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Handling your dog when Halloween trick o' treaters visit


Photo by Paul Grace.

It’s that time of year again.  The days are getting shorter, the weather should soon be getting cooler, and before you know it, hoards of costume-clad trick-o'-treaters will be trekking their way around San Fernando Valley neighborhoods collecting a sugary stash.

For the proactive dog owner, Halloween presents a number of wonderful training opportunities. If you plan to stay home and pass out candy on Halloween, consider this easy-to-implement training exercise, recommended by the training team at J9's K9s Dog Training in Canoga Park:

Train My Dog for Treats:

As darkness falls, set up a pressure-mounted baby-gate in your front doorway. (You’ll need to prop your screen door all the way open, if you have one.) You can find baby gates for approximately $20 in the baby section of discount stores. A 32” gate is recommended. You’ll be leaving your front door open with the gate in place throughout the evening. Grab a chair for yourself and a spot for the dog. This will be your “post” for the night. If you’re concerned that your dog might try and jump over or plow through the baby gate, attach his leash to use as an emergency handle. Do not leave your dog unattended near the gate while the front door is open.

Place a bowl of tasty dog treats on your porch, on the opposite side of the gate from you and your dog. Soft treats, such as Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Dog Food Roll, work best. If you have a lot of trick-or-treaters, your dog will be eating a lot of treats, so be sure to use something you can cut into small pieces. Do not feed your dog dinner on Halloween – he’ll be working for it – and we don’t want to overfeed him. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or cannot tolerate lots of treats, consider using his regular kibble as a treat. If your dog is not food-motivated, but really likes to play with and retrieve toys, keep a basket of his toys on your porch to use instead. Keep your Halloween candy inside with you, but make sure it’s out of your dog’s reach.

As the trick-or-treaters approach and ask for candy, ask that each child first pick up a dog treat or toy. Instruct them to hold it high above your dog’s head and ask him to “sit”. Be prepared to help out as needed because this will be exciting for everyone! Once the dog sits, ask the child to either toss your dog the treat or toy, or if your dog likes children and can take treats with a soft mouth, the child can hand him the treat. If your dog has trouble taking treats gently, children can also hand you a treat to give to your dog when he sits. Dole out a piece of candy and repeat with the next visiting ghost or goblin.

The rewards of this program are many: It’s wonderful socialization for your dog to interact with ghosts, goblins and superheroes in a positive manner. The costume-clad “little people” aren’t so scary when they’re bringing your dog his dinner! Not only that, your dog is getting a LOT of practice with “sit” around many exciting distractions. Additionally, by keeping the front door open and watching for trick-or-treaters, you’re preventing the seemingly endless ringing of your doorbell – and the associated barking of your dog that frequently accompanies it.
Keep in mind that not every dog makes an appropriate candidate for this training exercise. If your dog has a known aggression problem, it’s best to keep him confined in a crate or another room of your home. Make sure to give him something wonderful to do, like work to extract his dinner out of a KONG® toy. 
If your plans include escorting a group of trick-or-treaters on their candy-collecting journey, take your dog with you. Work on polite leash walking as you traverse the neighborhood and ask for short sit or down-stays while you wait with your dog as the kids go to each door. Be sure to take dog treats with you for rewarding spook-tacularly good behavior! Don’t forget the poop baggies.
If your Halloween plans do not include your dog, be sure to leave him indoors rather than alone outside in the yard. You don’t want your beloved canine companion to fall victim to a Halloween prank. Even if your dog is not physically injured, the experience can frighten and traumatize him. Leave your dog in a confined, “dog-proofed” area (for example, in a crate or baby-gated in your kitchen or laundry room) away from front-facing windows to prevent possible arousal from watching the hoards of people that will pass by your house. Check to make sure that any candle-lit pumpkins are completely out of reach, along with the Halloween candy. Turn off your porch light if nobody will be home to hand out candy and put a heavy duty piece of tape over your doorbell to prevent children from ringing it all night, which can be very arousing for your dog inside. Consider leaving a bowl of candy outside on your porch with a note inviting children to take a piece, to further prevent unnecessary doorbell ringing. 
In training dogs, the best results are seen from training a little and often and by incorporating training exercises into your everyday activities. With a little pre-planning, the holidays are no exception and a howling good time can be had by all.