Wednesday, September 03, 2008

6 things to know about dog safety on Halloween

Masked intruders lurk on the doorstep, making demands and threatening mayhem. You know it’s all in fun, but Halloween can be anything but a treat for the dogs in your family.

“We hear about more dogs dying or straying during Halloween than any other holiday,” says dog behavioral therapist Liam Crowe, president of canine training company Bark Busters USA. “Halloween is intended to scare and startle us, making it a haunting holiday for dogs too.”

Dogs are creatures of habit, he says, and “the unusual set of circumstances that Halloween provides is very unsettling to them.”

Think about your dog’s safety in the same way you would think about the safety of a small child, he advises. Here are some more tips from Crowe to keep your canine companions from getting spooked this year.

1. Ins and outs: Don’t leave your dog outside on Halloween, even if your yard is fenced, Crowe advises. Your pet is too vulnerable to mischief-makers outdoors, and increased activity in the neighborhood and costumed trick-or-treaters may cause anxiety. Instead create a safe haven for your dog in the den, laundry room or other room. Play music or turn on a fan to drown out the ringing doorbell. Give your pet a blanket or something soft to snuggle on, or an item of clothing with your scent on it. Throw in a favorite toy or two, and be sure to check on the dog frequently to reduce its stress.

2. Show some restraint. It’s best to keep your dog away from the front door, to limit its excitability, aggression and chances of running away, Crowe says. If you can’t keep your dog in a separate room, restrain it with a leash or block its access to the front door with a doggie gate, and draw the curtains so your pet can’t see all the costumed kids climbing your steps.

3. Safeguard the sweets. Keep candy away from your pet, Crowe advises. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can be toxic to dogs, and candy wrappers can cause choking. Because we need to keep the candy bowl accessible, dogs often help themselves when we’re not looking. Although some dogs can eat candy without any ill effects, Crowe says to call your vet if you suspect your pooch has nabbed some chocolate. Common reactions include heavy breathing and salivating, lethargy and unusual behavior.

4. Tag, that’s it. You’ve blocked the entrance to the living room, but the minute you turned your back to tend to the trick-or-treaters, your sneaky little pup dodged the roadblock and squeezed through the barely open front door. Despite our best efforts, it happens, which is why Crowe says it’s imperative to make sure identification tags are securely attached to your dog’s collar. If your dog does get out, Crowe says not to chase it, or your pet will “think he is leading you in a game.” Instead, he says, “run the other way. Crouch down, make your body language inviting, and don’t lunge at the dog.” When your pet gets close, tickle it under the chin, then slowly bring up the leash and attach it.

5. Protect the pumpkins. Excited or agitated dogs can knock over a pumpkin, an especially scary prospect if it’s lit by a candle. Be sure to put jack-o’-lanterns out of the reach of your dog.

6. For success, don’t dress. Think twice about putting a costume on your dog. While some dogs might enjoy being dressed up, many don’t, Crowe says. Experiment first to see if your dog likes being in a costume. If the pooch shows any resistance, don’t do it. Dogs feel enough stress around Halloween without having to endure the discomfort of a costume.

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