How to help your pet through Halloween

Halloween can be a scary time for our four-legged family members; scary costumes, many different people and smells, doors left open, and chocolate set out can all lead to an unsafe environment for your pet.

Here’s what you can do to keep them safe!

1. Keep them away from all the action

Your dog or cat may not mind when people come by, but Hallowe’en is a whole other level.  For pets that may be fearful of people coming to the door, or dogs that may bark and charge, this is even more important.

There are many things involved in trick-or-treat-ers coming to your door.  There is the sounds, including children laughing, doorbells or knocking, or possibly squeals if you have some scary decorations out.

Along with the noises, there are many people coming to your door. This includes people of different sizes, and in costumes that could be very scary for your pet.  There are also scary accessories, such as broomsticks, swords and others that could frighten animals.

In addition to the noise and people, there are a couple dangers associated with people coming to your door trick-or-treating.  This includes having the door opening many times and staying open for a period of time, leaving the opportunity for your pet to escape, especially if they’re scared.  There’s also all of the treats, which could include dangers such as chocolate, bags, choking hazards, and possibly lit candles in pumpkins.

Halloween pets

2. Help drown out all the noise

Whether or not you’re playing spooky noises, there are many noises that accompany Hallowe’en night. In general, there will be more noise from adults and children outside your home, plus the sounds of knocking or doorbells ringing.  

Even if you pet isn’t typically bothered by these noises, they’ll be occuring much more than normal.  

If at all possible, confine your pet to a room furthest away from the door where people will be coming in and any noises from the road. You can play music, have a TV on, or even white noise to help drown out much of the noise.  If you can have noise playing that your pet is familiar with, even better.

One other note about noises - if your pet happens to be scared of the people coming into your home with costumes on, they could easily learn to associate the sound of your doorbell or knocking with that happening, and this could cause a fear reaction that would go long past the single night.

3. Keep them busy

Keeping your pet distracted will also help them pay little attention to the Halloween craziness.

Some ideas to keep your cat or dog busy:

  • Hide their food around the room so they have to spend time finding it

  • Have a frozen stuffed Kong available (these aren’t just for dogs!!)

  • Provide toys they love but don’t get frequently

If possible, try to get your dog outside for a good long walk or play before children start going around in costumes.

4. Get them used to costumes

Dressing your pet up in a costume

Are you thinking about dressing your pet up for Halloween?  If you have kids in your home, this may be nothing new for your pet.  However, if this only happens once a year, it could bother them and there are a few things you can do to make sure they’re more comfortable.

  • If your pet really hates wearing anything, Halloween night isn’t the best night to try to change their opinion, you may want to reconsider making them wear a costume and gradually work up to that throughout the year if it’s something you really want.

  • If at all possible, gradually expose your pet to parts of the costume, and give treats for calm behaviour while wearing it for short periods of time.

  • Don’t leave your pet unattended when wearing a costume.

Your costumes

You definitely don’t want to scare your pet with your own costume!  Some pets in your home likely won’t care at all if you’re wearing something unusual, but many of our pets might be worried or confused by our costumes.

You can do a few things to help them get prepared for you, or your children, in costume.

  • If there are any accessories that could be frightening, such as a funny hat or something large they’ll be holding, have it out for a few days where your pet can see it and approach

  • If your pet is likely to be fearful, put on part of your costume and allow them to approach you at their own pace, reward for coming close to you.  Make sure you continue talking to them. You can gradually add more pieces of the costume.

Most importantly, have a happy and safe Halloween!

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How to get your dog used to baby (and other) noises

Do you have a new baby on the way?  Or have a puppy and wanting to get them used to different noises?  Then this post is for you!

Why is noise exposure important?

Sound is a very important sense to dogs, and can be responsible for stress, excitement, and many other emotions in your dog. Is there a sound associated with meal prep that makes your dog come running into the room all excited?  Or does the sound of thunder or a vacuum make your dog tremble and hide?

Some dogs are much more affected by sounds than others, but all dogs (as long as they can hear) can learn to associate sounds with something positive or something negative happening.

Noise exposure as a part of socialization

Getting puppies used to various noises is something that dog trainers usually recommend for puppies and is often considered part of the socialization process.  As in all socialization, you always want to make sure that this is a positive exposure, that your dog is not scared of the noise stimulus (that can create fear in your dog).

You don’t want to initially expose puppies to loud, scary noises; but instead low to moderate noises and associate that with a treat or something else they like.  Having the vacuum running in another room while they’re eating is one idea.

Ideally, when they’re young (ie under 3-4 months of age), you’d like to give them positive exposures to as many things as possible, including the different noises they may hear throughout their lives.  The more varied and positive exposures they get, the less likely they’ll be worried about new things as they age.

Noise exposure when preparing your dog for baby

While there are many things you can be doing to help your dog get prepared for baby, exposure to baby noises is one that is very helpful.  Some dogs find the sound of crying, fussing babies to be stressful, or the opposite can happen and it can cause more excitement (something you definitely don’t want around a new baby!).  A crying baby can also be very stressful for parents, and that can make the experience even more worrisome for your dog.

dog and baby

While you can’t fully role-play all the factors involved in a crying baby, you can get dogs used to the sound portion of the experience.  You can play baby sounds before baby arrives, and pair is with something positive so they learn to have a good association with those sounds and they aren’t as stressful (called desensitization).  Along with desensitization, you can also teach your dog to do something when they hear a particular sound, such as going to a mat. We’re going to go into detail about how to do both of these below.


Desensitization to baby noises

There are many, many youtube videos and other sources online of babies cooing, crying, and generally making a racket that you can use for these exercises. 

