Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy Halloween Puppy Dog Prep Tips

Much of canine communication is through body language. For this reason, it's common for many pups to be suspicious of people wearing or carrying stuff they've never seen before: like guys with cowboy hats, or a senior with a walking stick... these accessories change the typical human silhouette, and a dog will often wonder "what is that person... or creature?... trying to communicate to me? why is he moving like that... why is his head misshapen?"

As you can imagine, from a pet's perspective, Halloween can be a really freaky experience. It's as if pretty much all the planet's humans have suddenly shape shifted and changed their forms. Mass Mutation!

On top of that, as night falls, gangs of little mutant humans descend like refuges at the front door, asking for food.

The whole thing is really strange for a pet to understand. Actually, if you think about it, the whole thing is really strange... period.

Here are some tips to help make your pet's experience less stressful, and more fun:

*Keep candy away from pets at all times, and be sure your kids understand that sharing their loot with their furry friends is not OK. Explain that some foods are for humans only, and that candy can make pets sick. Remember that chocolate can be especially toxic to pets. Some dogs (listen up hound parents!) will even scrounge for wrappers out of the trashcan... and eat the paper, which can also lead to choking or serious stomach/intestinal problems.)

*Be sure that all candles and jack-o'-lanterns are out of your pet's reach. Even non-curious critters can get hurt or cause unintended accidents with tail movement, etc.

*If you will be entertaining guests, be sure to provide your dog with a private, quiet area to retreat to. A peaceful room with comfy bed and toys will help ease stress, and keep them from the being overstimulated by the festivities.

*If you will have your dog with you as trick-or-treaters will be coming and going, you may want to have your dog on-leash for the trick-or-treat portion of the night (you'll have more control over any possible escape attempts, plus it will help put any dog-fearing visitors at ease.) When you head towards the door, use very calm energy. When you want to encourage calm behavior from your dog, being calm yourself is often the best first step. Before you open the door, have your dog sit-stay politely a few feet back from the door (it helps to have a visual threshold marker, like a carpet or even a strip of masking tape.) Be sure to reward. If you have time during the weeks leading up to Halloween, it's a good idea to specifically train polite door behavior by practicing the scenario with a trainer or an appropriate friend.

Please note: Dogs learn through repetition, so if your dog is currently unable to respond to visitors with a calm, polite sit-stay, and instead consistently becomes frantic, overstimulated, rushes the door, jumps up, hyper-barks, etc. repeating the experience over and over with trick-or-treaters will reinforce this poor door behavior, and make it an even more difficult habit to fix. Each time a poor behavior is repeated, the more it tends to stick.

*If your dog will be out in public with other dogs, remember that dogs communicate with their bodies, and that many costumes can restrict their ability to let other dogs know important things like: "Relax, I'm friendly!" or "Please leave me alone, I'm feeling shy right now..." It's best to choose a costume that's simple, allows free movement of the tail, ears, & legs, and leaves the entire face area open (like a doggy camo tee, Hawaiian shirt, sports jersey, bandana, etc.)

Some pets don't like wearing clothes... period. If yours is one of those dogs, please respect their wishes and invest in a simple snazzy ghost or pumpkin print collar, instead. They'll look just as festive, and it'll be one less thing for them to be stressed over... what with the human mutation outbreak and all...

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