Halloween is drawing close. Since Labor Day I have seen candy, decorations, and costumes on store shelves. Some will decide to dress up their dogs (and cats). Truthfully, the average pet does not enjoy being dressed up for Halloween. They would much rather celebrate naked. Though naked partying may get us arrested, chances are your pets would prefer to be costume-free.
All over the internet we see videos of dogs and cats walking funny while wearing costumes. Look closely at the pet. Some are standing frozen. Others are whirling around trying to remove the clothing. Yet others are sitting, head hung, not looking happy at all. Many costumes are uncomfortable, cumbersome, and not designed to be easily maneuvered in. These animals are showing signals of distress. If you still think it is funny, learn about pet body language then review the videos again.
Let’s think of behavioral fallout. Consider the “Dog walks funny in boots” videos. If you have not watched the video above, please do so. All it takes is one bad experience to create an aversion to something. Here is someone slapping things a dog normally would not wear onto the creature’s feet. The dog is not happy and the owner is laughing and carrying on. How does this teach the dog to trust humans handling his feet? Now, owners and others need to trim nails, treat infections, injuries, and other things requiring foot and body handling. Why would I want to make foot handling unpleasant? I have rehabilitated dogs with foot handling aversions; it is easier said than done. Two dogs were mine who had bad foot experiences with other people. Unless you are willing to take the time and make the effort to help your pet enjoy wearing costumes (and respect it if they do not), leave outfits on the store shelves.
Now onto some general Halloween safety!
What about animals around our festivities? Humans in costume can be frightening. Decorations at many houses (like mine) can be overwhelming. Since Halloween is only once a year, it is safest to keep your pets away from festivities. Baby gates, crates and closed doors are important. A barking dog lunging at the door can be very scary for children. My cats have safe areas where they can escape in the house. I would rather them hide in the house than dash out the front door as they panic. My dogs are crated in a quieter room, with food releasing toys. Kong and similar toys stuffed with food. This year I will be freezing the Kongs so they last longer.
Leave your pet at home if you go out with your kids. There are many stressors with Halloween that can trigger reactions we do not want. When the triggers pile up too much, they become more than the pet can manage. This is when trouble may happen. Never assume your pet will be fine. It is not worth the risk. If your pet is very stressed during this time, consult with a trainer to create a plan to help get through this night.
Finally, chocolate and many of the treats children will be looking for can make your pet quite sick. Decorations can be chewed and cause intestinal damage. Keep these all away from your critters.
I love Halloween; however, some of my pets do not. I must respect that the costumes, parties, and ghouls are not in their best interest.
Karen Peak is the owner and operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County and owner of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project