Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Fall is in the air! The leaves are starting to change all sorts of glorious colors, the weather is becoming colder, and pumpkin treats for both owner and dog alike have hit the shelves. However, there is something else lurking around the corner! While out on your neighborhood strolls you and your dog may have noticed the tall tell signs of Halloween quickly approaching. Goblins, ghosts, ghouls, and creepies of all sorts are starting to pop up in the yards of houses.
Just the other night Chowder and I were out on a walk, later than normal, and as we rounded the corner, in the pitch dark, a tall human like figure stood lurking in the shadows with a mask on. It caught both of us by surprise! Turned out to be a Halloween decoration, but it really got me thinking. We as humans have the ability to rationalize that the figure was just a display. Or that there is a kid or person in that costume. However, our dogs lack that fundamental human skill. Imagine with me for a moment that you are a dog and lack the ability to understand or grasp the idea of a costume. Your sitting at home when suddenly there is a nock at the door. Upon opening it your met by a terrifyingly unidentifiable being that yells at you in another language. Pretty scary right! Now, imagine that you re-live that same event 20+ times as one trick or treater arrives after the other. By the time you reach kid 5 your nerves would be shot, and you might be wondering why no one else seems to be as concerned about this sudden invasion as you are!
Now, dogs are always communicating to us, but you may not always receive the message. Why? Well, it is a result of a language barrier. Yep, you read that right! We speak totally different languages. Dogs communicate primarily through body language, while we like to use our words a lot. This breakdown in communication often times leaves our dogs desperate for help, but unable to receive it. For example, the door bell rings, and maybe your dog follows you to the door. They don't rush the door barking like a crazed person, but after a few more rings of the bell they all of a sudden are no longer following you all the way to the door. Instead they stop several feet behind you with their eyes dilated, ears back, and tail tucked. The majority of people would not even notice the sudden change in behavior, because they are so focused on handing out candy to those adorable trick or treaters. Then the door shuts, and your dog takes a breath before you turn around, thus you miss a large portion of the communication. You walk right past your dog without another thought as you go await the arrival of the next set of little monsters. This scenario continues throughout the night until the last little Iron Man has gotten a few pieces of candy. The following year the same dog perhaps decides they are not going to stand for another invasion, and takes to rushing the door. Or maybe they decide to hide from the whole thing hoping to see the sun rise another day. Both scenarios tell a sad story of a dog destined to re-live the same terror year, after year, after year.
So, how do we show leadership and help our dogs make it through to the other side minus the terror? By taking into account that dogs are dogs, and not people. Therefore; their idea of a good time is not necessarily the same as ours. Don't get me wrong. There are some dogs out there that will take Halloween in stride; however, that is not the standard. With that in mind here is how we set them up for success!
Before it gets dark, and trick or treaters head out take your dog for a long walk to tire them out.
If you will be handing out Candy, prepare a safe space for your dog where the door is out of sight. Using baby gates, stand alone pet gates, or ex-pens are all good options for helping keep your dog away from the door. You may also consider sitting on the porch and handing out candy to avoid having the doorbell rang or door knocked on repeatedly.
Get some of your dogs favorite chews to keep them occupied while your handing out candy.
Play the T.V. or Music in the background within their safe space to draw attention away from the door.
Don't be overly sensitive to them. Dogs trust calm confident leadership. If you are constantly checking on them, and are overly concerned about how they are doing they will read that as instability and it will make them question your ability to lead and keep them safe; thus making them more nervous.
Remember our dogs depend on us for everything! They need us to be the best leader we can be, and good leaders are always looking out for the best interest of the pack not the individual.
Stay Calm, Stay Confident, and Lead with Purpose.