My pet pooch has always held pride of place in our family. If truth be told, she’s never really considered in canine terms and my better half has complained on more than one occasion that she’s treated far better then he is.
She’s brought everywhere with us, from daily visits to the shop to family outings. She has her own dinner plate in my mother’s house and is never excluded from any family gathering. Except at this time of year. Because from about the middle of September until November, my happy, yappy little dog turns into a shrivelling wreck. Halloween is a nightmare time for her, and not as a result of all those horror movies she indulges in (joke). The fireworks that make their way into Waterford’s suburbia every Autumn reduce her to a woman (ok, doggy) on the brink. And she has to endure weeks of that before the Witching Hour ever comes upon us and all manner of warlock, spook and the obligatory princess come knocking on the door. She already goes ballistic whenever the doorbell rings so you can imagine what it’s like when trick-or-treaters ring it every few minutes.
Over the past week, as the nightly use of fireworks has escalated, she’s taken on the resemblance of a teething baby, such is the uncontrollable drool. Every time you hear a firework going off in the distance, you’ll invariably hear her nails racing across the floorboards in search of sanctuary. My heart really does go out to her and my previous love of the Halloween holiday continues to diminish every time I see her ricocheting across the room in terror.
I’ve accepted that Halloween is one holiday my dog can’t enjoy with the rest of us because her acute sense of hearing. And I’m not alone in my dilemma, I know. So, through my own trial and error and a little bit of research, I’ve come up with a few suggestions to ease your pet’s discomfort this weekend.
Firstly, try not to leave the dog alone in the house on Halloween night and make sure you take it out on walks before dark, so that it has a chance to go to the toilet. Don’t forget to close the curtains and turn the television volume up.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that the most humane and least stressful thing I can do for my dog on Halloween night itself is to keep her in a back room where she won’t have to see the scary sights arriving at the front door. Ideally, I stay in the room too, so she’s less likely to freak out every time the doorbell rings. If you have a dog that is easily aroused to territorial barking, do not let him sit by a window and watch trick-or-treaters approach.
The best advice, if and when your dog does become frightened of trick-or-treaters or fireworks, is to be calm and cool because by fussing about her you’re actually reinforcing her fear -maybe suggesting to her that you, too, are perturbed by the miniature pirate or hyperactive sheet dancing in the breeze in front of you.
Experts agree that scolding will scare and confuse the animal and coddling or attempting to comfort your stressed dog is not a good idea. The change in the owner’s behavior from normal only makes the dog think there really is something to worry about so the owner should interact with the dog in as normal a manner as possible. If all else fails and the dog is still running in all directions every time it hears a firework, provide a safe place for it to hide, such as behind the couch or under a bed.
To the best of your ability, try to divert the dog’s attention by playing with it or introducing a handful of treats. Veterinary behaviourists would suggest you appear excited yourself about the game, as this will work wonders.
Give the dog something to chew on. Just because your dog is locked away from the front door, doesn’t mean he can’t have a good time. Give him a rawhide bone, a Kong stuffed with something tasty or some other appealing chew to keep him occupied. Not only will this give him something to do, but chewing something good will help reduce his stress.
You could also introduce some competition to the noise from the fireworks, by playing loud music, turning up the TV or using a white noise maker. An innovative technique I came across suggests wrapping a dog in a blanket or even an old tshirt, kind of like cuddling a baby up in a blanket. This ‘anxiety wrap’ (made by putting the dog’s front legs through the arm holes of a tshirt and then knotting the hem over the dog’s back) is related to the massage and touch therapy and is believed to give the pet a feeling of greater security. Leaving you with this vision of how I’ll spend Friday night, I’m sure non dog-lovers amongst you are now sympathising whole-heartedly with the self-proclaimed neglected husband.