While ghosts and goblins may be your thing many dogs find all the ghoulish decor and costumes of Halloween a bit frightening! I can only imagine what they must be thinking… For a month of the year the whole world looks different and there are sketchy characters lurking everywhere! It’s their job to let you know when something is not right and most of them believe body parts dangling from trees firmly falls into the “wrong” category. Try these tips to help your dog cope with this spooky day:
– While walking your dog around the neighborhood encourage them to investigate new decor by letting them give a sniff. Treats work wonders to get reward them for getting close to something they think they should avoid! After the initial exploration many dogs calm down. If you pup is still worked up spend a few minutes near the “scary” items (but still far enough away that they feel comfortable) while feeding their favorite treats to create a positive association.
– If you dog will be exposed to people in costumes start by acclimating them to your family in theirs. Keep interactions with you in costume positive by giving treats, attention and playtime while donning your masks.
– Refresh your dog on the leave it command (show a treat, say leave it and reward when your dog doesn’t touch the item and backs away). This will come in handy if your pup outside during trick or treating (think candy on the sidewalk).
– For dogs who will be sporting costumes of their own acclimate them at home first. Remember to keep the experience positive with lots of treats!
– When selecting costumes for your dog look for those that do not cover her face or eyes. If your dog is less than thrilled about being dressed up let him go as himself this year!
– If you dog will be greeting trick or treaters keep a baby gate across the front door to keep your dog and those at the door safe! Reward good door greeting behavior such as sitting calmly. If ghouls and goblins make your pup nervous, keep them in another room during fright night, and be sure to practice spending time in the space (with a bone or chew to occupy them) before the time comes.
– Last but not least, make sure candy is well out of reach. Chocolate and certain kinds of sweeteners are toxic to your pooch!
One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to get your dog to listen without the need for constant treats. The answer – implement an intermittent schedule of reinforcement (i.e. reward your dog randomly for things she has learned and understands).
To better understand this, think about a person at the slot machine of their favorite casino. Humans spend hours sitting there, putting in money and pulling the lever, without being rewarded with a payout, all because they know a payout is coming EVENTUALLY, even if not for them.
This is exactly the thinking we want to instill in your dog. She will follow your instructions even without a reward because she knows one is on the horizon, eventually.
Please note – when teaching new commands, consistency and repetition are key! So when you start “sit”, you will likely be rewarding every time to build a pattern with your dog that we really like this behavior, and there is something in it for him if he listens. Randomly rewarding is a tool we use down the road, when your dog understands the behavior you are asking for.
So how do you do it?
For commands your dog knows reliably well (think you ask him to “sit” ten times and he complies without hesitation at least eight of those ten times) begin to randomize the rewards. Some “sits” receive a treat, some receive praise or a pet. Better yet, mix in “life rewards” (walks, dinner, you tossing the ball one more time) for following that command.
It is important when doing this to go against our human instincts and not follow a set pattern of rewarding (humans are so predictable!). Rather then rewarding every other time your dog follows a command (pups catch on to this very quickly), mix it up, so he may get two rewards in a row, then not another for the following three commands.
And while you’re at it, get those treats out of your hands! When my client’s pups are responding well we move to putting treats around the house in various locations. Then, when we ask the pup to “down” and she complies, we praise and go to the nearest treat location for a reward. Now your pup is figuring out just because there isn’t anything in your hand does not necessarily mean no reward!
Try these tips to take your training to the next level, and have a more responsive pup, sans treats!