Around Halloween, houses start cropping up with tombstones, spiderwebs, and motion-active zombies that are meant for a jumpscare. Festive decorations might surprise your dog while you’re out for a walk on your usual route, especially when these items appear overnight. Here’s how to make your dog comfortable when their familiar neighborhood appears to change unexpectedly.
Many decorations are designed to surprise people with unexpected movements, sounds, or lights. Therefore, it should be no surprise if this decor spooks dogs, no matter how confident your pet may be. When walking your dog, make sure that they are on-leash, wearing identification tags, and wearing a well-fitted collar or harness so they can’t slip or back out if they become scared.
Be on the Offensive
Try to proactively support your dog while out for walks by paying special attention to your surroundings. When you spot new decorations, get your dog’s attention, then praise and reward; carry treats and toys to engage with your pet. If you notice spy decor that your dog might find intimidating, try to cross the street to gain distance.
Let Your Dog Explore
If you have decorations up at your house, you can work on building your dog’s confidence. If your dog is calm, comfortable, and able to take and eat treats, keep your leash loose (a tightened leash can accidentally cue to your dog that there something upsetting is happening). Praise and treat your dog for looking at the decorations.
Continue to praise and treat your dog if they curiously or calmly approach the festive decor. If your dog shows signs of being stressed (stiffening their body, barking, or lunging), get their attention. Move them back to a distance they are comfortable with, then praise and reward your dog for engaging with you at that distance.
When out for a walk, allow your dog to get closer to decorations they are comfortable with of their own volition. Similarly, if your dog is not able to take treats or engage with toys normally, this indicates they are closer to these stimuli than they are comfortable with. Try to stay at a distance at which your dog can be relaxed, respond to cues they know, take treats, or engage with toys.
Create New Associations
You can use positive reinforcement techniques to help your dog to form new and positive relationships with holiday decorations. Start at a comfortable distance from the decorations, then reward your dog for any calm interest or engagement with the decorations, such as looking at them. Your dog will start to make the association that glancing at the decorations will get them rewards; as a result, they will begin offering this behavior and expecting a treat. As your dog gains confidence while looking at the decorations, you can slowly decrease the distance between your pet and the decorations.
Keep It Fun
While walking your dog around decorations, make sure that they are having fun by carrying treats and toys and rewarding and engaging them for being in proximity to the decorations. If your dog is particularly sensitive, it’s fine to prioritize your pet’s comfort and emotional well-being by staying home. In this case, prioritize finding ways to meet your dog’s physical and mental enrichment needs. Try taking your pet out on an alternative less spooky route, going for a hike, playing active games in your yard, or practicing Scent Work until the decorations come down.