If you live in an area where Trick-or-Treaters frequent it is definitely worth taking your pup’s comfort with people and novel objects into account when making Halloween plans!
Does your dog love everyone regardless of odd things like wings, horns, or swishy clothing, are they completely comfortable with children, and not worried about the doorbell? Amazing, you and your pup are good to go, have a happy Halloween!
Is your pup just a little spooked by any, a couple, or all of these things? There are several strategies that you can do to help boost their comfort on this spooky night!
If it is the visual differences that weird out your pup (costumed people, tiny humans, or people approaching your home) and you want to participate in the holiday try:
Give your pup a comfortable place to be away from line of sight of the door, such as a comfy spot in a back bedroom or their crate in a safe space.
Give your pup something else to focus on such as:
A lick mat
A filled kong
A long-lasting chew
Another activity that your pup can engage with independently and happily!
For Training: (with the caveat that there is limited time before the big day, so while there very well may be progress made, it is not likely to be perfect – keep working for next year!)
Work on rewarding bravery in the face of novelty!
Inspect flapping curtains and if your nervous pups come up to inspect with you give them praise and a delicious treat. You can go through the same process with:
Wings or other costume components that move independently of their humans
Silly walks (like a zombie or mummy)
Anything else that you notice during this year’s spooky times for the future!
If the sound of a doorbell – or knock – is the struggle:
You may want to consider putting a bowl outside of your door in an easily visible space so that no one needs to ring that bell (just remember to check the bowl during quieter times so that you can refill it or turn off your porch light when you run out of offerings)!
Some of those fun activities listed above can help your pup feel more comfortable as people approach your door!
For Training: (with the caveat that there is limited time before the big day, so while there may very well be progress made, it is not likely to be perfect – keep working for next year!)
Work on pairing the sound of the doorbell with a yummy treat when nothing exciting is going on!
Start with the door open so they can see you outside ringing the doorbell, give them their marker word, and then a high value treat 1-2 seconds later whether they bark or not at the beginning.
After you start to notice them looking at you before barking, start only giving them treats for that.
Keep working until they are able to handle the doorbell with a closed door
Then stop giving treats at every ring (every 2ish, then 3ish, etc) until you barely need to give them at all.
No matter what your plan is for this year, remember as you work that learning isn’t linear. Forward progress may be made one day then seemingly lost another. This is completely normal. Try to meet your pup where they can be successful at the beginning of a training session and push for progress throughout the training as you reward that success!