Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Having an idea of what Halloween will look like at your house is important to consider when preparing your puppy for his first Halloween night. Will you be at home handing out candy to an endless stream of little door knocking, noisy, spooky monsters? Will there be loud firecrackers? Are you dressing up? Will you be hosting a party of monsters? Don’t assume your puppy won’t be spooked or even traumatized for life by these events.
Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare for that spooky evening:
1. If you are going to wear a mask, put it on in front of your puppy so he can watch your head get swallowed by a monster! Interesting analogy isn't it? Remember, it's not funny to scare a puppy. You run the risk of imprinting fear of masks for the life of your dog.
2. Let your puppy watch you light pumpkin candles at a safe distance and then blow them out. It's a night of odd smells too! Make sure your candles are in a safe place so they are not accidentally knocked over. The distraction of Halloween is not a good night to teach your puppy to stay away from candles.
3. Your puppy should be safely behind a baby gate or in his kennel so he can’t slip out the door while you are dishing out candy. You should provide a safe zone in the house where he is not isolated from you and can feel reassured by your calm presence and observe what’s happening safely. Baby gates can limit access to the candy bowl and candlelight pumpkins. Home alone that night is not a good idea.
4. Give your puppy a bone (that's appropriate for your puppy's age) or kong with peanut butter that will last them for the evening. Lay it out on a towel so that they learn to chew a bone on a towel in the house. They will be classically conditioned to look forward to their prized bone, even if they hate the noise and scary activities! These methods should be incorporated into your routine before Halloween night. Nights that you have company over or when you are at home at certain times such as cooking your meals. It should be a normal routine of teaching your puppy where he should settle and provide an outlet of chewing something appropriate to relieve stress or boredom.
5. Walk your puppy before 3pm when the kids get out of school and start lighting firecrackers. A tired puppy is a relaxed puppy. Please keep your puppy on a leash, just in case they get spooked. You will never catch them if they bolt in panic.
6. If you would like to expose your puppy to the night’s activities then take him, on-leash, to the front of your doorway or yard just before it gets dark and before it becomes too crazy so he can observe the activities at a distance that he has the tolerance for. You can show him how ‘interesting and normal’ everything is with calm verbal praise and liver treats. If they show fear you can retreat back to the house. Curiosity is what you want to encourage but setting yourself up for success is the key thing to consider. Can you retract to the house calmly if my puppy bolts in fear? Will my puppy just sit in the front yard, on leash, and observe? Is he afraid of shadows? Give your puppy positive feedback and wonderful treats before they get spooked and then go back to your house. That’s enough positive exposure for your puppy.
7. Bake liver or peanut butter cookies that night. The house will smell like your puppy’s favourite treat and it will encourage him to lose interest in the door knocking and gain more interest on what's going on in the kitchen. This is not a night to practice your greetings at the door. There is too much excitement and sugar fueled energy. Best they observe at a distance in the most positive way possible.
8. Play music. It can help mute some of the outside noise.
9. Prior to Halloween night, play a uTube sound track of firecrackers on your computer at home. Start it softly and then gradually turn it louder. Calmly sit and watch your puppy’s reaction. If he runs and hides then you know you have a problem and you should seek out professional advice. Some dogs are very sensitive to loud noises and will startle easily. Fear is a terrible thing for dogs to live with so deal with this early.
Do not take your puppy trick or treating with you that evening. It’s too overwhelming and you run the risk of being too far away to return home and he will be over his threshold. When a puppy is fearful he will not respond to training. Especially if he won’t even eat a treat.
If your puppy develops a negative association during Halloween it can show up a year or even two years later. For ex: shadows, children or firecrackers are now a trigger to the scariest night of his life and will be easily stressed and panic from these triggers and not only on Halloween night. Now these recommendations may not work and will require a different approach. If your dog has previously shown signs of extreme fear or stress then consult your veterinarian to discuss the benefits of medication and for recommendations to a Certified Pet Dog Trainer that can work with desensitization. Dogs can hurt themselves or others when they are reacting out of fear.
Have a happy and safe Halloween!
Lynne Optland, CPDT-KA
K9 Connection Pet Dog Training