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Around Halloween, houses start cropping up with tombstones, spiderwebs, and motion-active zombies that are meant to scare you. Festive decorations might surprise your dog while you’re out for a walk on your usual route, especially if they appear overnight. Here’s how to make your dog comfortable when their familiar neighborhood appears to change unexpectedly.

Safety First

Many decorations are designed to surprise people with unexpected movements, sounds, or lights. So it probably won’t be a surprise if this decor spooks dogs, no matter how confident they are.

When walking your dog, make sure that they are on-leash (so they can’t run off if they get spooked) and that they’re wearing a properly-fitting dog collar or harness (so they can’t slip or back out if they become scared). In case your dog does manage to escape, it’s important for them to have up-to-date identification tags so they can be returned to you once they’re found.

Be on the Offensive

If a dog gets scared of Halloween decorations, try to proactively support that dog while out for walks. Pay special attention to your surroundings. When you spot new decorations, get your dog’s attention, then praise and reward them as you go by.

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Carry dog treats and toys with you so you can engage positively with them. If you notice decor that your dog might find intimidating, try to cross the street. This will put distance between your dog and a potential stimulus that could scare them.

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, attach the leash to their collar or harness. Make sure to keep your leash loose (since 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 (like 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.

Use Distance

When out for a walk, your dog may want to get closer to decorations they’re comfortable with. You can let them approach if it’s safe to do so.

However, 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 where 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 calmly showing any interest or engaging with the decorations (such as looking at them).

Siberian Husky gently taking a treat from a hand.
Ryhor Bruyeu /

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 dog 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 near the decorations. If your dog is particularly sensitive, it’s fine to prioritize your their 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 dog out on an alternative route, going for a hike, playing active games in your yard, or practicing AKC Scent Work until the decorations come down.

Related article: Help Make Your Dog’s Halloween Costume a Pleasant Experience