Halloween is just around the corner. Whether that fills you with excitement or dread may have something to do with how your dog feels about (and acts around) visitors. Dogs run the gamut from “terrified of every unfamiliar human” to “thrilled to see any other living being, familiar or not.” The ones closest to the middle, those who are easy-going or even uninterested in strangers, probably won’t think much about it. They’ll be saying, “Just another night! Why is the ding-dong-thing happening so much more often than usual?” The fearful and the exuberant, on the other hand, might struggle. This is a great chance for you to work on your dog’s greeting manners!
Before the big night, we suggest you run through a few dress rehearsals to help set the stage for success! The ideal time to get started on this is well before the holiday itself. If you’re reading this the night before Halloween, skip to the end for last-minute coping strategies. If you’ve got a few weeks, time to start practicing!
How to Teach Door Manners
Door manners can be divided into specific behaviors, each of which can be taught and practiced independently.
Sit or Down-Stay on a Mat: Your dog probably already knows how to sit on cue. Great! All you need to do is practice a sit, down, or “four paws on the floor” on a designated mat or small rug. Once your dog knows that this is their “magic carpet,” and you’ve rehearsed together in easy locations with few distractions, you can start moving it closer to the front door and practice there.
Make Your Way to the Door: Once you’re successfully working with your dog’s mat as close as you want it to the door, it’s time to practice leaving them there while you walk over to open the door for your guests, asking your dog to “stay” until you give a release cue, such as “Go say hi!” This allows your dog to leave the magic carpet to greet the person at the door. If you don’t give the cue, then your dog will need to stay on the mat. This is a difficult step! Use extra treats to help encourage your dog to stay on the mat; this will help in the long run. (If you’re short on time to teach this, and have two sets of hands, you can have one person stay with the dog, giving rewards, while the other answers the door. Much easier! Keeping your dog’s harness and leash on during this step will also prevent them from breaking their stay and getting reinforced by the exciting people at the door.)
Ding-Dong: Now it’s time to add in the doorbell or knock. This will no doubt make it a little harder, so you’ll really want to make sure you give extra-special treats for staying put.
Set the Stage: On the big night, place a small container of your dog’s treats near the front door (inside if you plan to be rewarding the dog, and outside if your guests will be giving rewards). When the little goblins come to the door, have your dog go to the magic carpet, and when the door opens, you or the kids (depending on your dog’s and the children’s comfort level) can give your dog a treat for staying. Then you give the kids their treats. (Please make sure you don’t mix up whose treats are whose!) So, your dog gets treats for learning, and the kids get treats for helping you train your dog — it’s a win-win!
Last-Minute Survival Strategies
It’s the night of Halloween and you haven’t had time to work on manners! Oh no. At this point, your best bet is to put your dog in a quiet room in their crate, preferably with some music or white noise playing to drown out the doorbell and the voices, and a delicious interactive toy they can gnaw on if they get bored. If you try to manage your dog’s behavior and your trick or treaters all at once, no one will have nearly as much fun, especially you!
If your dog is uncomfortable with strangers, Halloween night is not the time to work on socialization. That’s like throwing someone who has never seen water, let alone been swimming, into the deep end of the pool. This is another time when the crate in a quiet room is your best bet. Wait until a calm time when you can control the environment, and work on it then. By next Halloween, you’ll have a confident dog with excellent greeting manners, and everyone will have a great time.
What’s Next? Costumes!
Now that you’ve got all the behaviors planned out and practiced, it’s time to discuss the wardrobe portion of the evening. Check back soon for a few simple tips to teach your dog to not just tolerate their Halloween outfit, but to love playing dress-up all year!