How to Help Your Dog Cope During Loud and Scary Events Like Halloween
Step 21 of 23 in the Dogly Anxiety Channel
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate
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Do the loud noises and scary surprises of events like Halloween bring out your dog's fearful behavior and have you dreading what's supposed to be a harmless time of fun activities?


You are not alone! (And for the record, the scary noise of 4th of July fireworks is right up there with pet parents of noise phobia dogs as another dreaded annual event.)


Just like us, our dogs can experience fear and anxiety during certain situations. While some may take it all in stride, others may need a little help to get through it. The key is to be proactive and take the necessary steps to ensure your dog's safety and comfort during these times. Below are some tips on how you can help your dog cope with the loud noises and scary surprises of Halloween, and really all events with loud sounds and frightening situations.


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Safety vs security - what's the difference for your dog?


Recently I was listening to a podcast and there was a discussion about safety vs security, which I found super interesting.


Safety is defined as the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.


Security is defined as the state of feeling safe, stable, and free from fear or anxiety.


It seems so simple and yet it was a little "aha" moment for me. Safety and security are not always explicitly linked. You or your dog can be totally safe but not feel secure.


Give me an example


Take my fearful dog, Muchacho, for example, who is absolutely safe in our home, but does not feel secure when strangers enter. Totally safe yet my dog's fear and fear responses kick in nonetheless, a hallmark of noise phobias.


Conversely it's possible for us as dog owners (or our dogs) to feel quite secure while being unsafe. An example might be Koa running gleefully down the street after slipping her collar (yup, it's happened to me, too!) She feels perfectly secure and is having a great time, meanwhile I am all too aware of just how unsafe she is!


Clear SAFETY concerns around Halloween


As Halloween approaches, I see a lot of posts about Halloween safety. I'm sure you've seen them, too, and they are important for pet owners to know. We should all be vigilant about the dangers of chocolate and xylitol in candy, and keep it well out of reach of our dogs. We should all be mindful that young dogs can easily chew and swallow inappropriate items like decorations, or can get snagged and tangled when in costumes while unsupervised.


Plus, trick-or-treaters often means the front door opening and closing many times, quite the increased risk of flight! Yikes!


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But what about your dog's FEELINGS of security (or insecurity)?


Let's talk about your dog's feelings of security. For many dogs, maybe even most dogs, people coming and going at the front door is already quite the event. Some find it exciting, some find it frightening, but either way the sheer volume of visitors on Halloween can be a LOT for our dog's emotionally, especially when it comes to that dang doorbell. Now, add costumes to the mix, and we have a real recipe for, "WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING?"


Note: If you and your dog are dealing with separation anxiety, Halloween is obviously not a good time to leave your dog home alone with so many sound and visual triggers happening around your doors and windows.


Out & about or just stay home?


People in costume can be quite distressing, not only at your doorstep, but also out and about in the world. Taking your dog for a Halloween stroll may seem like a great idea (and for some dogs, it could be no biggie), but for many dogs encountering so many odd ghouls and goblins and masked figures can truly be stressful. The scary noises and so many masked people streaming by could leave your dog with constant anxiety throughout Halloween.


Other "fun things" that can trigger a dog's anxiety


From a dog's-eye view, Halloween decorations are often big, imposing, strange looking. Sometimes they're even designed to emit frightening noises or make unexpected movements - essentially the perfect recipe for fearful reactions in a potentially anxious dog!


It's not just decorations and people in costume that can upset dogs, the increased volume of traffic on Halloween night can be quite overwhelming, too. The constant coming and going of cars, and sometimes even sirens as emergency services are called to handle costumes gone wrong (it happens!) can all cause your dog stress.


Let's face it, dogs thrive on humans being predictable and making them feel safe, and Halloween (and other similar events) is anything but.


Does your dog's body language say yes or no to costumes?


Pups in costume are truly adorable. Believe me, I get it! But what's not so adorable are all the stress signals I often see costumed dogs exhibiting signs of stressed, fearful behavior: tucked tails, pinned ears, wide eyes, tightly closed mouths. 


If your dog has been practicing building positive associations with all the handling and different sensations that come along with costume-wearing already, then great! They're probably all set. But for many dogs, being popped into an oversized taco suit that messes with their gait and constrains their body can truly be an uncomfortable experience.


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Getting proactive to keep your dog safe & secure


As Halloween or any similar event approaches, I urge you to be proactive about your dog's needs. Get those evening walks in early, and prepare enrichment activities to keep your dog busy in the evening. Giving your dog his/her own comfortable space away from the commotion can be a welcome relief.


Try this


Create an easy-to-access safe haven in your home for your dog:

  • A quiet room is great, an x-penned area, or baby-gated part of a room could do the trick to manage your dog's fear of loud noises and help your pup stay calm


  • You can also play music or use a little white noise to help stifle some of the ruckus and help alleviate noise anxiety. (also a good idea for other times your dog who has noise aversion is scared - noises like the garbage truck, police cars, sirens, and vacuum cleaners can be mitigated with music as well...)


  • Remember positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning with your dog's favorite treats throughout the evening to reinforce the positive feelings surrounding your dog's safe space


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To safe & secure, happy, healthy dogs on all days!


When it comes to costumes, you could begin conditioning your dog to get comfortable with their seasonal wear, or just keep it festive with a fun bandana or collar and leave the costumes to the kiddos (or let's be real, the adult humans, too...).


Whatever you do, make sure your dog is having fun and feeling safe. That's what life with your dog is all about, right?

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Next up in the Anxiety Channel on Dogly


Now that you've learned how to use behavior modification to help your dog cope with noise phobias around scary days like Halloween, you're ready to continue on to other guides in the Anxiety Channel. Jump to Separation Anxiety step-by-step guides like how to make coming and going boring and how to set your home environment up for success, or check out other guides like how to teach your dog to stay calm outside of the house.


Hop over to the Anxiety Channel if you'd like to ask any of the Dogly Training Advocates who are all certified dog trainers a question in the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Environment Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, or Understanding Anxiety.


And if you ever need more personalized training help, please reach out to work with me one-on-one here on Dogly!

Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Tressa because she sees training as a journey to better canine communication.

Tressa guides you

Anxiety - Kids & Dogs - Manners - Bite Prevention - Reactivity - Walking

Tressa is certified

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner - & Family Paws Parent Educator