireworks, the smell of burning sulphur, people in scary outfits with their faces obscured and the doorbell ringing repeatedly. It is not surprising really that Halloween is such a difficult time for some dogs and as a result their owners who struggle to see their animals so distressed.

So what can we do to make Halloween as easy as possible for our dogs?

Create a safe den for your dog

  • Position your dog bed in the quietest place in the house. If possible, make it into a little den by using a crate if they have one or equally popping their bed under a table or even under your bed if they are small enough.  
  • Give them something nice to snuggle into – ideally something that has an existing good association – like your dressing gown or blanket off an armchair etc. If I have been away from home for a little longer than planned, I will occasionally come in to find my dog curled up on a pile of laundry he pulled out of the linen basket. He does this as he wants to be surrounded by that comforting smell of his family, so don’t underestimate the power of scent! 
  • On top of the nice familiar smell of their family it may be worth considering scenting their den area with essential oils or specific dog anti-anxiety calming sprays or herbal tablets.
  • Give your dog access to their favourite things e.g. if they like to carry a soft toy or ball around, make sure this is available for them. 
  • Play some relaxing music or even better if possible record yourself talking or maybe reading a book (if you struggle to think of something to say) and play the recording on loop.
  • If you can encourage your dog to chew on a stuffed Kong, Stag Bar, rawhide chew or knuckle bone that would be great. This will help by giving them something else to think about and will also allow their body to get a nice 'feel good hormone' hit that comes from chewing on something.
  • If your dog seeks reassurance give it to them. Traditionally it was advised that you don’t reassure your dog as you could be “reinforcing the fear”. However, we now see that this is not the case and if we avoid reassuring them when they look for it we are in effect compounding their anxiety and potentially undermining our relationship, as they cannot count on us for support.
  • If your dog chooses to be with you when they are feeling worried use this as an opportunity to do their favourite thing – playing, easy training or having a cuddle. Maybe introduce a simple puzzle brain game in the lead up to Halloween and bring it out on the evening and help them find the treats. 
  • If your dog is happy to wear a coat perhaps consider a Anxiety Wrap. These are fitted t-shirts which have been specially designed to apply a swaddling type of body pressure that has been proven to help some dogs feel calmer and settled in situations that have previously found stressful. 

Trick-or-Treaters

  • If your dog is really struggling, perhaps consider popping a note on your door asking people not to knock or ring the bell. You could equally place a piece of tape over the doorbell or temporarily disconnect it if you feel that your note may be missed. I know it is not very festive but if your dog becomes very distressed you may need to sit out Halloween by turning off the lights and pretending nobody is home.
  • However, if you love to see the children all dressed up in their ghoul attire and don’t wish to miss out consider maybe doing a trick and treat table at the end of your driveway. This way you are still able to enjoy what you like about Halloween while keeping your dog away from something they find distressing – win win! 
  • If it is too cold outside and you can’t face braving the elements try to set yourself up with a clear view of your driveway or front door. This way you can help your dog by teaming the children knocking on the door with you scattering a handful of chicken, ham, cheese etc. on the ground. Remember it is important that your dog is safe and secure in another room when you are opening the front door. Out and about

Scared dog at Halloween

Out and About

If your neighbourhood usually has a lot of bangers and fireworks in the lead up to Halloween, you may need to adapt your daily walks to deal with this. 

- Consider changing the time of day – e.g. when all the children are in school is probably the time where bangers are least likely to be going off, equally night time walks are the time you are most likely to see fireworks.
- Carefully choose your route – if your dog enjoys the car perhaps you could bring them to the beach, park, mountains etc that is away from the housing estates where there are more likely to be bangers and fireworks going off.
- It is important that when you are out on your walk that your dog has an up-to-date ID tag on their collar and equally if they are microchipped that they are registered on the database.
- I would also suggest that if your dog is at all worried, even if they come back all the time when off lead, for the time around Halloween keep them on lead or on a long line on their walks. Every year dogs are reported missing having bolted after getting a fright while out on their walk. 
- Make sure that you have a bag of tasty treats or a yummy tube of pâté when you are on your walk so you can help capture and reward calm behaviour when the unexpected happens e.g. banger goes off near-by.

