Halloween, Kids and Pets …Ensure a Fun Holiday For All

Kids and dogs and HalloweenMost of us having nothing but fond memories of this holiday; dressing up in costumes, going door to door with friends and siblings, holding out our huge bags and watching with excitement as our neighbors dropped in handfuls of candy, then going home and dumping the bags out on the floor to gaze at the awesome pile of loot we got! I don’t know about any of you, but in my household, there was no such thing as cutting two holes in a sheet and throwing it over your head and going as a ghost. My mom was (and probably still is) the most creative woman I have ever known. She made the most elaborate Halloween costumes I had ever seen! I think my personal favorite was when my sister went as The Fiddler on the Roof.

But it was a different time when we grew up in the 70’s. A much safer time…. A time when every piece of candy didn’t need to be examined with a fine tooth comb for glass or needles or pin pricks. A time when parents didn’t worry about a car driving by, and never seeing their child again, or that every stranger who walked down the block was a possible pedophile. But sadly, these things are our reality nowadays. The key is to be vigilant and aware to keep your child safe.

But I think there is an added element that sometimes parents do not think to worry about, but should be aware of. Years ago, I do not believe that our household pets were considered as much a part of the family as they are today. And while I happen to love that mentally and understand how easy is it for people to want to include their pets in Halloween as well, (after all, we consider it so much fun! Surely they would enjoy it too!!!) – on another level, I see all of the potential dangers that can come from including the dog in all of this, and I wanted to raise other people’s awareness.

Things that seem harmless to most people but can be dangerous:

