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Prepare Your Anxious Dog For Halloween

Oct 27 / Sally Smith
Does your dog struggle with strangers? Are they nervous around people in hats and beards? Do they get anxious when someone knocks at the door? If your answer to all 3 of these questions is yes, then Halloween can be just as scary for your dogs as it is supposed to be for us. Unlike Guy Fawkes, Halloween thankfully only lasts 24 hours, at least as far as trick and treating is concerned, however, it can still be a very stressful day for dogs.

While there are lots of ways to train your dog to be more resilient around strangers and people at the door, we have to acknowledge that there will be some dogs that will still always struggle to some degree, due to the severity of their anxiety. Therefore, this blog is written for those dogs; those that will benefit more from management rather than training, in order to keep them as comfortable and as calm as possible during this holiday. So how can you prepare your anxious dog for Halloween?

A Note on the Door

Our fellow dog writer, canine professional and Canine Principles tutor, Jay Gurden made a brilliant suggestion based on her own experiences with her handsome but anxious collie Finn, to create a note to trick or treaters. (She has kindly given permission for you to use the one she has created, seen featured.)

This note can be handwritten or typed and can then be placed on your front door on the day. The note can politely state that you have an anxious dog and that you would appreciate it if trick or treaters don’t call. While this may seem rude to some, its far more important to prevent the stress of your dog than handing out sweets to sugar crazed children. Make sure the note is eye catching to ensure it is not missed and make the writing large and bold so that is clear to read in the dark. Also, try using simple language, so that young children can understand. Most trick or treaters are accompanied by a parent and so this polite note should hopefully stop anyone ringing your doorbell and causing your dog stress.

Secure Your Home

Many dogs simply struggle with people being near the house. Just hearing voices or seeing people pass by on the opposite side of the street can be enough to trigger severe stress. If this is the case for your dog, kind management is needed and sometimes this is the simplest and most effective way to reduce your dog’s stress. So it’s a good idea to shut all your blinds and curtains and prevent your dog being able to observe the front of your home. If you have furniture near windows or doors, that your dog will use to look out of the window, it would also be advisable to temporarily remove these until the next day. When dogs can’t see the things that stress them out, it immediately calms them down. While some will say that their dog loves looking out of the window, other dogs can begin to feel it is a post they have to guard. This can result in severe stress, especially on Halloween when there are lost of strangers wearing scary costumes near the house.

For some dogs, hearing children or/and people talking and laughing may be really stressful. If your dog struggles with this too, playing your television or radio loud can help mask the noise and keep your dog calm. Hopefully, leaving a note on the door will ensure trick or treaters don’t come too close to your house, reducing the potential noise.

Calming Activities

If you have an anxious dog, you are more than likely familiar with the calming effects of enrichment, however, it is always worth having a reminder to plan such activities for stressful holidays, like Halloween. Snuffle mats, puzzle feeders, licky mats and filled Kongs are all great activities to reduce your dog’s heart rate and keep them calm. Why not introduce new training games or activities, such as a treat treasure hunt around your house or creating homemade enrichment toys, using old socks, towels and boxes. A new enrichment activity or game is bound to keep your anxious dog happy and engaged with you, which is ultimately all we want!

If you walk your dog in the evening, it may be wise to schedule your walk in the day to avoid bumping into any scary trick or treaters. If your dog is often anxious and reactive on walks, it may even be more beneficial to have a day off from walking altogether, to prevent trigger stacking. (The accumulation of lots of little stressors, that finally result in a huge stress response when coping threshold is surpassed). There is never any harm in having a day off and it can actually be really beneficial in reducing stress levels. Planning lots of games and activities for your dog to do instead, will keep your dog happily entertained.

Management over Training

While many may stress how important it is to train your dog to confidently greet people at the door, this isn’t always possible for every dog. We have to adjust the goal posts to meet what each individual dog can possibly achieve, otherwise we set them up to fail. To force them to do something that elicits such significant anxiety, wouldn’t be beneficial in any way and Halloween definitely isn’t the occasion to start such training. Therefore, it is a kindness and an act of love on our part to accept what our dog struggles with and do what we can to help them cope.

In all honestly, it can be really difficult living with an anxious dog, but every action that you take to make your dog’s life happier and securer, never goes unrewarded. Remember, your dog absolutely loves you for it and that is reward enough!

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