Halloween during COVID-19: Keep It Safe and Fun for Dogs with Tricks and Treats

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Even though the 2020 Halloween festivities are a bit different this year, we can still have fun – and so can our pups. We might not be taking our dogs far from home, but we can use this time to practice key skills while having some fright-less fun along the way. Let’s make Halloween 2020 a real treat for our dogs by: 

  • Teaching them to enjoy playing dress-up
  • Teaching a fun new trick and/or brushing up on a previously learned one
  • Reinforcing good greeting and leash walking manners

Dress(-up) Rehearsals

‘Dress rehearsals’ of any dog training skill are important. Repetition allows for building a solid foundation while having opportunities to troubleshoot and refine along the way. And when it comes to encouraging dogs to love wearing their special holiday costumes, we literally rehearse playing dress-up. We practice the same steps as we would for teaching a dog to love a new harness. Remember to start slowly, and build slowly, to help your dog acclimate to the new outfit: 

  • Whenever the outfit appears, your dog gets yummy treats (dog treats, not Halloween candy!). Please note – the order of events is most important: outfit first, followed by treats. No outfit, no treats. 
  • Show him the outfit, then give a treat. 
  • Then touch your dog with the costume, then treat. 
  • Followed by dressing one limb, then treat.
  • Two limbs, treat, etc…
Poncho Running Around, Wearing His Lobster Costume

Give your dog a break between sessions, repeat levels of difficulty, again building slowly. This gradual process allows dogs to develop something called a positive conditioned response, which is the fancy scientific term for creating automatic happy excitement when seeing or experiencing something that was once neutral. We don’t want dogs to tolerate wearing costumes; we want them to love it! If they don’t, then perhaps we can skip the costume and go straight to the tricks and treats.

Did Someone Say, “Trick or Treat?”

So, why not take this opportunity to teach a fun new trick such as play dead, spin or roll over? Or how about reinforcing and practicing an oldie, but goody, like the Leave It cue. Leaving things alone when asked — say candy on the floor or new decorations that make tempting chew toys — will come in handy during any celebration.

Ringo Starr Playing Dress-Up (while learning to leave candy alone)

Halloween Manners Matter – Inside and Outside

Which brings us to some other important learning opportunities. Think about all of the behaviors we want and expect our canine companions to know during Halloween festivities. We expect a lot from our dogs during holiday adventures, including Halloween, whether at home or on a walk. 

At home, greeting people politely when cued, even strangers coming to the door, wearing funny (and sometimes scary) outfits, is a great skill to brush up on. (Although masks are very commonplace nowadays, Halloween masks are often a bit different!) When the doorbell rings, or there’s a knock at the door, what would you like your pup to do? Go to a bed, mat or crate? Or perhaps practice sit-stay near the front door? Decide on a strategy and then set your dog up for success: Teach the skill. Practice. Then apply it to real-life situations.

For outdoor adventures as well, greeting people politely is a valuable skill, as is walking calmly on a loose leash — especially if wearing a costume or coming across other pets and people in costumes.

No doubt Halloween 2020 will indeed be a little scary, spooky and downright different. But it can still be a great time to unleash adventures and harness fun with your best fiend – or your best friend! We wish you a safe and happy Halloween!  

Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your dressed up canine companion? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter and Instagram – we’d love to connect! 

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