Image via Maja Marjanovic/Shutterstock.com
By Deanna deBara
Trick-or-treat! When Halloween comes around, it’s time to think about how to keep not only kids, but also dogs safe during the holiday.
And there’s a lot to think about! Halloween—and, in particular, trick-or-treating—can be a stressful experience for dogs. “There are so many things going on during Halloween night which can cause our pets to feel stressed and unsafe,” says Dr. Valarie Tynes, DVM, veterinary services specialist at Ceva Animal Health. “Lots of noise, flashlights, and people wearing strange clothes and masks can all overwhelm our furry family members.”
But all the hustle and bustle of Halloween doesn’t have to be a stressful, overwhelming or unsafe experience for dogs or kids—if you know how to prepare properly.
Here are some trick-or-treating safety tips to keep everyone—including kids and dogs—safe this Halloween.
Assess Your Dog’s Personality
If you’re taking your kids trick-or-treating, you’re probably tempted to throw an adorable dog costume on your pup and take him along. Depending on your dog, this may or may not be a good idea.
You’ll need to determine whether your pup is comfortable wearing a pet costume well before Halloween, and whether he is bothered by crowds of people and new places.
“If your dog is typically shy or anxious around strange people or new settings, the fact is that taking him or her out on Halloween may not be a good idea. If your dog is uncomfortable taking walks or visiting bustling places during the day or a normal evening, Halloween will likely prove to be too much,” says Dr. Tynes.
“Not all dogs are going to be candidates for going trick-or-treating,” says Steve Dale, certified animal behavior consultant and host of The Pet Minute and Steve Dale’s Pet World. He points out that some dogs might bark at everybody going by, and if a dog’s tail is down between their legs, their body language is telling you they're not really having a great time.
If your dog is scared or overwhelmed when they’re out trick-or-treating, they’re more likely to act out or try to run away—which can put them and the children in your neighborhood in danger.
If you know your pup is easily overwhelmed, leave him at home.
Know How Your Dog Acts Around Kids
It’s also important to know how your pup acts around kids—and not just your own kids. Chances are, your four-legged friend is going to run into a lot of children while out trick-or-treating, so it’s important to be able to anticipate and control your dog’s behavior.
Don’t be afraid to let trick-or-treaters know what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to interacting with your dog. “Many children consider any dog fair game to pet or hug,” says Dr. Tynes. “Be prepared to tell children and adults how much interaction is acceptable to you and your dog.”
“You should always be aware of your surroundings; don’t allow adults or children to approach your dog without asking,” says Nora Kogelschatz, manager of behavior and training at Bideawee, an animal welfare organization and no-kill shelter in New York. “This could spook the dog and cause him to react impulsively. Some dogs have the “flight” response, but other dogs could have an aggressive response.”
Setting boundaries should keep your dog from getting overexcited, but if your dog is prone to jumping on people, it’s probably best to leave him at home. Jumping on a small child, even in a friendly way, could potentially cause injury.
Get Your Pup Prepared for Halloween Night
If you don’t think about how your dog is going to react to trick-or-treating until Halloween night, you’re already too late. The key to a successful and safe Halloween is to get your pup prepared ahead of time.
“Do what you can in advance to help the night seem normal ... Taking them to busy places after dark between now and Halloween can help them see being out with other people at night as normal,” says Dr. Tynes.
Just make sure to stick to your normal routes to keep your dog’s anxiety at bay. “Start close to home and work your way out, says Dr. Tynes. “The familiarity of staying on the route of your regular walks will help counter the unfamiliarity of everything else.”
You’ll also want to make sure to pack plenty of dog treats. “Bring treats with you and reward him each time he sees a scary object or hears a scary sound. This will help create positive associations [which will help come Halloween],” says Kogelschatz.
Be sure to check for signs that your pup is getting overwhelmed as you’re out trick-or-treating, have a plan to get him home.
“It’s best to plan an escape route before you start your trick-or-treating,” says Kogelschatz. “Some dogs might get overwhelmed and stressed out, and it’s best to just take them home.”
Make Sure Your Dog Knows “Come” and “Leave It”
When it comes to staying safe on Halloween, there are two important cues that your pup MUST master before trick-or-treating: “come” and “leave it.”
The “come” cue is important because it ensures that your pup won’t get overexcited and dash out the door after a trick-or-treater, putting him in harm’s way. “The most important cue for dogs is ‘come,’ because if the dog is running out the door, you want the dog to come back to you and not to go straight out the door, chasing after other kids on the street—or into the street and potentially getting hit by a car or lost,” says Dale.
“Leave it” ensures that your dog won’t get into anything that he shouldn’t—and it’s especially important on Halloween, which offers tons of opportunities to get into things. “Some costumes and decorations may look fun to dogs, and they might want to play with them,” says Kogelschatz. “[Also,] kids drop candy all over the floor, and if your dog knows to ‘leave it,’ then he will be less likely to ingest something harmful.”
Make Sure Your Pup is Visible to Cars and Passersby
If your dog is the type who’ll have a fantastic time trick-or-treating, then you can definitely take him with you—just make sure you take the necessary precautions to keep your dog safe.
“By using reflecting leashes or LED lights on the collar or leash, you increase a driver’s ability to see your whole family as you are crossing the street,” says Dr. Tynes.
LED dog collars and leashes are key to ensuring that your dog is visible to passing cars.
Keep Treats Away From Your Dog
Halloween is a time for humans to indulge in all sorts of sweet treats and candies, but a lot of those treats aren’t safe for your pup. Keep your pets away from anything containing chocolate or xylitol (an artificial sweetener)—both of which are extremely toxic for dogs.
Keep dog-friendly treats on hand so your pup can get in on the action—and limit dog treats he gets from well-meaning trick-or-treaters.
“Carry a bag for dog treats. Don't let people give the dog, (unless you know those people) a treat … too many treats of another kind at one time can upset a dog's stomach,” says Dale.
If you think your dog has eaten something potentially toxic, make sure you get help immediately. “If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435,” says Dr. Tynes.
Halloween is a fun and spooky time—and now that you know these trick-or-treating safety tips, it can also be a safe time for your kids and dogs.