5 Tips for Your Pet’s Best Halloween

My favorite holiday, Halloween, is almost here! But while this holiday is often a favorite for humans it’s rarely a favorite for pets and that makes it stressful for their owners. The doorbell ringing all night often sends our pets into a loud tailspin. It’s a battle to get to the door when pets are crowding it. And let’s not forget the pets who get into the bowl of Halloween candy when no one is looking. Let’s make this year different by following these 5 simple tips:

  1. Put your pets away. There’s no reason your pet absolutely needs to greet trick-or-treaters or attend your Halloween party (unless contraindicated for separation anxiety). If you’re worried about your pet running out the open door or how they’ll act around people in costumes then let them hang out in another room for the evening. Many will thank you for leaving them out of the commotion! 
  2. Drown out the doorbell. Some people go as far as to disconnect their doorbell or simply turn off their porch light and leave a bowl of candy out, but if you’d like to participate in trick-or-treating then leave the TV or music on for your pet so they can’t hear the doorbell.
  3. Update your pet’s ID tags and microchip info. Better safe than sorry! 
  4. Put candy bowls out of your pet’s reach. Pets are opportunistic and just because something is toxic to them doesn’t mean they won’t ingest it (like humans and alcohol). This might mean setting the bowl not right near the front door to keep it out of reach. 
  5. Create an airlock around the door. Set up a freestanding gate around your front door to create an airlock that you can get in but your pet can’t. Here’s one that we like (Disclosure: This picture is an affiliate link. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!):

Happy Halloween!


Work Smarter, Not Harder: Treat Jars

This week’s “Work Smarter Not Harder” entry is devoted to the following phrase:

“So do I have to walk around my house with treats in my pocket all the time?”

The answer is no! There are easy ways to always have quick, easy access to treats when you’re training. My favorite is setting up treat jars where you need them most. 

There are 3 places in my house where I typically hang out or need access to quick reinforcers for training:

At night we’re usually curled up on the couch. Oso used to be incredibly reactive (ie: barky) at passersby when we first adopted him so when we moved to our new house with these gorgeous picture windows we were concerned about regressions in his behavior. He’s come a long way but every now and then he’ll see someone concerning. There’s a treat jar and clicker on the end table where we can easily grab it and work on some behavior modification. It’s come in handy for his fear of thunderstorms and fireworks, too. 

Treat jar right next to the couch makes training at the window easy!

Oso LOVES being outside. He’d be happy if we all just lived in the yard instead of the house. That made training recalls (come when called) to come inside harder. We keep a treat jar right by the back door and reinforce him for coming inside every time. His recalls are so much better now!

We’re never without treats to reinforce Oso coming when called!

If I’m home on a workday I’m in my office. You can get away with just the treat box and not look tacky when it’s your profession. 

You can get away with the treat box itself in the office of an animal behavior consultant.

Now what?

  • Where do you normally hang out and find yourself needing some quick reinforcers? Ask everyone in your household. 
  • Pick out treat jars that you like. I use little mason jars because they keep treats fresh, don’t look out of place with our decor, and frankly because I had them on hand. I’m also not worried about Oso stealing them whereas plastic bags would be pretty enticing. 
  • Put treats in your jars and place them around the house! Grab some treats whenever your pet needs a quick training moment. 
  • Enjoy the convenience and speed with which you can treat your pet! No more rushing to the pantry and missing the moment. 

Happy training!


Work Smarter, Not Harder: Visitors

When I was first developing the notion for a Pet Harmony blog I knew that I wanted to have a “Work Smarter Not Harder” series devoted to simple and easy tactics that make a big difference. This series is inspired by those recommendations that make pet owners say, “Wow, how did I never think of that before?” I tell clients that part of my job is just arranging the puzzle pieces they’ve already created to make more sense! Our first “work smarter not harder” tip is about visitors:

If you don’t like your pet’s behavior when visitors arrive, put your pet away beforehand. 

This can help for multiple unwanted behaviors: jumping on visitors, running through the open front door, barking, or lunging or trying to bite guests. Your pet can’t do any of that if they’re not there (well, they can bark but at least it’s a little quieter)! This tactic gives you immediate relief from the problem and makes it so your pet can’t continue practicing (and getting better at) the unwanted behavior. And let’s face it: most people don’t want to be training their pet when visitors are coming in the door. I’m one of those people. 

What does “put your pet away” mean? It simply means containing your pet elsewhere so they can’t get to the door. I use either our bedroom or our fenced-in yard for Oso. Some people will use a crate or another floor entirely (like a basement or second story). Others will have someone take the dog on a walk or put them in daycare, especially for remodeling work. There are a lot of options depending on your situation! A note: leashes and tethers are an option but you’ll then need to be training as your guests arrive. That’s too much to juggle for me but kudos to those of you who are able to do this! 

I’m often asked something along the lines of, “What do I do if my pet barks or scratches at the door the entire time they’re put away?” It’s a valid question! In those cases we usually need to help the pet feel comfortable being contained elsewhere when people are home before we involve visitors. This can be trained like any other behavior. The concept is to make that place the best spot to hang out. I’m a fan of using snuffle mats, stuffed Kongs, and chewies like bully sticks when working on this. If your pet has confinement anxiety please consult with a behavior professional. 

 Another note: “beforehand” is a keyword. I’ve watched many people trying to corral their pet after the doorbell rings so as to put them away then. It usually looks like this unless the pet has had quite a bit of training in that scenario.

Image result for chasing dog gif

If you know approximately when your guests are arriving preemptively put your pet in their hang out space. You’ll be thankful when you can immediately open the door. For those of you with visitors who often stop by unexpectedly: ask your friends and family to give you a heads up before they arrive. Clients have even told me they started locking their door so their visitors couldn’t get in the house unannounced during the training process! 

The last question that I usually get about this tip is this: “Isn’t that cheating?” At some point in time many of us learned that if it’s not hard then it’s not worth it or not effective. Management and setting our environment up for success is an enormous part of behavior modification in all species. We wouldn’t call it cheating if someone who’s on a diet only stocks healthy foods in their pantry; it shouldn’t be cheating to keep our pets away from tempting scenarios either. Plus, there’s always room for training more appropriate behaviors even when we employ management techniques. It’s just working smarter, not harder! 

Now what?

  • As a household, discuss where your pet will be when visitors arrive. 
  • If your pet is not comfortable and content hanging out in this spot when you’re home, start training them that awesome stuff happens in this space. 
  • Discuss with friends and family that you’re working on training your pet and need a heads up before they arrive. 

Happy training!