Of course, we all want solutions to our dogs’ behavior issues, but sometimes the best approach is to avoid the problem. There’s generally nothing to be gained by putting our dogs into situations that they cannot handle. In other words, sometimes preventing the problem in the first place is the way to go.
In some areas, we as dog guardians take this for granted. It’s not unusual to put a dog in a crate or in the back room if a toddler play group will be descending on the house. It’s even more common to use a leash when walking a dog on a busy road. Nobody thinks it makes sense to bet a dog’s life on his recall or his ability to refrain from chasing cars.
This seems like basic common sense to me, but there are a lot of barriers to this approach. Using prevention feels like a failure to many people. I wish this weren’t so. To me, a dog being hit by a car or injuring a young child represent failures. Keeping a dog on leash while walking on a busy road or letting a dog chill out in the crate with a stuffed Kong do not.
Halloween offers a very specific opportunity to protect your dog with a commitment to preventing trouble. However dear trick-or-treaters may be to many humans, few dogs feel the same way. Having a tree, a storm trooper or a fully functioning traffic light at your door may prompt you to say, “My, how clever,” but most dogs react in a more, “Ye gads, what is that thing?!” kind of way. Between the doorbell and the monsters (literally!) at the door, the night is far more trick-y than treat-y for most of our beloved canines. Many of them react with fear, excessive exuberance or even aggression.
Since this holiday happens only once a year, it’s hard to give dogs practice with the situations unique to it. It’s true that handling the horrors of Halloween can be step 100 in a program to teach dogs to be able to cope with anything, but most dogs are somewhere between step 20 and step 50. Jumping up too far in the process can be damaging to dogs and actually set them back. I do hate to sound defeatist, but unless your dog is experienced all the way up through step 99, I’m in favor of avoidance for so many dogs who struggle with this holiday.
Avoidance may mean staying in the back room with your dog while another member of the household answers the door and passes out candy. It may mean having your dog spend the evening visiting a friend who gets no visitors on Halloween. Another option is to put candy out on your porch with a note saying, “Take a piece of candy to save my shy dog from listening to the doorbell ring.” If you really want to go to extremes, you can turn your lights out, draw the shades, and pretend you’re not home. None of these options are ideal, but they all have the advantage of protecting your dog from getting overly excited or spooked this Halloween and exhibiting undesirable behavior as a result.
Life can be hard, and for many dogs, that is especially true on Halloween. Let’s not miss out on opportunities to make it easier when we can.