Halloween is the scariest day of the year—especially for pets that can’t make sense of the sound effects, creepy Halloween dog costumes and crowds of strangers.
Long before you start putting up fake spider webs, you should be aware of basic Halloween safety tips and have a pet training plan. How your pets should spend Halloween, and how much time you should put into preparing them for that night depends on the individual animal.
If you live in a neighborhood with a ton of kids, your doorbell will be going off from the time the little ghouls and goblins start getting out of school, all the way until dusk. That means your pets will be on alert for hours as masked intruders scamper up and down your driveway.
Even if trick-or-treating isn’t popular in your area, there may be other Halloween-related activities that your pets will find stressful. Parades and parties bring crowds of strangers that can make your pet anxious enough to bark, cower or even bite.
It is possible teach your pup to enjoy being around strangers and hearing the doorbell ring, especially if you start dog training early. “Dogs have a critical imprint stage from 4-16 weeks old,” says Vinny Olito, CPDT-Ka, CCDT and founder of Camp Ruff Ruff. “If you wait too long to begin socialization, it’ll be more difficult to teach them to feel safe around many different kinds of people. Each day, aim to introduce them to at least 20 people—children, people with hats, people with umbrellas, on trains, on buses, and so on.”
If you don’t know how your dog will react to crowds of costumed people, don’t take them to a Halloween parade, and keep them in a separate room during your annual Halloween shindig. “Dogs cannot learn while they’re overwhelmed, so you can’t choose Halloween night to start training them,” advises Olito.
Teaching your dog to stay calm when the doorbell rings is an important Halloween safety tip that requires a two-step dog training process.
The first step is classical conditioning—using food rewards like Wellness WellBites Grain-Free Beef & Turkey Recipe Soft & Chewy Dog Treats or Cloud Star Wag More Bark Less Soft & Chewy with Beef & Spinach Dog Treats to create a positive emotional response to the doorbell. Have a friend ring the doorbell, and immediately click your clicker—or use a marker word like Yes!—and give your dog a treat.
The next step is operant conditioning—training your dog to perform a specific behavior when the doorbell rings to earn a treat. With successful classical conditioning, your dog will have learned to feel happy, not anxious, when the doorbell rings, so they’ll be in a good emotional state to learn.
Now, when your friend rings the doorbell, direct your dog to settle down on their bed, and give them a treat as soon as they do. Keep practicing, giving your dog less and less direction until they automatically go to their bed when the doorbell rings.
It’s easier to just keep your dog in a safe room or a pet pen like the Frisco Dog Exercise Pen with Step-Through Door on Halloween night. However, being left alone with no prior dog training can also stress out your pet.
Prepare for Halloween through dog training that teaches your pup to see the safe room as a fun, happy place—not solitary confinement. Leave them alone for just 5 minutes with a food puzzle, or hide treats like Blue Buffalo Blue Bits Tasty Chicken Recipe Soft-Moist Training Dog Treats around the room. Gradually increase the amount of time they’re left alone, but don’t force them to stay in the room if they get scared. If the dog feels confined, it defeats the purpose of a “safe room.”
“The key to getting through Halloween is management,” says Olito. “If your dog can’t handle it, you don’t have to open the door to trick-or-treaters. Disable the doorbell, close the shades, and leave a bowl of candy outside.”
Though it’s not abnormal for dogs to feel anxious around strangers, working with a professional dog training expert or behaviorist on Halloween safety tips for pets is a great way to prepare.
“Don’t wait until you see undesired behavior—air snaps, growling or even just body language that shows fear of unfamiliar people,” says Olito. “Even just an hour of running through the basics with a professional can be a huge help.”