With Halloween right around the corner, remember to be sensitive to your dogs in regards to spooky decorations, strange costumes or even an unusual hat you plan to don during the festivities. You may think it’s no big deal but a dog who hasn’t been exposed to a lot of novel objects or situations may think it is a VERY big deal! Even if your dog has seen a lot of new and novel things in his day, seeing you in a Batman costume may be quite upsetting (for any number of reasons).
If your dog seems sensitive to a particular object, try encouraging your dog to approach or even touch the object and be ready to dole out high praise and yummy treats for any steps in the right direction, or even an acknowledgement of said spooky object. Don’t force anything; small steps that end with success is key.
Continue working with your dog until he is feeling comfortable enough to touch the object, even if it is a quick poke with his nose (you can try luring your dog closer and closer with the use of treats). Teaching your dog how to ‘touch’ something on cue is a hugely valuable tool. It’s so important that it will be the focus of an upcoming See Spot Think activity box. If your dog is willing to touch the spooky object, jackpot him with treats (they can be small, but should be plenty).
If it is a costume that is scaring your dog, try putting it on slowly and calling your dog over to you for love, pets, and treats during the process. If your costume has a mask or hat, you can try setting it on the ground and letting your dog investigate it on his own, and at his own pace. Reward and praise your dog for being brave. When he seems comfortable with the mask/hat try putting in on very casually and remember to tell your dog what a good boy or girl they are. Ideally this will happen a few days before you need to wear the costume-again small, successful steps are best. Wear the costume around the house at random times doing normal tasks to reassure your dog it is no big deal that you are slowly turning into an ape. Everything is completely normal.
Most dogs will be able to work through any fears of the unknown with some reassurance and reinforcement but it’s important to recognize when your dog is having difficulty coping and be ready to remove him or her from the festivities if it seems like it will be too stressful. It can be very confusing for even the most well-adjusted, well-socialized dog to suddenly see his house full of zombies, witches and werewolves who look, sound and move funny!
Enjoy the holiday, be safe and remember to be sensitive to your dog. Even if you don’t understand how a silly looking skeleton can be frightening, appreciate that it is to your dog and help him get through it.
Fun with a ‘Come!’
Does your dog ignore you when you call him? Make recall fun by trying these games:
When your dog is just a few feet away from you, say “Come!” then turn and run away. When he runs after you, say “Yes!” and give him a treat when he reaches you. If he doesn’t follow you or if he looks at you without moving, use a kissy noise or squeaky toy (something exciting and attention-grabbing) and run a few more steps. Say “Come!” then cue “Yes!” and give a treat when he follows and reaches you. Get excited and praise him so he is excited too. You want him to associate only great things when he comes to you.
Once he starts running to you every time you run away, you can start decreasing your movement, until he runs to you when you are standing still and asking him to “Come!” Don’t forget to give him treats (eventually you can fade out the treats or use them intermittently when the recall is solid). You want coming to you to be more fun, exciting and rewarding than anything else your dog could be doing.
Another fun recall game
When your dog is outside playing, exploring or doing something else fun, call his name and show him you have the most-amazing-wonderful-delicious treat ever. When he runs to you, cue “Yes!” then jackpot him with 1-2-3 treats then release him with “Go Play!” This will help reinforce that when you call him over it is for something amazingly wonderful, not to stop fun. Do this often, randomly throughout the day and with several repetitions of treat/go play
Remember: never call your dog over to you to punish him-that can easily and quickly poison the cue “Come” and ruin a solid recall. Coming to you should always be a positive experience!
– East Valley resident Stefanie Strackbein is owner of What Dogs Want, a program that encourages people to have more fun with their dogs. Visit www.whatdogswant.org to learn about their subscription box See Spot Think!