Some dogs are comfortable with all sorts of people and are not put out by people in weird getups or strange makeup. But those dogs are the exception. Most dogs, even very people-sociable dogs, can become worried about seeing people in costumes. From strange makeup to full-face masks, and costumes that change our shape from human to some sort of alien, it can be downright scary for many dogs.
Further, most dogs are used to having the occasional visitor come to their door. But many dogs may become overwhelmed by a steady stream of knocks or doorbell rings over the course of a whole evening. So, what can we do to help our furry family feel safe on this most favorite of fall festivities?
How You Can Help
I’ve done a few different things, depending on the dog that was with me. One year, my husband and I brought chairs outside and sat on the driveway right near the sidewalk. It turned out the whole neighborhood did pretty much the same thing. This meant that the dogs could relax inside while we got to see all the kids (both little and full-grown) in all their costume glory. We could chat with everyone, give out candy and thoroughly enjoy the evening without having a single person ring our bell or knock on our door. It was awesome!
If sitting outside isn’t a viable option, you can set your dog up in a back room with a long-lasting food dispensing toy such as a Kong that is stuffed and frozen. Make sure your dog has prior practice with such toys to ensure they’re up to the challenge and won’t become frustrated while you’re busy handing out treats. Turn on some soft classical music or white noise to help drown out the noise of the neighborhood. If necessary, you can put up a sign asking people to please knock. And if you think that won’t be enough, you can disconnect or physically cover your doorbell to avoid the house-wide noise that might set your dog to barking.
If your dog likes to see the visitors, but you want to ensure she doesn’t get overly excited, setting up a baby gate or x-pen to keep your dog a safe distance from the door is an excellent option. This allows your dog to see all the costumes and visitors but prevents them trying to join in the fun and head out for their own trick-or-treat adventures.
If you’re feeling less sociable, you could turn off your porch light, which is the unspoken signal that you are not participating in the candy-dispensing evening.
My preferred option the past couple years is a compromise. I don’t want my neighbors to think I’m not interested in participating. But I do need to help my boys stay calm. So, I put out a big bowl of candy and leave my porch light on. And I hang the following sign on my door.
However, you decide to manage your pup’s Halloween evening, just ensure that they’re enjoying themselves and not showing signs of fear such as hiding, trying to escape, panting, pacing, barking excessively, or trying to snap at visitors.
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.