Halloween is a great occasion to show off your pup’s friendly personality. Besides, there’s nothing cuter than your furry friends channeling their favorite Star Wars characters.
Outside of those cute costumes, however, Halloween comes with some dangers to our pets, from chocolate to strangers. While most pet owners know to keep chocolate away from their animals, knowing what to look for when your pet is scared or aggressive is equally important. Keep in mind that strangers disguised in costume may be confusing to your pet, especially if she has the tendency to protect you and your home.
Dogs, for example, use facial expressions and body postures to communicate their discomfort. As you host trick-or-treaters this year, pay close attention to your pet’s body language.
Signs of aggression from your pet may include:
- A direct, hard stare;
- Snarling or retracting lips, which expose teeth;
- A stiffened body posture;
- Ears that are directed forward;
- A tail positioned straight and held high in the air;
- A tail slowly (not excitedly) wagging side to side; or
- Fur standing up on the back of neck or along the back.
If you witness any of these signs from your pet, it is a good idea to remove her from the situation and let her relax in a separate room, or in his crate. At the same time, some pets demonstrate anxiety or fear from the constantly-ringing doorbell and throngs of kids in costumes showing up on their doorstep. Anxious or scared dogs are still as risk of biting if they feel threatened, especially if they are approached directly or too quickly.
Pay attention to these signs, which may mean your pet is anxious or scared:
- Trying to appear small;
- Avoiding eye contact;
- Lowering of head, body, or tail to appear close to the ground;
- Flattened ears; or
- Submissive behavior such as lying on the ground with a leg raised in the air, appearing to welcome a tummy rub.
While many of these behaviors communicate to other dogs that your pet is not a threat, these positions avoid aggression and may demonstrate that your pet is scared. Your pet may still be at risk of biting someone if she is approached too quickly by excited trick-or-treaters. Remember to allow your dog space to retreat if the action does become too much to handle.
Of course, many pets are happy to have new visitors to give them attention. A happy, calm pet exhibits very different signs than a scared one.
Dogs who are happy will often demonstrate:
- A play-bow position, where the front legs are stretched forward and the head is extended with the rear up in the air;
- A wagging tail;
- Direct eye contact with soft eyes;
- An open mouth or even panting;
- Ears up but not forward; or playfully running or jumping in random directions.
These signs show that your pet is relaxed and happy to welcome guests. If you do allow your pet to be around trick-or-treaters, make sure he is exhibiting these signs before allowing him to greet guests.
If you’re not at home passing out candy and are taking your kids and their friends around for trick-or-treating instead, remind children to avoid any dog showing signs of aggression, fear or anxiety since these may escalate to a potential bite.
Easy tips to follow include:
- Never stare directly into a dog’s eyes.
- Always introduce yourself to a strange dog by offering a closed hand for them to sniff.
- Move slowly when introducing yourself to an unfamiliar dog.
- Pay close attention to body language for any of the signs of aggression or fearful submission.
- Never touch an unfamiliar dog while he is sleeping or eating. Dogs may be easily startled or protective at these times.
- Never approach a scared, growling or barking dog.
- Never approach a dog without asking permission from the owner.
- Never pet a dog on the head first.
- Do always pet the dog slowly first along the side or shoulders.
- Never approach a loose dog that is not leashed with the owner.
- Never tease a dog, pull on any part of a dog, or have face-to-face contact with a dog.
What do you do if you are confronted by an aggressive dog? First, stay calm! If the dog does instigate an attack, do not to try to outrun or scare off the dog by screaming or yelling. Instead, stand still and be quiet. If you have an object like a jacket or a bag, offer that to the dog as a distraction. If you or a child is knocked down, remember to get into the fetal position with knees tucked into the stomach with arms wrapped around the neck and face tucked into the chest. This position demonstrates submissiveness.
Remember, the best way to prevent an attack is you to educate yourself. Make sure you are keeping your loved ones safe by training your dog and paying close attention to its body language. By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll ensure a fun, safe Halloween for you and everyone who trick-or-treats with you.
Happy Halloween from the Paws Into Grace Team!