Halloween Service Dog

Celebrating Halloween with a Service Dog

Halloween is often a well loved community tradition that sees many neighborhoods going all out with decorations, spooky noise makers, lots of candy, costumes, and carved pumpkins. What can be a fun evening of the neighborhood coming together can also be a disaster for a dog if you’re not prepared. Even for well seasoned service dogs, Halloween can present a unique challenge. Here are some tips to help make this holiday a fun time instead of a stressful evening for your service dog.

1. Be aware of your service dog’s reaction to costumes.

Halloween CollarThis includes both dog costumes and human costumes. Even though most service dogs are used to wearing a vest, costumes can have an entirely different feel. Many dogs, service dogs included, can become very uncomfortable and stressed in a costume. Test the costume on your dog BEFORE Halloween and have a back up plan in case your dog seems less than thrilled or fearful. Consider holiday themed collars and leashes as fun accessories instead.

Similarly, if possible, see how your service dog reacts to people in costumes BEFORE Halloween. Even people that your dog knows and loves can become sources of fear when they are dressed in spooky costumes, especially when wearing masks. Have an exit plan ready in case your dog begins showing any signs of stress or fear. This can be as simple as keeping your dog inside the house during trick or treating. If possible, try to expose your service dog to people in costumes before Halloween so you can see how they will react and so your dog has the chance to become more comfortable around all sorts of different costumes.

2. Keep an eye on the candy bowl.

It is no secret that chocolate is not good for dogs. However, be aware that the dangers of Halloween candy can go beyond just chocolate. If you have any sugar-free options, most have xylitol which is extremely toxic for dogs. Also, be aware of any treats with raisins as they can cause severe kidney damage. If you are participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, non-candy options (such as small toys) may have small moving parts that a dog could swallow. Even discarded candy wrappers can cause problems if ingested, so keep an eye on both the candy being handed out and where the wrappers end up from the candy you sneak out of the bowl.

In addition to watching the candy bowl, watch the kids coming to your house and your service dog. Make sure your service dog is not getting any hand outs from the trick or treaters without your knowledge. If you realize your dog has eaten something, try to figure out what it was. While any candy is not good for a dog, knowing what your dog ate can help you determine if emergency treatment is needed.

3. Keep your service dog (and other animals) close and secured.

Sadly Halloween has one of the highest rates of animal abuse. Many shelters specifically refuse to adopt out black dogs and cats close to Halloween due to the high rate of abuse and abandonment. If you choose to have your service dog or other animals outside, keep them close to you or a family member, know where they are at all times, and make sure they are kept on a leash that is connected to a person. Do not leave any animals unattended even if secured to your house. If you choose to allow your service dog to be loose in a fenced in yard, do it only under supervision as animals are often stolen out of yards on Halloween.

Doggie Body Language

Doggie Language by Lili Chin

In addition, Halloween is a close #2 behind the Fourth of July for the most pets to go missing. Between spooky costumes with masks, surprising noises and unexpected movement from decorations, and the purpose of the holiday to be scary and surprising, Halloween can be a perfect storm of potentially triggering situations for any animals, even normally unflappable service dogs.

Many handlers choose to keep their service dogs indoors to minimize any chance of their dog getting loose or spooked. If that is not an option, be very aware of potential situations that could cause a dog to become scared and possibly react by trying to bolt. Stay close to your dog or make sure they are in the care of someone who knows your dog well can tell if/when they are showing signs of fear or stress (see the Doggie Language poster for reference). Keep your dog on a leash at all times, and have a plan in place to remove your dog from any situations that are trigger any fear or stress responses.

4. Do not expect your dog to be recognizable as a service dog.

It will be dark out, people will be in costumes, there will probably be other pets, kids will be going around in groups – do not expect your dog to be treated like a service dog. Trick or treating can be a very fun time, but it can also be very unpredictable. Kids will go around in groups often without parental supervision. Younger children may have parents with them, but there may be multiple kids to a single adult, so there will still be some degree of craziness.

Hopefully kids will be respectful of any animals, but the reality is that your dog may have its tail grabbed or ears pulled or be swarmed with kids coming to pet. Many people may have their pets with them, so your dog will look just like another pet, even with a vest on – remember it will probably be dark, plus everyone is in costume and the vest may be assumed to be just another costume. Trick or treating is not a time to educate on service dog etiquette. You may still choose to bring your service dog because their tasks may still be useful or needed, but do it knowing that your dog will not be treated as a service dog.

5. Keep your service dog away from electrical cords, jack-o-lanterns, and other potential sources of fire.

This one seems like a no brainer, but is so important it still bears saying. Electrical cords for illuminated decorations are dangerous for any animals that may happen to chew them. Even dogs that are not typically prone to chewing may do so out of stress so be aware of how your dog is reacting to the evening and whether there are any potential hazards nearby.

In addition, even when using battery powered lights inside carved pumpkins, be aware that pumpkins can grow mold that is toxic to dogs. If the pumpkin has been preserved with vinegar, bleach, or oil, there may not be mold growing, but all those can be toxic or cause digestive issues if ingested. If you do choose to use candles, that is even more of a reason to keep your dog away from any jack-o-lanterns. Be aware of other sources of fire (such as sparklers, flares, open candles, bonfires, etc.) and keep your service dog at a safe distance.

Keep in mind that using a service dog does at times mean putting their needs ahead of yours.

After reading these tips, you may wonder whether you should even have your service dog with you on Halloween. In general, it is recommended that all pets and animals be kept indoors if possible as this holiday can be so unpredictable and is based on the idea of being scary, spooky, and surprising. However, a service dog may warrant some extra considerations as that may impact whether you are able to be a part of any celebrations as well. Keep in mind that using a service dog does at times mean putting their needs ahead of yours. However, every service dog team is unique and what may not work for some dogs and handlers may work for others. If you do choose to venture out on Halloween with your service dog, please consider a few additional tips:

Take some extra precautions to ensure the safety of your service dog.

Pug with Halloween BowtieIf leaving your dog inside during Halloween is not an option, then consider taking a few extra steps to help ensure their safety.

  • Double check all your equipment. Make sure your leash and collar are in good condition with no signs of wear and that the collar is properly fitted. Consider using gear that your dog is unable to slip out of without risking an injury (such as a harness).
  • Make sure any identification tags on your service dog are clean, easy to read, and up to date. If your dog is microchipped, make sure that information is up to date as well.
  • Take a photo of your dog before going out in whatever gear and/or costume they are wearing. If something happens, this will allow you to show a current photo, especially if they are wearing a costume or unusual gear.
  • Consider adding some reflective strips or lights to your service dog’s costume. People may be looking out for kids, but your dog may blend in, especially if you have a dark colored dog. Make sure they are visible in the dark to drivers or large groups of people.

However you choose to celebrate Halloween, consider these tips to keep your service dog and any other loved pets safe!

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Kylene Boka
Kylene is a grad student living in Ohio with her husband and two dogs, Bonk and Leni. Leni is her service dog and is scent trained to alert to severe allergic reactions and hypoglycemia due to Kylene’s mast cell disease. To learn more about life with mast cell disease and a service dog, you can check out Kylene’s blog, www.maintenancerequiredblog.blogspot.com.