When the ghosts and ghouls come to play, the dogs go away. While Halloween may seem like a good idea for us, our dogs don’t exactly see it the same way. Children (and many adults too) bubble with excitement at the thought of picking out costumes, dressing up, planning parties and receiving seemingly endless amounts of candy. But for dogs? It doesn’t exactly scream “the best day ever!”
In fact, Halloween could trigger your dog’s anxiety and could potentially kill the festivities. An anxious dog isn’t a happy dog and it can put everyone else at home on edge.
Before we talk about how to reduce your dog’s anxiety, we first need to identify the symptoms. Halloween means that there are people knocking at your door every few minutes and coming in for candy. Watch out for these signs because an influx of people and motion in the house could potentially trigger these behaviors.
1. Bathroom accidents —Turns out, dogs and humans aren’t too far off from each other. They too have social anxiety and develop an upset stomach because of it. The first sign of anxiety that your dog shows is normally a potty accident — especially if they’re a hundred percent house broken. They may start urinating on carpets and furniture, so we suggest that you get ahead of them by putting puppy training pads around the house while there are trick-or-treaters who come in and ask for candies.
2. Loss of appetite — An anxious dog may not finish his or her food or sometimes will forgo their meals altogether. You can even put their favorite treats in front of them, and they wouldn’t even touch them or give them a small sniff.
3. Isolation — Where is the first place a dog runs to when they’re scared? Under the couch and if they don’t fit, they hide under your bed. If you see your dog cowering behind the furniture or escaping to the laundry room to avoid the crowds, then they’re probably nervous.
4. Excessive yawning, licking, or preening — These actions are normally conceived as normal habits for dogs, but when performed excessively, these actions can be symptoms of anxiety in dogs. The same principle applies to when humans bite their nails. An anxious dog will keep him or herself busy to soothe their jumpiness. However, if you notice that they’re developing obsessive behaviors, you need to take them to the vet.
5. Aggressive or destructive behavior — It’s either flight or fight. Some dogs will choose to take off and accept defeat while other dogs will opt to go in the opposite direction. Your dog who is usually gentle and loving may start barking at children and lunging at them — some will even go as far as biting a person if they’re agitated enough. If their energy isn’t redirected into defensive mode, then your dog may become destructive. An otherwise behaved dog may start to fling throw pillows around or chew your favorite shoes to keep them preoccupied.
Please note that dogs need a safe space when they’re put in anxiety-inducing situations. If your dog isn’t particularly sociable then you can save them the trouble and keep them away from the crowds. It’s fun to have your pup greet people at the door, but their social batteries get drained too. Your dog can only handle so much attention — difficult as it may be to believe. Also, keep them away from anything that they could potentially destroy, which is why we’d recommend you keep your dog in a crate for the time being.
Dogs have their own ways of dispelling their anxiety, but it normally includes distracting themselves.
1. Burn off excess energy — Before the festivities even start, burn off any excess energy that your dog has so that by the time you get home they’re one step away from passing out. Smaller dogs can do away with a fifteen to thirty-minute walk, but larger dogs will need at least an hour to rid all the excess energy from their system. The ideal situation would be for your dog to take a nap at the height of the festivities, but if that’s not the case then at least your dog won’t mind the trick-or-treaters too much. If the walk wasn’t enough for your dog, give them a toy to preoccupy themselves with.
2. Avoid scolding your dog — The last thing your dog needs is you punishing or scolding them after they made a mistake. Unlike bad habits that you’re trying to break, anxiety is involuntary and so are more of their actions. Instead, use positive reinforcement to condition your dog when they do something right and they avoid doing what is wrong. When you scold an anxious dog, you will often receive the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. By raising your voice at your dog you’re actually exciting them, and it makes it harder to control your dog. Speak to your dog in a calm and soothing voice if you want them to do what you want.
3. Take your dog out for frequent bathroom breaks — We’ve already talked about how dogs have potty accidents due to anxiety and suggested to put puppy pads around the house for the time being. But if that doesn’t work out for you or your dog, then you’ll have to take them out for frequent bathroom breaks. Every hour or so, lead your dog out through the backdoor to their spot so they can relieve themselves. It’s important that you have an alternate exit for your dog, one that’s away from people that could potentially scare them. Otherwise they’ll resent the front door and urinate on your carpet all over again.
4. Keep your dog away from situations that will put them on the spot — If your dog is the type to develop anxiety when they’re put in unfamiliar situations, then don’t put them in such. These include dressing them up in costumes, keeping them at the front door to greet the trick-or-treaters, or even using them as an accessory for the décor. Naturally, your dog will be curious, and they will give the situation a peek every now and then. So situate them in a place where they’re free to run in and out whenever they please, such as in the living room or near a big window. They’re in on all the action without actually having to partake in it.
5. Allocate a “safe space” for them — This is where the importance of crate training comes to play. Situate your dog’s crate in an area where it’s easily accessible to them and they don’t need the help of anyone to get in or out. Keep the door open or remove it if you have to. Some dogs would prefer to be in a small and enclosed space when they’re anxious. Think of it as getting a hug, except the space is their crate and your arms are the walls of the crate. If your dogs aren’t crate-trained, then open the door to the room that they “retreat” to, whether it be a bedroom, den, or even the kitchen. Make it known to your dog that they have a place to run to when they’re no longer comfortable with the amount of people flooding their house. This way, they won’t get territorial and scare of anyone who encroaches on their personal space.
6. Tell the trick-or-treaters to approach your dog slowly — Once your dog is comfortable enough with the people coming in and out of your house, you can slowly start to expose them to the people on the outside. Children have this tendency to touch and grab whatever piques their interest, your dog included. And if you notice one bubbling with cute aggression, introduce them to your dog. Let them bring a closed fist towards your dog’s snout and then let your dog sniff and lick it before they pick him or her up — baby steps.
7. Acclimatize your dogs to an influx of people — Dogs who are under-socialized tend to clam up and stick to themselves. If you want your dog to join in on the Halloween activities, then you should expose them to more people on their walks. Instead of avoiding crowds, slowly bring your dog closer to them, that way they learn when and how to react to people and situations they’re unfamiliar with. Teach your dog to approach people with caution and not to size them up. It will cause people to panic and it will excite your dog. Not in a good way, might we add.
8. Don’t be pressured to dress your dog up — Halloween costumes made specifically for dogs will flood the market. However cute, it’s not necessary and it could be detrimental to their well-being. Also, people are avid about dressing their dogs up for Halloween. If it’s not your or your dog’s thing, keep them away. There are times when costumes cause tension between dogs because it’s not something that they’re used to, and it limits their communicative ability. Additionally, your dog could get tangled in the other dog’s costume. Not only it is awkward for you and their owner, it will cause unnecessary tension between your dogs.
9. Buy them new toys — Dogs love it when you come home with a new toy to play with. It gives them a sensory overload, but in the best way possible. The best way to combat their anxiety and overcome the boredom of being kept away from the action is by giving them a new set of toys to play with. You’d be surprised at how long a ball can keep them entertained. Buy them toys that pose a challenge, something dynamic that they can tinker with. And extra points if it moves and squeak.
To sum it all up, keep your dog calm by situating them in a place that they feel safe. Your house is their territory and they shouldn’t feel threatened by outsiders. But don’t worry, your dog will come around. Happy Halloween!