Sunday, November 29 , 2015, 7:30 pm | Fair 51º

Inquisitive Canine: Make Halloween a Real Treat for Your Pet

Try dress rehearsals to prepare your pooch for door greetings and costumes on the big night

By Joan Mayer, Noozhawk Columnist |

Dear Inquisitive Dog Guardians,

Fall is officially here. The air is a little crisper, white shoes are placed in the back of the closet, gourds are now decorations and football is topping the sports highlights. Being October, this also means Halloween. Well, here at Inquisitive Canine headquarters, Poncho and I thought it’d be a great idea to share our training tips for creating an evening of fun for you and your dog that’s anything but spooky. For this month’s installment, we’re covering both door greeting and dressing up, and hope you find the information a real treat!

Halloween is one of our favorite special occasions. Being a certified professional dog trainer and dog mom, I enjoy it because we get an entire evening to show off Poncho’s door-greeting skills, along with his wide array of costumes. It’s also an ideal socialization setup — he gets to meet lots of new people, who happen to look really odd. Poncho loves this holiday, too, because these folks come to the door and give him treats. (He wishes every day was Halloween.)

Turn Your Dog Into the Perfect Greeter

If you’ve got a throng of ghosts and goblins coming to your door asking for treats, we suggest you plan to use these visitors to your advantage and schedule an evening of training sessions to help strengthen your dog’s greeting skills. To ensure success for everyone, we highly encourage you to rehearse during the days leading up to the big night.

We’ve divided the entire door-answering scenario into specific behaviors, each of which can be taught and practiced independently.

» Sit or down-stay on a mat: No doubt your dog already knows how to “sit.” All you need to do is practice a “sit” (or “down” or “four paws on the floor”) on a designated mat or small rug. Once your dog knows that this is his or her magic carpet, and you’ve rehearsed together in easy locations, you can then place it near the front door and practice there.

» Make your way to the door: Now practice with opening and closing the door, asking your dog to “stay” until you give a release cue, such as “Go say hi!” This allows your dog to leave the magic carpet to greet the person at the door. If you don’t give the cue, then your dog will need to stay on the mat. Initially, use extra treats to help encourage your dog to stay on the mat; this will help in the long run.

» Ding-dong: Now it’s time to add in the doorbell or knock. This will no doubt make it a little harder, so you’ll really want to make sure you give an extra special treat for staying put.

» Plan ahead: Before the big night, we suggest you run through a few dress rehearsals to help set the stage for success.

» Set the stage: On the big night, place a small container of your dog’s treats outside the front door. When the little goblins come to the door, have your dog go to the mat, and when the door opens, the kids can give your dog a treat for staying. Then you give the kids their treats (please make sure those treats are for humans). So, your dog gets treats for learning, and the kids get treats for helping you train your dog — it’s a win-win!

Poncho loves to play dress-up.
Poncho loves to play dress-up. (Joan Mayer photo)

Now that you’ve got all the behaviors planned out, it’s time to discuss the wardrobe portion of the evening. We’ve added a few simple tips to teach your dog not to just tolerate an outfit, but to love playing dress-up.

Prepping Your Pup for the Catwalk

Let’s face it, if dogs were out in the wild, one of the last things they’d want to do is put on an outfit, especially a Halloween costume. But with a little technique called classical conditioning, you can teach your canine companion to love almost any outfit. So grab that outfit and some tasty treats, and learn how I taught Poncho to love his costumes.

» Gather your supplies: There are so many dog clothes out there, including specific costumes. Make sure you have one that is pet friendly and fits your dog well. You’ll also want to have a container of yummy treats with you. We’re not talking the dry little biscuits; this is the time to pull out the big guns — small pieces of chicken, steak or freeze-dried liver. (Note: Use foods that are healthy and are part of your dog’s regular diet. When in doubt, check with your veterinarian. Also, regard these treats as part of your dog’s regular meal, not an add-on.)

» Create the connection: Teach your dog that the costume is associated with getting chicken (or the like). You’ll want to break this down into small steps:

1. Start with the costume hidden behind your back so your dog can’t see it. Then, show your dog the new costume, followed by giving your dog a small treat. Repeat this until your dog’s body language shows that he or she is excited when the costume appears — tail wagging; an open, relaxed mouth; and tongue hanging out (with possible drooling) are a few of the popular body language indicators.

2. The next step is to start to fit the costume on your dog. We suggest you continue the same process, meaning first comes the costume being placed on your dog followed by a little treat. If your dog seems to be enjoying it, then you can push a little faster by dressing your dog, all the while rewarding with small treats. Then remove the costume and put all the treats away. If your dog is a little more hesitant, slow it down by putting only one section of the costume on at a time.

3. Once your dog gets the idea, you’ll be able to do this with other costumes. As a matter of fact, I’ve done this with Poncho for so long now that he has more costume changes than Cher — and he loves every bit of it!

Halloween is the perfect time to teach your dog to be a behaved door greeter and a fashionista, and it’s also the ideal time to show off their skills. Practice for just a few minutes on the days leading up and you’ll get great results, plus all the ghosts and goblins will be impressed!

Wishing you all a treat-filled Halloween from Joan, Poncho and the I.C. team. Click here for the Inquisitive Canine’s list of Halloween Safety Dos and Don’ts for Pets.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt that knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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