Have a Safe and Dog-Friendly Howl-oween!

Training Time

By Sandy Modell

ALEXANDRIA,VA- The holiday season can be tons of fun and good times for adults and children alike, but these holidays aren’t as much fun for our family pets. Halloween is the scariest of all for most of our canine companions.

Weird, often loud noises come from neighbors’ front lawns, ghouls and goblins at every turn, pumpkins with strange faces peer out from porches, and all this before Halloween even arrives. As these decorations start to appear, bring treats along on your dog’s walk so that you can reinforce calm behavior and make positive associations with the inflatable monsters flapping on lawns along the way.

Many dogs are afraid of people in hats. Dogs don’t understand “removable parts” and see them as an alien object that changes the silhouette they are used to. This can be more than a little unsettling. The simple act of wearing a hat can cause the calmest of dogs to bark and growl at people.

Puppies that experience people with big hats and long or puffy coats during the critical socialization period of four weeks to four months tend to worry less about people donning different types of outerwear. But dogs of any age can be desensitized to people in hats through consistent and positive exposure. Even so, adding a frightening looking mask, a bed sheet with eyes, or a bizarre costume, like a large stuffed animal, fairy wings, or an oversized wig, can turn even the most socialized dog into a scaredy-cat.

It’s important to recognize that Halloween night can be terrifying for dogs. People dress up in creepy costumes, and if you live in a kid friendly neighborhood, you probably have lots of strangers knocking on your door and walking around outside. If you host a costume party, all sorts of disfigured and oddly shaped humans will roam about your house.

Unless your dog is fully desensitized to strangers and costumes, I recommend securing him in a back room that is set up with treats, favorite toys, or anything else your dog might need to stay entertained for the night. Provide a soothing, calm environment. Classical music, a fan, or white noise can help soothe him. If you have a nervous, anxious, or shy dog, considering a Thundershirt and speak with your vet about prescribing something to take the edge off. Have a family member check on him often to ensure that he is calm and safe.

As always, ensure that your dog’s collar has an updated identification tag, just in case he gets too spooked by the constant opening and closing of doors. Even if your dog is okay around all of the Halloween hubbub, the constant doorbell ringing or knocking on your door can stress a dog out. Dogs can be desensitized to a doorbell ring, but Halloween isn’t a good time to start that training. A good alternative is to avoid constant ringing and knocking by greeting trick or treaters outside.

Will you dress your dog in a costume for the Del Ray Halloween Parade this year? Don’t wait until the day of the parade to get her comfortable in that adorable or scary attire. Spend the week before the parade desensitizing your dog to wearing the costume.

To our benefit, dogs do not grasp this idea of costumes and are more annoyed with functionality than what it might look like, so feel free to choose a fairy, flower, or zombie. It will make no difference to your dog. The trick is to find a costume that he will want to stay in. If your dog doesn’t like hoods or hats on his head, then don’t have one. The same goes for the construction. Some dogs will gladly walk around in a cape, but freak out if you try to stick their hind legs in pants. Make sure that whatever costume you select is comfortable. Otherwise, your dog will spend the entire time trying to pull it off—and that’s no fun.

Always remember to keep Halloween candy and decorations out of your dog’s reach. Candy, glow sticks, pumpkins, corn, and the like can make your dog sick if eaten. Chocolates and candy containing xylitol are especially toxic to dogs.

Following these holiday tips can help you and your dog have a safe and happy Halloween!

Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit to enroll in our programs, and like us on

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