  • Dressing up your dog in costumes. While it may seem adorable and funny to you, more often than not, they do not find it half as amusing as you do. Most of them already have a full fur coat, and can easily get overheated. Many small dogs are used to having a coat on during the winter, but that does not mean they like having masks and hoods over their heads. It is important to remember that dogs rely on their senses for everything, and if you are putting on a mask or hood that goes over their ears or falls over their eyes, you are putting them at a serious disadvantage right off the bat from distinguishing ‘friend or foe’. For this reason, in a heightened and confused state, a bite can happen all too easily.
  • Bringing your dog with you when you trick or treat (…with adult supervision). While I understand the temptation for this, I highly advise leaving the pooch where he belongs…. at home. This is not just a regular typical stroll down the street where you may meet up with a few people. People… kids and adults, are going to be in costumes, so your dog may not recognize even your child’s best friend that he sees all of the time. Again, they are relying on their senses, and some houses are done up quite elaborately… door mats that scream when you step on them, lights that may be flashing or flickering…. All things that are set up to spook and scare you because we humans are a strange breed that enjoy that kind of thing…. but think of how it may scare the heck out of a two year old that cannot understand or rationalize it, and you may now understand your dog’s reaction. This is a supposed to be a special fun time to spend with your kids…. do you really want all of your attention to be focused on ‘controlling’ the dog?
  • Sending the dog out with the kids while they trick or treat (…without adult supervision) My customer and her 11 year old daughter both thought it would be awesome if the girl dressed up as Annie and brought their Golden Retriever as Sandy with her. Mom was worried about her daughter trick -or- treating alone, and thought it was great that the dog would be there to protect her, (no one would bother her daughter with a huge dog by her side) and the daughter thought it would be an awesome way to complete her outfit and fun to include the dog. It took some work to convince both Mother and Daughter that this was not a great idea. While the daughter was usually pretty good at handling the dog on the leash, and the dog did heel well with her, if the dog spooked and went to take off, both of them could get hurt. But in the end, the final decision was made by the dog…. Who reiterated everything I told them about the dog acting differently with people in costumes that they don’t understand…. The daughter put on her wig, and the dog ‘wigged out’ (yes… pun intended!) The dog barked at her for 20 minutes straight- until she took off the wig. And it still took the dog awhile to settle down. Many adults would have trouble reigning in or managing a dog’s fearful over-reaction…. I can’t imagine a child being able to.
  • Halloween dog4Allowing the dog to join you when you open the door to Trick or treaters. When a customer complains to me that their dog barks at everything that passes by outside, I tell them that rather than just yelling at the dog and telling it “NO!”, to understand that it is the dog’s ‘job’ to alert them. So instead of yelling at them for their natural instinct, I will typically allow the dog to bark for about 10-15 seconds, and then tell them, “That is enough… go lie down.” This allows them to do their job, but then they start to understand limits and boundaries. But the fact of the matter is, on this night, the doorbell is ringing constantly, with strangers there, many with no faces (with masks on) and they just don’t understand that there is no threat there. After all…. Think about it, on any other night, if someone rang your door-bell and you opened the door and they were wearing a mask, would you be thrilled to see them? Of course not! You would slam the door closed and call 9-1-1! So how can you possibly explain to your dog that this night is different? The answer is, you can’t. So they either have to be kept in a different room with plenty of chew toys, or someone should stay with them and keep them occupied, or put them in their crate with a cover over it. The last thing you want is your dog getting frightened or charging at the door or worse, biting a strange child who’s hand slips out from their costume to get the treats you have for them.
  • Dumping all the candy onto the floor. For many people like me who have worked with dogs for many years, part of my business is also knowing what is healthy for them and what is not…. So if you do not know this, let me be the first to strongly advise you of these three things:
    • Chocolate. Chocolate is poisonous to your beloved pet, and should not be left out around them. So it is very important that candy received from trick or treating not be just dumped onto the floor. It can really harm your pet if they get a hold of it. Instead, may I suggest getting each child their own bin or clear see-through bucket to dump their candy into? This way, they can still see all they got, allowing them to have a good view to pick out the few pieces they want each day, and the animals are kept away from any ill-gotten-goods that can really harm them. Please read more on the dangers of chocolate toxicity here…. http://vetmedicine.about.com/cs/nutritiondogs/a/chocolatetoxici.htm
    • Sugar-free candies and gum: Sugar-free candies and sugar free gum both contain something in them called xylitol. This is an artificial sweetener that is added to many sugar-free items we humans enjoy, and have few, it any side-effects for us unless consumed in large quantities… in which case the most common side effect is diarrhea. However, for our canine and feline family members, it can often be toxic, and even fatal. Please read more on this here…. http://vetmedicine.about.com/od/toxicology/qt/xylitol_tox.htm
    • Candy wrappers, gum wrappers, lollipop sticks and ribbons. These are all potential choking hazards, but can cause much more serious problems if they get caught up or wrapped up in the intestines.
  • Allowing your black cat or dog outside. This may seem like a silly thing, but lets face it…. a black cat is almost akin to being a mascot for this holiday. If you have a black cat that is allowed out to wander, you’ll want to keep them inside on this night. And black dogs the past few years have become targets as well. Keep them safe from pranks and theft by keeping them inside.

So I guess if I was to re-cap all of this, I would say to keep the animals inside where they belong. This reduces their anxiety, the risk of unnecessary bites, and keeps everyone involved happy and safe… the way the holiday should be!! Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone!

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


2 Responses to “Halloween, Kids and Pets …Ensure a Fun Holiday For All”

  1. Sandy Schnee says:


    I think this was a timely, well-thought-out and clearly presented article on the maintenance of safety concerning both children and pets on Halloween. Without your sharing of experience and knowledge of what the issues are, most parents and/or pet-owners would not be aware or have thought through the elements of danger that could (and I am sure does) arise on a holiday meant to be scary.

    You’ve done a wonderful job in presenting the issues and advice on how to avoid them. If this article helps even one family avoid a harmful situation with their child(ren) or pet(s), you may be back to what you did as an EMT…..preventing injuries and possibly saving lives.

    I am very impressed and proud of you. And I love you a lot! Mom

    • Suzanne Hantke says:

      Thank you! I am glad you liked the article. As I mentioned, I love that our pets have become so integrated with our families, but at the same time, it needs to be up to the humans when to put boundaries and limits on just how much they share in our day to day activities….they depend on us to keep them safe…. and the only way parents of both the two-legged, and four-legged variety will know how to do that is if they are made aware of all potential dangers.

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