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Halloween Safety Tips for Dog Owners Author: Kate Connick ©1999

Boxer bumblebee

Halloween can be a lot of fun for families, but it can be a very stressful holiday for the family dog. The following are some thoughts on how to make Halloween a bit safer and less stressful for you and your family dog.

Don't be afraid to exclude your dog from the holiday festivities. Sensitive dogs may find the commotion of Halloween hobgoblins overwhelming. The chaos that goes along with accompanying trick-or-treaters may be rattling enough to an ordinarily good-natured dog to make him nervous, irritable, and likely to snap. Naturally protective breeds may mistake jovial masqueraders for genuine threats. And there is always the risk that the dog may inadvertently consume candy, which is not healthy for him to eat. Although it's nice to want to include your dog in activities, most dogs are happier in the quiet comfort of their home.

If you are insistent that you must take your dog trick-or-treating, do it only during daylight hours and only if your dog clearly enjoys the commotion of squealing, costumed children. Make sure that an adult supervises the dog at all times and is alert for signs of stress. Don't force a dog to accept attentions from anyone he appears frightened by, and don't force anyone who is afraid of your dog to greet him. Many children are overtired and cranky on holidays, and an unwelcome greeting by a dog may be more likely to elicit inappropriate behavior from a child. Keep a watchful eye so that your dog does not consume any Halloween candy. And never ring a doorbell with your dog at your side. The resident dog may have very strong feelings about unfamiliar dogs. Wait at the bottom of the driveway with the family dog as the children ring the bell.

Make it clear to children that they are not allowed to tease, harass, or attempt to trick or frighten a dog, even on Halloween. Small children are unlikely to understand that the dog doesn't appreciate the fun of Halloween the way they do. Remind children that it is never acceptable to play games with a dog where they sneak up on, startle, or otherwise attempt to scare it. Normally good-natured dogs may be very leery of children in costume, and it is a good idea to prohibit children from hugging, cornering, or otherwise being too forward with a dog - even a familiar dog - when they're dressed in potentially provocative attire.

Resist the temptation to dress up the dog, unless you are absolutely certain that he won't find it distressing. Some dogs, admittedly, are very good sports about being dressed up, but others are not so easy-going. Be sensitive to the comfort level of your dog. If Halloween is a warm day, dressing up the dog may make him uncomfortably hot, for example. Never dress a dog in costumes that impair his vision or make it difficult for him to walk.

Don't leave your dog unattended outside, even briefly, on Halloween. Even dogs contained in fenced yards are not necessarily safe. Eggs, candy, and other materials may be thrown at the dog and consumed. Less benign items may be thrown at him which may cause serious damage. Sadly, many animals - especially black cats and dogs - may be the objects of serious, malicious abuse on this holiday. Mischievous youths may leave fence gates ajar or enter fenced areas, even if "beware of dog" signs are posted. Especially on Halloween, where visitors may be numerous and very disarming to the resident dog, make sure your dog does not have unsupervised access to visitors, nor they to him.

Keep your dog on a leash during Halloween. Even normally obedient dogs may be sufficiently aroused or frightened to behave unexpectedly on this holiday. Walk your dog at times when you are unlikely to encounter mobs of trick-or-treaters. Keep the dog restrained by a leash - even if you ordinarily use some sort of "invisible," electronic fence system - to prevent the dog from either charging towards trick-or-treaters or bolting away from them. You do not want to lose your dog at any time, but certainly not on Halloween where pranksters often cross the line and become cruel to animals.

Keep your dog away from the front door when you answer it for trick-or-treaters. If you have a dog that is easily aroused to territorial barking, do not let him sit by a window and watch trick-or-treaters approach. Use baby-gates or a crate to restrict the dog to another area of the house, so that he does not become wildly overstimulated by visitors. Even a friendly dog's booming alert bark may be quite frightening to children, and you want to do all you can to reduce the risk that your dog may bolt out the door and knock someone over, run away, or bite a perceived intruder.

If you have a storm door, remove the top glass or screen so that you do not have to open the door. You can reach through the top part of the door to hand goodies to trick-or-treaters, and this is additional insurance that your dog will not run out an open door.

Give the dog something to chew on. Just because your dog is locked away from the front door, doesn't mean he can't have a good time. Give him a rawhide bone, Kong or marrow bone stuffed with something tasty (peanut butter, cream cheese, liverwurst, etc.), or some other appealing chew to keep him occupied. Not only will this give him something to do, but chewing something good will help reduce his stress.

Be careful about what your dog eats on Halloween. Candy can make any of us nauseous in sufficient amounts, and dogs generally eat wrapper and all. Chocolate, in particular, is toxic to dogs if they consume enough of it. Some dogs will find Halloween make-up, candles, and other small-sized items appealing and try to eat them. The day after Halloween, you may find broken eggs strewn on lawns and streets. All of these temptations are items that your dog should not be allowed to eat.

Try to foresee potential hazards on Halloween and prepare for them. As indicated, particular areas of concern are things that dogs might eat, interactions between dogs and children, and the general level of excitement or fear, which might create opportunities for escape or promote irritable behavior. Remember that dogs don't grasp that Halloween is a holiday, and they may find throngs of loud, raucous, peculiarly-costumed children genuinely frightening and traumatic. Be sensitive to your dog's stress level and safety, and have a Happy Halloween!

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