First off, I want everyone to know that I have a BRILLIANT Halloween costume this year. I’ve worked my butt off on it! I’m going as Black Widow (from The Avengers), and I had every intention of dressing my dogs up as Thor (Cash) and Hawkeye (Lily), but alas, I ran out of time. The Los Gatos Howl-O-Ween festival for dogs will have to go on without me.
None of which is what this post is about. This post is about answering the door for trick or treaters, and getting your dog to be calm!
Halloween is the one night a year where people come to the door over and over JUST so you can practice answering with your dog! (That’s why it happens, right? I’m sure.) So! Prepare!
1. Answering the door
If you have a dog that barks (be it in excitement or aggression), then the first thing you’re going to do is put them on their training collar on a leash, and keep them by your side. Now, hopefully you’ve been practicing Good Dog Walking, such as getting easily through the door and no pull/loose leash walking. (If you haven’t, you still have a week. Go now! Start! The most important thing for this purpose is being able to not get hauled through your door, so just focus on that.) If that’s the case, then you already know important things like keeping the collar high (to effect your dog’s head instead of his body) and keeping your dog’s head right next to your hip (because otherwise they’ll already have pulling leverage and it’ll make your life harder).
So! The doorbell rings. A chorus of angels and demons and the occasional cowboy demand sustenance. First, you pause to pull your collar up where it belongs. Second, you walk to the door. Now, every time your dog starts to surge ahead, you lift up on the leash and put them back in place. The reversals I talk about in the links are AWESOME, but we also have to get somewhere. If you’ve been doing them, then your dog will realize what’s up quickly even though we’re not quite doing them now.
You get to the door! Ask your dog to sit. If they don’t, pull up gently and steadily on the collar (shifting their weight from the front to the hind, NOT picking their front feet up off the floor). If they don’t get it, reach down and push their butt down. After you’ve done it a few times, they’ll get it!
Reach for the door knob. Make your dog sit again. Open the door. Make your dog sit again. Start to ooh over costumes. Make your dog sit again. You see how this works, right?
“Oh, that sounds easy!” I hear you cry.
HA! This sounds simple, but when I say “Make your dog sit again” it’s because your dog will be trying to leap and twist through the air, nearly taking you out at the knees. Don’t yell at them, don’t scold them, don’t get frustrated. Pick up on the leash (this will also control their head, remember, so they don’t haul you out the door) until they calm, sit them down, and move on.
Here’s the best part: after the first five rings, most dogs improve SIGNIFICANTLY.
2. Oh my God! There are MONSTERS at the door!
Now that you’ve managed to open the door, all those kids are probably going to ask to pet your dog. This is where protection comes in. If your dog is going, “Please please pleeeeeeaaase no one ever pets me letthemletthemletthem!!” Then, sure, they can pet your dog.
If your dog is going “HOLY SHIT THE WORLD IS BEING TAKEN OVER BY MONSTERS” then they can’t pet your dog. You’ll know if this is the case, because your dog will bark and/or try to run away. When this happens, we can use it as the perfect bravery training! You let your dog escape just behind your legs (and/or step in front of him to encourage this), tell them they need to sit and not bolt, and tell the kids “I’m sorry, but my dog’s in training. He can’t be petted right now.”
You’ve just told your dog that you’ll protect him (you hid him and stopped him from getting petted) and that he needs to be relatively brave, as brave as possible, when we say that really there’s nothing wrong (you didn’t let them escape back into the house and you did ask him to sit and be calm). This is how you get dogs who trust that you’ll ask of them what they can give, and who will do their very best trying to do what you want even under stress.
Now, finally, if you have two people in the house you might want to have one person hand out candy, and one person handle the dog, at least until the first five door knocks when your dog starts to figure it out. It just depends on how wild your dog goes with the door opens.
After Halloween, it’s easy for dogs to forget good door manners. You can enforce the same thing just by grabbing their collar and pulling it up under their jaw when you answer the door, and in two-people households the best way to practice is for one person to knock when they get home, instead of just coming right inside. Voila! Practice!
Your dog will be walking calmly to answer the door and sitting to greet folks at the door in no time!