In this article, contributor Georgina Cox shares her tips on how to help your pets through Halloween's trick or treaters.
Ah, Halloween. The one evening of the year where it's socially acceptable for masked strangers to knock on your door for snacks.
Whilst it's a lot of fun for the trick or treaters, it can cause some dog owners problems if they have a reactive dog, particularly if the common trigger is a visitor at the door. Add the presence of loud children and the constant ringing of doorbells, and it can quickly go from lighthearted fun to a Halloween nightmare. But why not use the lead up to this holiday as an opportunity for some desensitisation training?
Many dogs go on high alert when strangers approach their home and may bark or howl. Desensitising the dogs to the sound of a visitor will be the most effective way of assisting your dog with trick or treaters at the door. The key here is to start well in advance of Halloween as your dog can't be expected to learn this overnight!
The goal of this training technique is to teach your dog that the sound of the door is not a threat through positive association and reinforcement.
- Enlist a volunteer. Sit near your front door and ask your volunteer to ring or knock at the door. Completely ignore the door as well as your dog’s barking. Do not move, speak or open the door.
- Wait for calm. When your dog is completely silent, reward him with a high value treat (chicken, cheese, whatever happens to be their favourite food!) and open the door to greet your guest.
- Repeat. This may take multiple 10-15 minute sessions, but keep at it.
- Gradually move further from the door. Try putting them in a separate room and rewarding them when they are calm.
What not to do
- Shout at your dog. To your dog, you are just joining in. Ignore the noise and even leave the room if you can and make sure you reward your dog with a treat or praise once he's stopped barking so he understands the desired behaviour.
- Expect miracles. If your dog is still visibly stressed out by the door, pop your dog in a different room when you go to answer the door or stick a note on your door asking trick or treaters to approach and knock quietly.
- Forget that barking is normal! In a dog’s world, a threat is approaching their territory and they are trying to warn you of that.
- Ignore signs of stress. If your dog is panting more than usual, you can see the whites of his eyes or he's trembling, make sure you comfort him.
This training takes time but eventually your hard work will pay off and your dog won't even raise an eyebrow at the door. Happy Halloween!
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