With Halloween just around the corner, we can use this time to practice key skills with our inquisitive canines while having some fright-less fun along the way. Let’s make this celebration a real treat for our dogs by:
- Teaching them to enjoy playing dress-up
- Reinforcing good greeting and leash walking manners
- And of course, keeping them safe!
We don’t want dogs to tolerate wearing costumes; we want them to love it! If they don’t, then perhaps we can skip the dress-up portion of the celebration this year and go straight to the treats! (See below.)
That said, this could be a golden opportunity for you and your inquisitive canine to practice a very useful (dog) training method – classical conditioning. This gradual process allows dogs to develop something called a positive conditioned response, which is the fancy scientific term for: creating automatic happy excitement when seeing or experiencing something that was once neutral. Just imagine how the practical uses of this concept can extend far beyond costumes! Think about helping your pup acclimate to a new harness, a sweater in the winter, a life jacket in the summer. The list goes on!
But, back to the task at hand. When it comes to encouraging dogs to love wearing their special holiday costumes, we can rehearse playing dress-up. After all, ‘dress rehearsals’ of any dog training skill are important. Repetition allows for building a solid foundation while having opportunities to troubleshoot and refine along the way.
Here’s how we recommend very gradually, over a period of time, getting Fido used to a costume:
- Show him the outfit.
- Whenever the outfit appears, your dog gets yummy treats (dog treats, not Halloween candy!). Please note – the order of events is most important: outfit first, followed by treats. No outfit, no treats.
- Then gently touch your dog with the costume, then treat.
- Start to dress him, then treat.
- Repeat these steps until the dog shows interest in the outfit.
- Gradually, get him fully dressed, then treat.
- Make sure the costume fits well, so he can’t trip over it, wiggle out of it, or chew it off.
- You also want to make sure he can move freely and comfortably in it.
Taking breaks between sessions is key. Remember to use baby steps so as not to overwhelm your buddy. Start slowly, and build slowly, to help your dog acclimate to – and enjoy – his new threads!
Treat Your Dog to Some Enriching Training Games
Whether or not we go the costume route, we still expect a lot from our dogs during holiday adventures, including Halloween. Think about all of the behaviors, at home or on a walk, we want and expect our canine companions to know during Halloween festivities.
When the doorbell rings, or there’s a knock at the door, what would you like your pup to do? Go to a bed, mat or crate? Or perhaps practice sit-stay near the front door? Decide on a strategy and then set your dog up for success! Teach the skill. Practice. Then apply it to real-life situations. Here are some examples:
- Sit and Stay – Use treats to teach your doggo to sit and stay near the door and/or around other people. Practicing this cue gives Fido something to do that is incompatible with jumping on people or darting through an open door. As you work on training these essential skills, gradually start to incorporate more distractions such as doorbells ringing, doors opening and closing, even kids (and adults) in costumes. Remember to schedule plenty of dress rehearsals before Halloween night. Train it before you need it.
- Targeting a mat – One ‘fun for the whole family’ way to prep for the festivities is to teach and rehearse a “go to your place” cue. The goal is that eventually, on cue, Fluffy lies down on her “place” when people come to the door — even trick or treaters. To practice, have kids dress up in costume and trick or treat at their own house! This is a good way to shape your pup’s behavior, using someone they are familiar with.
- Greeting nicely: At home, greeting people politely when cued, even strangers coming to the door, wearing funny, and sometimes scary, outfits, is a great skill to teach – or brush up on. (Although masks are very commonplace nowadays, Halloween masks are often a bit different!)
- Polite leash walking – For outdoor adventures as well, greeting people politely is a valuable skill, as is walking calmly on a loose leash — especially if wearing a costume or coming across other pets and people in costumes or passing by homes decked out with Halloween decorations designed to startle.
Once again, training is super helpful, but the most essential trick up your sleeve is managing the environment:
- Only take dogs out who are comfortable around these types of distractions. If a dog is fearful, either spend the time creating positive associations beforehand, make the necessary arrangements at home (a sign asking people not to ring the bell, creating a comfy safe space for pup to retreat to), or if necessary, hire a pet sitter to stay with him where he is most comfortable.
- Keep any and all dangerous items out of Fido’s reach – candles, attractive decorations dogs can chew or ones that might harm them, and of course candy.
- Leaving things alone when asked — say some wrapped chocolates on the floor or sparkly decorations that make tempting toys — will come in handy during any celebration. Teaching your inquisitive canines a really solid “Leave it!” cue will help should they accidentally end up around candy and other interesting edibles they shouldn’t have.
For our inquisitive canines, Halloween can be a little tricky, scary, and definitely different. But with a little advanced preparation, it can still be a great time to unleash adventures and harness fun with your best friend – or your best fiend! We wish all our inquisitive readers and your canines a safe and happy Howl-o-ween!
If you have Halloween pet photos you’d like to share, we’d love to see them! You can post them on our Inquisitive Canine Facebook Page.