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How to prepare your dog for Halloween

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Low- stress trick-or- treating for dogs

If it's your pup's first Halloween, you'll need to prepare her for the onslaught of trick-or-treaters. Even if you've had your dog for years, don't worry, you can still teach an old dog new tricks with these tips!
Dog dressed up for Halloween

Don't wait until October 31 to teach your pooch how to deal with the door knocks and doorbell rings. Don't turn out the lights and ignore it. Just teach her how to stay calm during the chaos so she won't terrify your little visitors. All you need is a little doorbell and knock training.

The sniff test

First, think about how your dog reacts to kids. If it's not well, you might want to consider setting candy outside the door the first year until you can train her to be more comfortable. Remember, safety is the most important thing, for both the kids and the dog.

This training and these techniques are based on desensitizing your pup to the sound of a ringing bell or door knock and positive reinforcement of the correct behavior. Start by gating the doorway so she can see the children, but can't get access to them. This will also make kids who aren't comfortable with dogs more at ease.

Put the gate up as early as possible before Halloween and leave it there. You don't want to train her to think the gate going up is a special occasion as that could make her more nervous.

Start the training by having a member of the house go out the back and knock or ring the doorbell (remember, even if you have a doorbell, you'll need to train her on both, as some of the smaller kiddos will knock anyway).

If she begins barking, place a treat in front of her nose. She'll have to stop barking if she wants to sniff it (which is why it's important to ensure the treat you use is her absolute favorite). When she stops barking, praise her and give her the treat. Do this several times in a row, but never for more than 15 minutes per day.

Pick a special spot

There are some behaviors a dog can't do while barking. For example, it's difficult for a dog to sit down and bark at the same time. Teach your dog to go to a "special spot" on command, for example, her bed.

Start slowly on this one, as it's not easy. To begin, toss your dog's favorite treat on the special spot and command "go to your spot!" (you can also use "go to your place" or "go to your bed," whichever one is most comfortable for you). Then, give her the command and wait until she goes to the spot before you give her the treat. Be patient! It's just as frustrating for her as it is for you.

When she's consistently going to her spot, that's when you can start the doorbell training. First, simply command her to her spot and open the door. If she gets up, command her back to her spot and instruct her to stay. Don't give her a treat until she obeys. Once she's consistently going back, have someone knock on the door or ring the bell and command her to go to her spot. Open the door and don't give her the treat until she complies. Continue doing this until she stays on the mat while the door opens.

Patience is key

As always, patience is the key factor in this training exercise. Don't yell or hit or show any anxiety, as this will transfer to your pet. Never train for more than 15 minutes and try to remember that your pup may be just as frustrated as you are.

More pet training tips

How to stop your puppy from chewing and more
How to train your dog
Tips for dog park etiquette

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