Keeping Dogs Safe, Sane, and Scare-Free
Halloween presents challenges for our canine companions. Strange sounds, sights, and smells all contribute to a confusing and potentially dangerous time. That said, there are ways to make sure that your dog is secure, in both body and mind, during the festivities.
Celebrating at Home
While lots of people love all the Halloween hoopla, it is terrifying to most canines. Fireworks popping, doorbells ringing, costumed invaders at the threshold, the loud shrieking of delighted children – all are unnerving disruptions to even the most secure dog.
For best results, secure your pet in an out-of-the-way place where he won’t pose a danger to visitors and cannot escape in a moment of fright. Remember, dogs in back yards may scale a fence, or dig under it, when terrified. The best place for your furry friend is in a remote part of the house or in the garage, but make it cozy and comfy for him. Leaving a radio on, playing calm music or people talking, can help mask odd sounds going on elsewhere and may help your dog feel more relaxed.
Dogs often identify their people by scent and sight. Don’t be surprised if your dogs don’t recognize you when you change your appearance by donning a wig or a hat. It is best if they can see you make the transformation in the first place. If not, and they bark at you or seem skittish, reassure them calmly and allow them to sniff you at their level.
If they are unsettled by the sight of you in costume, imagine how they will react to strangers in huge capes, princess hats, boxy costumes, bells, flashing lights, oversized shoes, and all sorts of extra appendages! The best course is to avoid the experience entirely.
If you are considering taking your dog out on Halloween evening, keep him on leash. You don’t want to experience the “trick” of losing your dog to the mean streets.
No matter what costume your dog may be wearing, never remove his/her tags during any outing! Fourth of July, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve all bring about a significant increase in stray pets being turned into animal shelters. Your dog’s ID tag is his best bet for being re-united with the family if he runs away.
To take safety one step further, consider micro-chipping your pet. It can be your dog’s golden ticket home if he is ever lost. Check with your local animal shelter for more information.
If your dog becomes frightened, reassure him calmly and stay relaxed. If someone is approaching you, allow the dog to investigate from afar by circling around, so long as the person is okay with it and there is no aggressive behavior. Keep the leash loose and your dog is more likely to feel at ease.
Make sure your friends understand that it is not funny to frighten or confuse dogs, and that even “nice¨ dogs may bite when scared. Displayed signs of aggression are never to be taken lightly. If your dog is obviously upset, have a quiet time-out with him, or take it as a sign that you should go home.
Dog costumes are available at many pet stores, large and small. Many of these businesses host special events for this fun and festive holiday. You can even enter a costume contest and show off your creativity! For safety’s sake, though, follow these precautions:
- If you will be leaving the house, use reflective tape on dark-colored costumes;
- Make sure no part of the costume will choke your pet if he decides to chew on it; and
- Don’t leave your dog dressed up for too long or he will try to get out of it at any cost.
Some dogs do just fine with costuming, while some hate it intensely, so be compassionate. Show patience, use treats and praise as rewards for positive behavior, and don’t expect your dog to wear your idea of “cuteness¨ for hours on end.
Well in advance of party day, dress your dog up for just a few minutes at a time to familiarize him with his gargoyle wings, Under-Dog cape, or suit and tie. Act cheerful and make it a fun time. When you are relaxed and happy, your dog will react in kind.
If your dog shows serious signs of distress in the costume, however, it’s time to consider an alternative, such as a colorful bandana that can simply go around his neck over the collar.
Whether at home or out on the town, parties pose poisoning threats to pets. Do not leave Halloween candy or alcoholic beverages unattended or within reach of dogs. Sugary substances can wreak havoc on an animal’s digestion, and tragedy can occur if they ingest a sufficient quantity of toxins like chocolate (see page 10 for more on this potential poison). If your dog does get its paws on chocolate or other problem foods, immediately call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control hotline at 1-900-680-0000 for information that could save his life.
There’s no reason why having a dog should spell the end of your Halloween fun. Plan, practice, and supervise at all times to keep things safe for you and your canine pal on this most ghoulish of holidays.