Our dog Georgie is just as anxious on Halloween today as she was eight years ago, when we first adopted her from the shelter. She starts getting anxious a few weeks before October 31; she gets freaked out by the neighborhood’s Halloween decorations (zombies coming out of gardens, haunted houses, ghosts and spiders).
Halloween is stressful for dogs – especially anxious dogs who have a difficult or abusive history, who notice unusual objects, noises, and smells, and who aren’t used to lots of activity. Keeping an anxious dog calm on Halloween night isn’t easy when they start getting worked up weeks before October 31! Georgie is particularly anxious – she also has anxiety attacks when we leave her home alone, when we drive in the rain, and when we take her to the veterinarian.
Is your dog anxious, too? Maybe you recently adopted a rescue and the shelter workers said dog anxiety would be a problem on Halloween. Or maybe you’re like me; you’ve had an anxious dog for years and still haven’t found the best way to keep her calm as October 31 approaches. Well, you’ve come to the right place! Here are a few tips for keeping an anxious dog calm on Halloween. I’m combining them with the SPCA’s for keeping pets safe on October 31.
If you’ve recently adopted an anxious dog and you’re having trouble keeping her calm (and you’re dreading Halloween!), be prepared to accept anxiety as part of her personality. Some anxious dogs calm down after they adjust to their new homes. Other dogs, however, never get over their anxiety. In fact, dog anxiety causes some owners to rehome their dogs because they can’t handle the stress.
Dog Anxiety – Keeping Calm on Halloween
“Loud noises can cause animals to panic, putting both pets and children in danger,” says Lorie Chortyk, General Manager of Community Relations for the Vancouver SPCA. “Farm animals are at risk, too. Dogs or cats could dart into traffic or jump through windows, while frightened farm animals could run into barbed-wire fences or other obstructions. Dogs can also act out of character at the sight of strangers in costumes coming to your door.”
How do you prevent loud noises on Halloween? Anxious dogs get more and more nervous with every pop, bang and explosion. Even the doorbell ringing can cause an anxiety attack! What can you do, other than turn off all the lights, refuse to answer the door, and hide in a soundproof bunker until October 31 is over? Actually, that sounds like the best way to deal with dog anxiety on Halloween :-)
1. Notice how your dog reacts to Halloween costumes and decorations
Georgie gets freaked out by people wearing costumes – especially pregnant or overweight women wearing Halloween costumes. Now that I know this, I speak calmly and softly to her when I see someone dressed up. I also distract her with a treat, or even alert her to a squirrel or cat in the opposite direction (squirrels and cats don’t keep my dog calm, but they are distracting and thus anxiety-relieving!).
The best way to deal with dog anxiety is to know your dog. What freaks your dog out about Halloween? If it’s the loud noises, then you may not have to worry about the costumes or decorations. If your dog gets anxious when kids wearing Halloween costumes come running up, then keep your dog away from crazy kid places. Also, learn what keeps your dog calm in stressful situations. I found that distraction with treats is one of the best ways to avoid an anxiety attack with my dog on Halloween (but treat distractions don’t work in our car on a rainy day; she stays anxious the whole time, no matter what).
2. Think carefully before putting a Halloween costume – even a hat – on an anxious dog
About Halloween costumes: anxious dogs are not good pets to dress on October 31. If you want to keep your dog calm, don’t put her in a Halloween costume. Even meeting a dog wearing a Halloween costume might make your dog anxious! Calming a dog who is freaked out by another dog isn’t easy, and could even lead to injury.
If you decide to dress your dog in a Halloween costume, be aware that costumes inhibit all dogs’ ability to communicate. In other words, both the costume’d and non-costumed dogs won’t be quite “themselves” with accessories in the way. Everyone will be more excited than usual…which could lead to an aggressive confrontation. Here’s an easy tip for keeping an anxious dog calm on Halloween: stay inside.
3. Keep your dogs inside on October 31
This is the SPCA’s tip for keeping dogs safe and calm on Halloween: put them in a quiet room so they can’t confront trick or treaters. Turn on a radio or TV to help suppress outside sounds and knocks at the door. Better yet, use a white noise machine to drown out the Halloween hijinks. You might consider disabling your doorbell for the night – especially if you know your dog’s anxiety is partly caused by bells ringing.
By the way, Halloween is a good time to make sure your dog has identification. Even if your dog is staying home for Halloween, keep the dog tag and collar on her. Make sure the tattoo or microchip are still effective. Dog anxiety isn’t predictable, and dogs bolt when we least expect it.
4. Minimize loud, unexpected noises on Halloween
Exploding fireworks, firecrackers and even loud yelling on Halloween affects anxious dogs in different ways, and to varying degrees. Some dogs will howl, while others might cower and whine.
“I’ve seen cases where a dog has bolted in fear right through a screen door. The dog was gone for days just because of a loud bang,” says Dr. Dave Sedgman, veterinarian with Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. “In extreme cases animals, will try to dig into a hardwood floor or even jump through a plate glass window in fear.”
5. Learn how to calm your anxious dog
There are no “one size fits all” tips for calming an anxious dog on Halloween – especially since our first reaction is often to soothe our animals. However, some veterinarians say the worst thing is to soothe or console a scared, anxious dog. It reinforces the anxiety; the dog thinks anxiety leads to love. Saying things such as “it’s OK” or “don’t be scared” in a soft, sympathetic voice actually rewards the anxiety. Those aren’t calming words; in fact, they make your dog think you are frightened, too. And it would make sense; Halloween is scary!
Anxious dogs are often calmed when their owners use a happy, upbeat and high pitched tone of voice. Dog anxiety – and fears – are also relieved with a very matter-of-fact, brisk tone of voice and firm touch. Some anxious dogs calm down immediately, just by sensing your own emotional state. The SPCA also recommends distracting an anxious dog with toys or play (that wouldn’t work with my dog).
Try not to show surprise or fear when you see Halloween costumes or decorations, when you hear Halloween fireworks, or even when you taste a delicious Halloween candy! Dogs take their cues from us; if we’re relaxed and confident, they will be less anxious and afraid.
How have you calmed your anxious dog in the past – especially on Halloween? Your thoughts are welcome below. Woof!
If you had a bad experience with anxious dogs and Halloween, read Forgiving Yourself for Not Protecting Your Dog.