Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 28, 2013

Are your dogs prepared for Halloween?

Posted at 11:35AM - Comments: (10)

Every year for the past seven years, I’ve experienced a Halloween preview that used to be more stressful for my pets than Halloween itself. I live across the street from a tiny YMCA; the facility is just one small building with a fenced play yard smaller than my own front yard. But every year on the weekend before Halloween, the YMCA hosts a huge haunted house in its building and yard. The event, a major fundraiser for the organization, draws hundreds and hundreds of adults, teenagers, and children, who will walk, intermittently screaming, through a winding path of scary sights and sounds.

This town is small, and nighttime family entertainment is scarce, and by the end of the weekend, I feel certain that every resident has been through the “spook house” at least once, and maybe twice. Which means they have also circled the block looking for parking – my street is usually deserted at night – and then walked by the front gate, lined up outside the Y, gone through the event (screaming), and then discussed it animatedly for a while outside. Which means every dog for blocks and blocks barks for hours those two nights, and every cat for blocks and blocks goes into hiding.

The preparations have been going on every night for a week already. The volunteers who put the event together first attach plywood and cardboard to all the playground fences, blocking the by passers’ view of the interior of the “set.” Every evening for a week, there are building crews and crews of volunteer actors inside the now-shrouded yard (but still outdoors), rehearsing their zombie walks, startling screams, and – get this – because we live in a rural area, menacing chainsaw action!

This has turned into a terrific annual opportunity for my dogs to practice quietly observing mayhem and odd human behavior, and to come inside and sit with me calmly when they are too overwhelmed to watch the action outdoors. Sitting on my desk, I have a bowl of kibble with some high-value treats (cubes of Natural Balance roll) mixed in; I intermittently reward them with a tossed treat when I hear an especially loud noise outside and see them sitting or lying down on my office floor.

But this year, Otto’s sixth witnessing this event and Tito’s third, I think I’m more agitated about the hubbub than they are! Which I’m going to take to mean that I ‘m a better dog trainer than I am a calm, patient person. The Halloween practice nights this year have me jumping up to close my office door (which goes out to the deck that overlooks the YMCA, and which I usually leave open as late into the evening as the temperature permit) and turning up my Internet radio to block the random screams of excitement and “spook practice.”

Well, all of this is also good practice for the actual Halloween event itself. I think we’ll all be exhausted by the time it gets here. 

Speaking of getting ready for the big night itself: Here are some good ideas about Halloween safety for your pets.

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/halloween-safety-tips

http://www.petmd.com/dog/seasonal/evr_multi_halloween_safety_tips#.UmnTJZTwJc8

Comments (9)

One Halloween, when I was a teenager, two big male adults came to the house after 10pm wearing no costumes. I answered the door holding the collar of my Great Pyrenees, gave the men some candy and said good night. That massive dog gave me the courage to remain calm. And the dog hadn't even bothered to come to the door when the kids came earlier. In Dog We Trust!

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | October 18, 2014 12:24 AM    Report this comment

One Halloween, when I was a teenager, two big male adults came to the house after 10pm wearing no costumes. I answered the door holding the collar of my Great Pyrenees, gave the men some candy and said good night. That massive dog gave me the courage to remain calm. And the dog hadn't even bothered to come to the door when the kids came earlier. In Dog We Trust!

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | October 18, 2014 12:24 AM    Report this comment

What you've described sounds absolutely dreadful. I think my dogs would be able to handle it after a while, but I'm sure I wouldn't. I used to let the dogs come to the door with me but last year one of them did want to join the kids, and my other girl, a big, scary-looking love who just wants to kiss everyone, frightened the parents. I decided not to do that again. Just so many things could go wrong. We're fortunate to have a courtyard in front of our house, and mild weather, so this year I'll sit outside and hand out candy while my husband and dogs are "locked" in the family room with the TV turned up to mask sounds. After 9:30 - which is a reasonable hour for the age trick or treaters should be - or if we run out of candy, we'll turn out the lights, lock the courtyard door and, most importantly, disable the doorbell.

Posted by: MJC | October 14, 2014 3:14 PM    Report this comment

Try a 1/4 of a five mug melatonin pill. Works wonders to calm the dog got noises thunder separation anxiety and nighttime agotation

Posted by: Kloey | October 14, 2014 2:02 PM    Report this comment

Personally, speaking as an Australian, I would like to see "halloween" out altoghether!

It is creeping in here, with the US Chain stores bringing in Halloween stuff.

It seems ridiculous in this day and age for us to be encouraging our children to go out begging treats and playing pranks. And it looks even sillier when they turn up in a car with Mum driving.

Posted by: Jenny H | October 29, 2013 6:57 PM    Report this comment

One thing to keep in mind is that your own irritation over the situation is something your dogs are well aware of and likely translates as your agreeing with them. They can become more agitated and alarmed as a result. I'm with the folks who say its time to get out of the neighborhood for the event. Sasha

Posted by: Sasha F | October 29, 2013 12:09 PM    Report this comment

As long as your dogs AND you, can put up with this, hula-baloo fine. However, to NOT have to deal with the stress & noise - I'd be inclined to pack up the pets & go see a drive-in movie or visit a dog friend for the evening, once the "scare house" opens. A few hours of friendly dog-play in a fenced back yard might be great for all concerned. Heck, I might even park with my crated dogs - in a lighted mall parking deck & read my kindle, view online TV shows/movies, or read a good book. Strategic retreat is okay, too. By 9 PM, when malls close or friends want to pack you off - most Halloween kiddies should be home.

Call me a GRUMP, but when I found huge carloads of kids being dumped out in our neighborhood (suddenly, after years of just a few kids) & we could not keep up w/ the candy demands, I started asking which street they lived on & 95% could not name one street in our subdivision. Hmmm.....

I also became ALARMED when I was opening the door to just HUGE teenagers or possible costumed adults. (That factor scared ME!) Great way to rob somebody! (Almost everyone blithely opens their doors on Halloween) & if bad guys are costumed, they cannot be described. That's when I stopped decorating, or handing out candy. (Huge savings, btw.)

So now, we watch movies in the basement & have no lights on outside (or on other floors of our house) so nobody bothers us & both we (and our dogs) are MUCH happier. No to mention, both we & our dogs are better OFf without (the normally never bought yet tempting) candy, crossing our threshold.

Posted by: Betsy | October 29, 2013 11:55 AM    Report this comment

A suggestion for those who are staying home to pass out treats. Even if your dogs are not disturbed by the Trick or Treaters, put a baby gate across your front door. It keeps kids from interacting with your dogs where you cannot see them. It keeps kid friendly dogs from deciding to join the nice group of kids that came to the door while you are busy. And it keeps dogs who figure out that children drop yummies on your sidewalk from scarfing down things they should not.

On the other side of the gate parents seem to appreciate that their children cannot be lured into the house or touch something they should not.

It has been so successful for us that I use it even when the dogs are locked up in a room where they cannot get to the front door.

Susan

Posted by: Susan T | October 29, 2013 10:40 AM    Report this comment

Sounds like you need to keep a bowl of human kibble with mixed in treats (dry cereal with M&M's?) on your desk to reward yourself every time you hear a loud noise and don't react ;)

Posted by: Elaine K | October 29, 2013 10:23 AM    Report this comment

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