Trick and treating and the local community bonfires are wonderful activities for the family to be involved in. However, your dog may be the one family member who would rather be at home, tucked up in their bed, perhaps with a tasty chew. Outside of their walks if your dog is primarily outside it may be an idea to bring them in with the family where they are likely to feel much safer.

Note: Halloween, Christmas and Easter are equal to large volume of chocolate in everyone’s house. As we know chocolate is toxic and can have fatal consequences so make sure to keep the treat or treat chocolate under wraps.

Decorations and costumes

Have you ever come home wearing something different or met your dog out with a member of your family on a dark evening and they take a couple of seconds to register who you are? Now imagine how hard it must be for your dog when suddenly everyone around them looks different – sure you still sound the same and smell the same but something is not right. 

pets on halloween

 So how do we help your dog out 

So how do we help our dog out? Practice putting on elements of your costume while doing something fun with your dog so they learn that although you look different you still behave the same. Gradually build up to all elements of your costume making sure your dog is relaxed throughout. The same applies to ghostly decorations. Introduce them to the house over a couple of days in the lead up to Halloween and make sure you avoid things that jump out or make loud noises in the presence of your dog.  So you have done all the preparation and your dog coped better than previous year but they were still terrified – they have likely become phobic of Halloween… so you have 12 months to help work with them before next year.

Preparing for next year

If your dog is phobic I would suggest contacting a positive, force free, trainer as soon as possible to work with you to help address this anxiety. Some ways your dog can be helped are through;

Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning (creating a positive emotion response) to: 
  • Noises
  • Movement
  • Unfamiliar visitors
  • Developing coping strategies for dealing with new, potentially scary, experiences
  • General confidence building – practicing fun training.

Note: As each dog is an individual any behaviour and training plan will need to be tailored to suit them and their own unique environment, history and personality. Equally if you get a new puppy at any point throughout the year you can set them (and yourself) up for Halloween by habituating them to various noises, sounds and sights associated with this spooky time of year.

Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats should be kept in where at all possible. Halloween can be an extremely dangerous time for cats due to illegal and immoral activity. If you have feral cats in your area, try to leave food in a shed or lockable garage and if they wander inside, keep them in for the night for their own safety.

pets at halloween

Small Animals & Birds

Most people forget about small pets when it comes to Halloween. Animals out in the garden are most likely to suffer. Rabbits, Guinea pigs, ferrets and birds outside can be terrified by the sound of fireworks. If possible bring them indoors, the kitchen or even a shed will do. Anywhere where the noise is dulled and they cannot see any displays in the sky, even turning their habitat to face a wall. Again putting a TV or radio on to mask the noise also helps. Extra bedding should be provided to allow your pet to burrow into so it feels safe. Pets may require more water when stressed so ensure your bottles/bowls are full.

If you have outdoor aviaries or hutches with thick blankets to block out the flashes of fireworks and lessen the bangs. Remember to make sure there is enough ventilation. There are some herbal remedies such as “Serene-um” available for rabbits and small pets. Again you should start using these a few days before the fireworks for best results.

Points to Remember

1. No tricks, no treats: That bowl of sweets is for trick-or-treaters, not for Scruffy and Fluffy. Chocolate in all forms — especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Sweets containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems. If you do suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your vet.

2. Popular Halloween plants such as pumpkins and decorative corn are considered to be relatively nontoxic, but they can produce stomach upset in pets who nibble on them.

3. A carved pumpkin certainly is festive, but do exercise caution if you choose to add a candle. Pets can easily knock a lit pumpkin over and cause a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames.

4. Dress-up can be a big mess-up for some pets. Please don't put your dog or cat in a costume UNLESS you know he or she loves it. For pets that prefer their “birthday suits” however, wearing a costume may cause undue stress.

5. If you do dress up your pet, make sure the costume isn't annoying or unsafe. It should not constrict the animal's movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow. Also, be sure to try on costumes before the big night. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows abnormal behaviour, consider letting him go au naturale or donning a festive bandana.

6. Take a closer look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that he could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.

7. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours. Too many strangers can be scary and stressful for pets.

8. When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your cat or dog doesn't run outside.

9. IDs, please! Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned quickly to their home.

 

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