Trick-or-Treat J9’s K9s Style!

It’s that time of year again… Soon those costume clad trick-or-treaters may be knocking on your door hoping to collect a sugary stash. Here are some strategies to help make this the best Halloween ever for your dog:

Plan A:

If your dog is fearful or struggles with reactivity and you’ll be staying home to pass out candy, it’s best to keep him confined in a quiet area of your home where he’ll be comfortable. (If your pooch isn’t used to this, practice often for short periods beforehand so it will be a familiar experience for him when the big night comes.) Consider putting up a sign asking people not to ring or knock and planting yourself by your door to intercept the monsters so your pup will be less apt to become stressed. Crank up a television, play some music or white noise to drown out the sounds of giggling ghouls, and let him enjoy a long-lasting, high-value chew or extract his dinner out of a food toy. Click here for some suggestions.

Plan B:

If you have a more easy-going, friendly dog, Halloween presents some wonderful training opportunities. Below is a fun J9’s K9s game you can play if you’ll be delivering the goodies to your spooky visitors. Keep in mind that not every dog makes an appropriate candidate for this training exercise. If you don’t think your dog will enjoy it, it’s best to let him opt out of the party.

“Treats for Treats” Game:

As darkness falls, set up a pressure mounted baby gate in your front doorway. (If you have a screen door you’ll need to prop it all the way open.) A gate that is at least 32” tall is recommended, even for small dogs – click here and scroll down to see examples. You’ll be leaving your front door open with the gate in place throughout the evening. Grab a chair for yourself and a comfortable blanket or bed for the dog. This will be your “post” for the night. If you’re concerned that your dog might try to jump over or plow through the baby gate, attach him to his leash to use as an emergency handle. Do not leave your dog unattended while your front door is open.

Place a bowl of super-tasty dog treats on your porch on the opposite side of the gate from you and your dog. If you’ll have a lot of trick-or-treaters, your dog will be eating a lot of treats so it’s best to use something relatively nutritious that you can cut into small pieces. Don’t feed your dog dinner on Halloween – he’ll be working for his meal and you won’t want to overfeed him. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or can’t tolerate tons of treats, consider using his regular food. If he isn’t motivated by food but really likes to play with toys, keep a basket of his toys on your porch to use instead. Keep your Halloween candy inside with you, and make sure it’s out of your dog’s reach.

As the trick-or-treaters approach and ask for candy, ask each child to first pick up a dog treat or toy. Instruct them to hold it high above your dog’s head and ask him to “sit”. Be prepared to help out as needed – this will be exciting for everyone! Once your dog sits, ask the child to toss the goodie to your dog. If the child is very young or if any of the humans seem nervous, the children can hand you the treat or toy and you can deliver it to your dog when he sits. Dole out a piece of candy and repeat with the next visiting ghost or goblin. This program has multiple benefits. It’s good socialization for your dog to interact with devils and superheroes in a positive manner, and the little creatures aren’t so scary when they’re bringing him his dinner! Your dog is also getting a LOT of practice with “sit” around exciting distractions. Additionally, by keeping the front door open and watching for trick-or-treaters, you’re preventing the seemingly endless ringing of your doorbell and the associated stress this may cause your dog.

Plan C:

If your plans include escorting a group of trick-or-treaters on their candy collecting journey and your dog doesn’t usually become reactive or fearful on walks, you can take your dog with you! Work on your loose leash walking skills as you traverse the neighborhood and ask for short sit or down stays while you wait with your dog as the kids go to each door. Be sure to bring along LOTS of treats and a favorite dog toy for rewarding those great behaviors!

Plan D:

If your Halloween plans don’t include your dog, leave him indoors rather than outside in your yard. You don’t want your beloved canine companion to become frightened by all the unusual activity or fall victim to a Halloween prank. Leave him in a familiar place inside your home, away from front-facing windows to prevent him from watching groups of people passing by your house. Check to make sure Halloween decorations are completely out of reach, along with the candy. Turn off your porch light if nobody will be home and put a heavy-duty piece of tape over your doorbell to prevent children from ringing it all night, which can be very nerve wracking for your dog. Consider leaving a bowl of candy outside on your porch with a note inviting children to take a piece to further prevent unnecessary knocking or doorbell ringing.

Proactive dog owners think ahead and incorporate training exercises into their everyday activities whenever possible. With a little planning, this spooktacular holiday is no exception and a howling good time can be had by all!