So… you’re a dog-owner, and it’s nearly the scariest time of year again for your furry friend.. Like many loving owners, you may be currently focusing on the best way to keep your dog calm during the forthcoming fireworks season … but another potentially terrifying date can get overlooked.
I'm referring to Halloween of course. The good news is, the Halloween “season” is generally shorter - usually just one or two nights of madness around 31st October, compared to the sprawling weeks of fireworks.
The bad news is: not only can Halloween still traumatise your dog in one or two short nights, but the experience could leave it with an embedded fear of certain sights or sounds connected with that trauma, which can be repeatedly triggered in the future. Apart from this being generally horrible for your dog, this could become really tricky if it manifests as fear-aggression.
Last year I was called to see a very sweet little dog called Stella, who had developed a fear of small children ("trick or treat-ing“ sized children!) immediately after Halloween night.
Her usual morning walks, previously a time of great fun and enjoyment where she was greeted affectionately by many schoolchildren, was now a source of worry to both dog and owner, as Stella suddenly began barking at any child of a size that reminded her of the many groups of visitors to the front door on Halloween night.
Even if you’re lucky enough to live on a quieter road and don’t have “trick-or treaters” shuffling up your garden path every 10 minutes - there will still be small gangs of micro-ghouls out in the streets rattling candy-buckets from late afternoon, and it's likely that you’ll encounter at least some of them on your dog’s evening walk.
Consider what this must be like from your dog's perspective:
If a bloodstained “face” with black eyes and huge fangs is supposed to look scary to a human, imagine how it looks to a dog, whose head is much closer to the height of children’s masks than yours is. They don’t know it’s Halloween. They just know that suddenly there are lots of terrifying-looking creatures - often making strange, high-pitched shrieks - getting up close and personal in the street - or worse, coming to their home! Nightmarish stuff.
Even when these frightening masks are put away for another year, your dog may still retain other data from the experience - such as the height of the scary creature, or the shrill way it giggled - and might feel the need to defend itself every time it sees or hears something similar, triggering those frightening memories of Halloween night.
This is what happened with Stella. She had suddenly learned to associate small children and their excited voices with feeling confused and afraid and consequently needing to scare the threat away. Whilst this makes perfect sense from an animal survival perspective, other's reactions to her fearful behaviour just added into a reinforcing cycle of negativity.
When Stella barked at the children in the park it frightened them, and in turn this understandably upset their parents, even though poor Stella was only a little pug. Imagine a larger dog that had a less cuddly disposition to start with - the behaviour change might have had an even more negative outcome.
Stella responded well to her Zoopharmacognosy session where she was allowed to self-select essential oils and other natural extracts to help address traumatic experiences, and is no longer alarmed by the sight or sound of small children.
But with a bit of planning you can prevent your dog getting scared by the goulish goings-on, which are at least more predictable than the dreaded fireworks. There may still be some firework noise, but if you can keep your dog away from the front door and plan your evening walk locations carefully for a night or two, you’ll be on the way to a care-free, scare-free Halloween.