Tricky Treating.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Costumes, tricks, and traditions. It is the kick off to the holiday season and a sign that fall is here. There are a lot of things that my dogs love about fall too. Pumpkins! Cool weather! Busy squirrels!  But with those happy things comes a big drawback: a night full of trick-or-treaters.


Well, let me rephrase that, my dogs would hate trick-or-treaters if they knew they existed.


I know my dogs well enough to understand that, steps on the porch + doorbell + knocking + strange kid voices + costumes + opening the door = their nightmare. And that situation might be survivable for them if it only happened once, but the repetitive unpredictability of a busy neighborhood would not fly for them.  


So, I don’t even let them know it is happening. 


Instead of having them bark at every approach to the door and risk them being scared by the silhouettes of every werewolf, ghost, lion, or princess, screaming “trick-or-treat!” I shelter them from it. Upstairs they go, before the front light has even gone on, with white noise (Netflix Halloween special + fan!) and a special holiday treat, (bully stick, stuffed kong, or raw bone). Happy as can be, both dogs and humans can enjoy the night. And when it is all over, I have dogs who are none the wiser.


So, why don’t I just train my dogs to accept the situation? Isn’t this a great time to work on door manners!?!


Well, no, not really. If I dog trained my way through the night (sent them to their places each time a group gathered on my porch, reinforced them while my husband dished out candy, released them to a cookie scatter after the kids had left) more than likely they would be trigger stacking through the entire experience, building up a feelings stockpile of stress, excitement, anticipation, and I would be doing more harm to my training than good. Because tolerating trick or treating would be hard for them, and expensive to our relationship.


My two are not abnormal here, most dogs, especially sensitive breeds, will need strategic help to get through this night without being triggered. Is it worth it, to involve the dogs, if there is a chance my Border Collie might become spooked and reactive? No. Does he ever need to be happy to see a Power Ranger, ladybug, or unicorn, in his everyday life? No.


Also, training all night, on every approach, is unrealistic for ME. I am a professional dog trainer and I don’t have those kinds of expectations for myself. That kind of stamina is strenuous,  and without much reinforcement for me.  If I can’t expect reliability of my own behavior, I cannot begin to expect it from my dogs. I know I would be distracted, trying to treat my dogs and also poke my head around the corner to see the costumes. I would mostly be doing a half ass job, and that is never a situation I want to set up for myself when I am training any dog.

What is reinforcing to me is handing out candy to cute kids! So that’s what I am going to do. I suggest you do the same... unless you also want to hide upstairs with your dog, a Halloween movie, and a special treat avoiding the kids (also a fine choice).  


Happy Halloween from your friends at Inspiration Canine!