There’s no getting around it, Halloween is horrifying for dogs. Dogs often struggle to understand things like hats and glasses. When someone comes to the door in a terrifying costume, it can be way too much for our dogs to comprehend.

On top of this, we often ask them to conform to human customs and wear costumes themselves. They might have to walk through crowded streets, listen to screams, and see people suddenly explode out of the bushes.

Unless we take the time to introduce them to some of our customs, it can cause your dog an unreasonable amount of distress. We’re going to go over how to desensitize your dog, and recommend you start now, well before Halloween actually gets here.

Introducing Human Costumes

You’ll need a costume, ideally with a mask or hat for this. If you don’t have one, do not worry. It doesn’t have to look Halloweeny to help your dog understand it’s not scary. You can get by with a tablecloth (ideal for simulating flapping capes and fluttery costumes) a hat, and a scarf to cover your face with.

Start off by letting your dog thoroughly sniff and inspect these items. Place the hat on your head, and then immediately give the dog a treat and take it off.

If your dog wigs out when you wear the hat, try putting it on another family member on the other side of the room (or any neutral person your dog is used to) and rewarding at a distance.

Do the same for the costume. Put it on, provide treats, take it off. Cover your face with a mask, drop a treat, put it back on.

Desensitize Slowly

The above technique is called desensitization. You’re introducing him to something he may be worried about and showing him there is nothing to fear with treats. If your dog is too worried to take treats at this stage, move farther away until he feels safe.

Here’s a great article on desensitization from VCA hospitals that explains it in more detail. Since we have a lot to cover we’re only covering this briefly.

Introducing Dog Costumes

Desensitization also works for introducing dogs to costumes of their own. If your dog isn’t used to wearing clothes, you’ll need to show your dog there is nothing to be afraid of, very slowly. You also need to make it worth their while.

When we wanted Leia to wear hats and glasses for a film, we started months before the film actually took place. It started out with holding the hat over her head about 6 inches, and then rewarding her with a click from her clicker, and a treat.

Eventually it had to touch her head to get a click, and then we trained her to put her head through the strap by opening it as wide as possible and luring her with a treat.

By the time she completed training, she was very happy to wear the hat. Glasses were done in the same way, with it being held several inches from her face at first and slowly working forward.

If you are introducing anything unusual at all to your dog, treat it this way to help your dog get used to it gradually.

Doorbell fears

While you can desensitize your dog to the doorbell as well, it’s often much harder. You can’t control real visitors to the door punctuating training and making it an exciting event, so it takes much longer. If you want your dog to behave a certain way at the doorbell, perhaps going to their bed when you answer the door, this takes extensive training.

Since our dogs are complete hooligans at the door and still very much works in progress, we recommend a more experienced trainers guide here. If you know your dog will behave poorly at the door, use a baby gate to block access to the doorway, put your dog in another room, or keep him leashed during trick-or-treating.

Flappy Things

Even if the costume you chose didn’t have capes, consider showing him that flapping things can be fine too. Flap a towel, treat, hang your laundry out to dry and train around that, etc.

The more you can take small pieces of “Halloween” and share it with your dog in a rewarding manner, the calmer your pet will be for that big day.

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