Q: We expect to have a large number of children stopping by during Halloween. Our family recently adopted a dog. But we are not sure how he will react to costumes and such. How should we handle things?
A: Enter any pet store, and it becomes apparent that Halloween has gone to the dogs. While canine costumes and themed toys can be fun, most dogs are not socialized well enough to the chaos of this holiday to tolerate it well. Itâs important to be prepared.
While children hit the streets in the evening, expect to see people in costume at other times as well. Some wear costumes to school or work during the day. Adults may be dressed up for parties later in the evening or on the weekend. Itâs no longer a one day event.
All of these strange things can spook even the friendliest dog. Start by doing a safety check on gear. Make sure dogs canât slip out of collars and harnesses. Check that leashes are not worn.
Prepare dogs for costumes slowly and strategically. See how a dog responds to cloaks, hats and masks. Make it a positive experience. Offer food treats. Start with easy disguises and work towards more difficult and elaborate costumes.
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Similarly, get dogs accustomed to spooky sounds. One never knows when someone in the neighbourhood might add sound effects to decorations. Play screams and howls on low volume. Gradually increase the level. Again, make it a positive experience.
These types of exercises expose dogs to a variety of strange things. Socializing a dog towards whatever comes their way teaches them to feel safe in the world. Having a dog that sees ghosts and goblins as just another normal part of their day is a good thing. Getting ahead of the holiday with training can help families recognize that their dog might be scared of such things. Regardless of how well socialized a dog is, it does not mean they need to be in the thick of things.
Trick or treating is for children. Not all children like dogs. In addition to preparing a dog to handle all the sights and sounds, teach dogs to feel comfortable alone in a quiet room.
When Halloween comes around, get dogs out early for their walks. Let the children have the evening. Put dogs into their quiet, safe space with a busy toy. Limit the dog portion of the celebrations to times when the kids are not flooding the streets.
Q: I have been trying to teach my dog to sit at the door before going outside. However she will not take food and will not sit. She stands, too eager to get outside. How can I get her to sit?
A: Dogs learn not just which behaviours get paid, but how they will be paid. Many learn that when people go to the door, walks and free play in the yard follow. They are primed to go out.
These dogs are food motivated. However, in the moment, they are too focused on a different reward, that of going outside.
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Start by reducing the excitement. Multiple times a day, take the dog to the door and donât go out. Pets can still go for regular outings. By adding in the additional trips to the door, the door stops reliably predicting these events. With repetition, dogs become less excited.
Second, assess how far away from the door the problem begins. If the dog sits when asked five meters from the door, start drilling at that location. In very small increments, move sit training sessions closer to the door.
Yvette Van Veen is a Dorchester-based writer and a contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: email@example.com