Stranger Things - Helping your Primitive Dog Deal with the New, Strange, or Scary of Halloween
We humans love holidays. We love to dress up, decorate, gather, and celebrate. However nothing could be stranger to a primitive dog. They thrive on routine so change is always a stressful transition for them. Halloween is one of the harder ones because there isn’t just decorations, and friends. There are also costumed invaders!
Holidays with costumes are generally the hardest for our primitive dogs to deal with. Our dogs are already cautious of strangers, and even if they are not, any general sensitivity seems to be set off by costume. And to be fair, they have no frame of reference. Nowhere in their tens of thousands of years of existence, has costumes really been a thing. Perhaps in village and city festivals but even then, they could flee and return when the insanity was over.
If your family is planning to dress up this Halloween, allow your dog plenty of space to flee from costumed family members. Never allow children to chase your dog in a costume (or really ever…), and when possible let your dog investigate parts of it before you assemble it. You can have a family member feed meat treats to your dog while you get dressed, or you can drop treats on the floor around you as you get ready. Once dressed, make sure your dog can always have space away from you and give them food for any attempts at investigation. If your dog shows fear, flees, or growls, do not force them to interact with a costume or dressed up person. Give them the space they need, crate them, or put them in another room.
If you have plans to dress up your primitive pal, start early, probably 2 months prior to the event. If it’s too late to start that far back because you are reading this a few days before, pick a costume that is mostly decorations on their normal collar or harness and save the sushi roll costume for next year. When practicing, start with a few pieces of costume and reward them heavily for tolerating it. If they freeze or can’t walk, take it off them and start with a smaller piece. If you can’t start with a smaller piece, reward them for any attempt at moving. Even though it can feel humorous to watch your dog flop around in a costume, it isn’t funny to them and will likely mean next year they will be less tolerant.
Cut your dog some slack if they shake off parts or things shift around. Don't scold them or impatiently fix things. Instead reward them for holding still. If you have never trained a stay, start now, before the costume comes on.
When the big day arrives, unless you have the most social primitive dog in the world, put them somewhere safe and secure, where they can’t look out the windows, and there is a tv or radio to block out the noise. Trick or Treating is a time when many dogs develop fear of strangers, or get lost from slipping out the door. Skip the anxiety and drama. Give your dog a special food toy in a crate or bedroom. Then you can focus on the fun without having to juggle your furry friend.
If you insist on involving your dog, take safety precautions. Make sure your dog is on a leash at all times even while inside the house. It only takes a trick or treater holding the door open 3 seconds too long to lose your dog into the night. Ideally attach the leash to a harness so they can’t slip out like some can with a collar. Have your dog held by someone other than the person answering the door so they are not trapped meeting every goblin and weird 80’s reference they are too young to understand.
As for bringing them along on trick or treating, please reconsider. Even world class therapy dogs don’t generally enjoy it. They get tripped over, banged into, dragged and wrapped around things. No one is there to see your dog and frankly you’re too busy to enjoy them too. So instead, give them the night off.
Holidays are supposed to be about gathering the family together to celebrate. If that means involving your primitive dog, think about their needs first. Perhaps do a photoshoot with them before things get busy and then call it a day. Leave the rest for the remainder of the event safe and quiet in a crate. You’ll get to focus on the celebrating and your dog can enjoy the fact that tomorrow things will return to normal. And remember - keep the candy out of reach!
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