Halloween is a magical time of the year. The costumes, candy, and lots of people coming and going from your house. However, Halloween may not be so enjoyable if you have an anxious dog. Yes, dogs do have anxiety problems. Anxious dogs express their anxiety in a variety of ways such as repeatedly barking, drooling, pawing the ground, whining, and a host of other behaviors.
During the Halloween season, your anxious dog might be sensitive to loud noises, such as the ringing of the doorbell, knocking on doors, etc. Your dog’s anxiety may also be aggravated by the strange outfits that trick or treaters wear on Halloween. So, let’s look at how you can keep your anxious dog calm and so that s/he can enjoy Halloween… Or at the very least, tolerate it.
Your Response To Your Anxious Dog Matters
If you have an anxious dog, one of the first things you might want to think about is how you respond during these situations. Your response is extremely important to your anxious dog. As much as you would like to baby and provide distraction-free comfort to your dog during all anxiety creating situations, this may not be the best idea. Talking baby-talk, holding your anxious dog and rocking him or her while you walk around the room sounds good, but… Your dog can pick up that you’re anxious about the situation too. So, if you respond positively to your anxious dog’s anxiety, you may very well be reinforcing that his or her anxiousness is warranted. And, your dog will learn to repeat that behavior.
What To Do?
Ideally, what you want to do is to remain calm and act assuredly. By taking this approach, you’re showing your dog that there is nothing to fear. Your dog will naturally pay attention to you and how you react in these situations. So, if you are acting calmly, your anxious dog will follow your lead and eventually begin to calm down.
Here’s How To Get Your Anxious Dog Ready For Halloween
One of the best ways you can help your anxious dog get through Halloween, or any stressful period, is to create a safe space for him or her. You can prepare for this by planning ahead and to help your dog to recognize that the space you created is ‘safe.’ Just like humans, anxiety in dogs often includes a release of hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that trigger your dog’s flight or fight response.
How do you know when this has happened? Your dog can’t stay still, his/her muscles tense, there’s an increase in your dog’s panting, and his/her heartbeat beats much faster. A safe space can help keep the ‘flight’ instinct in your dog at bay, as it gives your dog the type of comfort needed to reduce adrenaline and other stress-inducing hormones. Creating a den-like space, with a crate or cage can be ideal for this purpose. In the cases of extreme anxiety, you can cover part of the crate or cage so that it is made more like an enclosed area and thus more comfortable for ‘hiding.’ This kind of familiar environment will reduce anxiety in your anxious dog. You can also add toys or treats to the crate. Just make sure that when your dog goes into his or her ‘safe place’ that you act normally. It’s wise to avoid continual checking-in or disturbing your dog as this can re-stimulate your dog’s anxiety.
You can also help your dog through desensitizing work. For this, you will need to identify the source of your dog’s anxiety, such as loud noises, strange outfits, etc. You start the desensitizing training by very slowly introducing your dog to a reduced level of the situation that causes anxiety. For example, if your dog is fine with children but is afraid of a child in a mask – you know the trigger. Start the desensitizing training with a mask under a blanket where the dog can only see a small portion, and very slowly increase. Don’t treat the mask like a toy, and don’t let your dog paw or bite at it. Also, don’t encourage your dog to interact playfully with the mask. The goal is to get your dog to accept the mask as though it is nothing. Eventually, the training has you and others wearing the mask around the house and ignoring your dog… And your dog ignoring you. By doing this, it shows your dog that there is nothing to fear and that nothing bad will happen.
It Can Work
One of the biggest anxiety triggers for dogs is the knocking at the door, coupled with the yelling for treats. In the case, try recording loud noises of doorbells ringing, people knocking and saying “trick-or-treat” and then re-play it throughout the day. Start at a low volume and over time, slowly increase the intensity of the volume until your dog becomes desensitized to the noise. Throughout any desensitizing training note if your dog’s anxiety levels increase or decrease. During the times that there is a flareup in your dog’s anxiety, couple the training with some obedience training scenarios, like “Sit,” “Down” and so on. By doing this, your dog’s attention is attracted to something else and anxiety levels should naturally reduce. Reward your dog for undergoing and conquering anxiety while remaining calm and acting naturally.
Another thing that can help your anxious dog settle down is a calming garment. These are shirt-like garments that you can buy or make for your dog. They are a little snug and put some level of pressure on your dog. Shirts like this can help your dog with the anxiety that comes with stressful periods like Halloween. A snuggly feeling is closely associated with safety and comfort, and a calming garment can help build that sensation. Human studies have shown that anxious children in compression garments are less likely to act out and experience a reduced level of anxiety. This is due to a release of endorphins and the sense of well-being they provide (source). You’ll want to experiment before any big event, to make sure that the calming garment you select isn’t too tight or too loose. A good solution is to purchase an adjustable calming garment. That way, you can increase or decrease the pressure on the dog until you hit that sweet spot.
Treats also play a role in helping relieve a dog in anxiety-inducing situations. Whether you create a safe place, work to desensitize, or have your dog wear a calming garment, and perhaps even all three, you can reward your dog when s/he shows self-control during anxious situations. As you gradually increase the level of the anxiety-inducing activity, monitor your dog’s anxiety level and provide a treat when s/he calms down, and eventually when remaining calm. By doing this, your dog begins to make the connection of receiving a treat when in a calm state. This will help your dog to gradually move into a relaxed state of mind, free from anxiety… Even when in the presence of a potential anxiety-inducing situation. You can even put the treats into a puzzle toy to further distract your dog.
For a helpful benefit that provides a more expedited relief, you can give your dog treats infused with CBD. The cannabinoids in the CBD will work with your dog’s natural cannabinoid system to help readjust your pup’s anxiety. Eventually, when you combine the aforementioned tools along with CBD, your dog can become conditioned to tolerate the things that formerly induced anxiety. Additionally, for big events that have a predetermined time-frame, like Halloween and July 4th, you can give your dog CBD tincture drops 20 minutes before the event so that your dog’s anxiety doesn’t become too overwhelming.
Help Your Anxious Dog Chill Out
Halloween is a really fun time and can be a perfectly wonderful holiday for both you and your dog, especially if you help your dog conquer his/her anxiety. Remember, an anxious dog isn’t just a Nervous Nelly, there really is a physiological reaction that your dog is experiencing. So take steps to help your pooch overcome, or at the very least learn to tolerate, the things that cause anxiety. Eventually, if things go well, you can even incorporate costume ideas for you and your dog for Halloween… Dorothy and Tito for the Wizard of Oz are always cute to see handing out candy to trick-or-treaters!