I know I’m not alone in loving Halloween and all the things that come with it - sweets, costumes, decorations, sweets, fireworks, sweets – what’s not to like?
Unfortunately, a lot of dogs don’t feel the same way. Many are terrified of fireworks. This is referred to as “Sound Sensitivity”. Sound sensitivity can range from dogs being mildly uncomfortable to full-blown anxiety and panic about thunder, fireworks and other such loud noises.
Sound Sensitivity in dogs is genetic and sometime it doesn’t always manifest until the dog is a little older, so don’t be caught out if it begins to creep in after your dog has reached adulthood.
Below are some tips on how to keep your dog calm during the fireworks at Halloween and also how to keep him safe.
Safety first: Every year an excessive number of dogs go missing on Halloween night. You might feel that your house and garden are secure and, during normal circumstances, they probably are. However, when real, genuine terror kicks in - dogs can find ways to escape, ways they’ve never tried before and ways that might even cause them injury (which might deter them from continuing under regular circumstances but not in a panic state).
I suggest the following measures to ensure that your dog cannot get out.
Don’t leave your dog out in the back garden on Halloween under any circumstances
Put him on a lead when you are letting him out to toilet
Keep all windows closed
Keep all external and internal doors closed
Don’t let him come with you when you are answering the front door to trick-or-treaters. If he is very distressed, you might need to crate him when the doorbell rings so that he can’t follow you out to the front door via opening an internal door himself. (again, remember what I said above about dogs finding ways they’ve never achieved or perhaps even tried before when the panic sets in)
Make sure your dog is microchipped. Make sure that chip is registered. Here are two of the databases dogs can be registered to in Ireland (there are more): https://www.fido.ie/
Make sure your dog has your phone number on his collar
Make sure everyone in the home, particularly children, is on board with the rules for the evening. I know it’s difficult, in a house with lots of children, to keep tabs on them at all times but this is just one night of the year and the potential cost of dropping the ball is too high so it will really be worth the effort
Make sure your dog got lots of exercise earlier and is nice and tired.
Now that you have your safety plan up and running let’s talk about keeping your dog calm.
Block out as much noise as possible by keeping the TV or Radio at a high volume
Keep the curtains and blinds closed
Give your dog a place to hide if he chooses to do so, perhaps his crate. If he doesn’t use a crate, a large box will do. Cover the crate or box with a throw or towel (like a fort!) and make it comfortable inside
Keep him occupied with a stuffed Kong or some other mental exercise toy. (A Kong is a hard rubber toy with an opening in the middle where you can put treats or peanut butter)
Comfort your dog if he is afraid. There used to be a belief that comforting a fearful dog was “rewarding them for being fearful” or “confirming there was really something to be afraid of”. We now know that dogs, like children with their parents, are calmed by comfort from their owners in times of destress and the fear is not being reinforced.
If you know that your dog suffers Sound Sensitivity and will be extremely distressed during Halloween, you should consider taking him to your Veterinarian for a medication consultation as a short terms solution to help him through the night. Please don’t attempt to medicate him with your own stash of Xanex or the equivalent – this could be very dangerous.
Although Sound Sensitivity is genetic that does not mean that it is not possible to improve it. Speak to a qualified, positive reinforcement trainer to assist you with working on your Sound Sensitive dog.
If you have goodies in the house for trick-or-treaters or if your own children have come home with a haul of sweets, be very careful of where you leave them. A lot of dogs can get at items left on the kitchen counter so they should be hidden in a cupboard which the dog cannot access. There will be many things in a child’s Halloween bag which are detrimental to your dog’s health. (I offer a free service whereby I will take your stash of sweets off you for no cost........ in order to keep your beloved dog safe, of course).
I'm all for dressing up your dog so long as he isn't distressed ~at all~ by it. If you start this while your dog is young it's a great way of getting him used to being handled and this in turn will help you in the groomers, the vet office, with harnesses and with winter jackets for the short haired breeds.
Happy Halloween from North Dublin Dog Training x