Here are some steps for getting your dog ready:

  1. Choose a time of day when you have 5-10 minutes to spend with your dog and your dog is reasonably relaxed

  2. Get some high value treats and your source of baby noises ready (if you need information on finding high value treats - see this post!).

  3. Give your dog a treat or two and then put the sounds on VERY low and at a distance from your dog (ie you don’t want it to be right in your dogs’ face/ear).

  4. Don’t worry about obedience at all for this exercise, if your dog wants to sit or lie down, that’s fine, but we’re focusing on preventing fear and excitement with baby noises here, not training.

  5. Give your dog treats, if they’re taking them gently and slowly, then continue to give treats every few seconds.  If your dog is taking them very quickly or roughly, turn the volume down even more, talk in a soothing voice, and give treats every second or two.  You want to get to a point where your dog is nice and relaxed.

  6. Do this at least once a day for 3-5 minutes (if you can do more sessions a day that’s great!).

  7. VERY gradually increase the volume - this is a process that usually takes several weeks.  You don’t ever want to scare your dog by increasing the volume too quickly, that will set you back even further.  

  8. Continue giving treats during all of the sessions - you really want to be making the connection for your dog that baby noises = something good but relaxing happening, so there’s no reason to get excited or anxious.

(note - this process can be used for desensitizing to many other noises as well!)


Teaching your dog to do something when hearing baby noises

In addition to desensitizing your dog to baby noises, another thing you can do is to teach them to do something.  If you have a dog that is naturally a little more anxious, giving them a ‘job’ to do is often really helpful.

This one requires a bit of thinking though, what would you like to have your dog do if the baby is crying or fussing?  Do you want them to go to a particular spot? Will it depend on where you are in your home? Make sure you think about this one first, but I’m going to give the suggestion of teaching your dog to go to a particular bed or mat that you can then move around your home if you need to.

After spending some time desensitizing your dog to the sound of baby noises, you can then work on teaching your dog to go to mat.  If you are working on this activity, make sure that you also continue the desensitization exercises ON the mat as well, to keep reinforcing calm and relaxed behaviour when hearing baby noises.


If you’re expecting, or know someone who is, make sure you get my free mini guide on ‘5 things you should be doing to prepare your dog for baby’!  





How to thunderstorm-proof your dog

Beautiful summer weather unfortunately, for many dog owners, comes with the risk for thunderstorms.

If you’ve ever had a dog with a fear of thunderstorms, you know how horrible it can be to watch them panic, tail tucked, shivering, panting and drooling, either hiding or not leaving your side, over a storm going by.  

This fear very often translates to fear of other noises as well, with dogs having noise phobias such as fireworks and the sound of vacuum cleaners more likely in dogs that are fearful of storms.


Thunderstorms can be very difficult for dogs, as they come along with many changes in their environment.  There are low, loud noises that have vibration associated with them. There is a change of pressure in the air, static electricity, and changes in ozone levels.

With a young dog that isn’t afraid of storms, you can do many things to help prevent fear of storms when there isn’t a storm around.

How to prevent fear of storms

1. Socialization

Firstly, proper socialization helps.  Positive exposures to people, noises, other animals, different scenarios, everything you can think of, especially during their socialization period (approximately 6 to 14 weeks of age) is very important.  Socialization helps to prevent general fearfulness in dogs. Finding a puppy class that you can enroll your puppy in early will help you achieve some of your socialization goals.

2. Positive experience with noises

Secondly, you can expose your puppy ahead of time to one of the aspects of a storm, the noises.  There are many apps, youtube sites, and websites that have storm noises available.  When your dog is young, having these playing at very low levels while they’re having meals or receiving treats will help them get used to those noises.  You want to do this at very low levels, especially when first exposing your dog, so that they are not fearful. If they’re unwilling to eat, then the volume is likely to high and you should try again at a much lower volume the next meal.  


What about when a storm is coming?

1. Be prepared - have treats or food available.  Slowly give treats, a food-filled kong, or kibble (only if your dog isn’t worried as this isn’t as high value) when it is storming. If they beging to take food roughly or are panting and showing other signs of stress, increase the speed you’re giving treats and/or the value of the treat.  (If you need information about the value to different types of treats and rewards, you can learn all about it here).

2. If at all possible, try to be with your dog so they don’t experience their first storms alone.

3. Do not put on loud music or something to cover the sound of the storm. If your dog isn’t fearful, you actually want them to hear the sound and to associate that with something positive to help prevent fear in the future.


If your dog is fearful of storms, the next blog post will give you some ideas to help!



What to expect when you work with a behaviour consultant

You may have been to puppy or other obedience classes, but if you’re experiencing behaviour problems you may have to book an appointment with a trainer or behaviour consultant to help you work on it.



While all behaviour consultants have their own techniques and methods, there are many common things that you should expect when you hire someone to help you with a behaviour problem.

Providing a Behaviour History

A thorough history, if at all possible, will help your behaviour consultant to understand how the behaviour problem has developed and how long it has been occurring.

While not all pet owners have a thorough history, you may have adopted your pet more recently, thinking hard about the development of the behaviour is important.  

Please try not to leave any information out (we completely understand and sympathize that you might be embarrassed, wish you hadn’t reacted in a certain manner, or do something that we might not necessarily suggest).  It’s also important to think about how often the behaviour is happening so that we can figure out how often it has been, or is being, practiced.

They will also likely want to know about daily routines for your pet, the people and other animals in your home, or even the basic floorplan of your home. You could be asked to get some video of the behaviour occurring, as it may be one that they wouldn’t be able to observe during your consultation.  These little details give information about the small things that might be contributing to the problem behaviour you’re seeing.


Medical Information

Some behavioural problems can have a medical basis, so you will likely be asked about your pet’s medical history.  

Depending on the problem, your consultant may also suggest that you talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may want to perform a physical exam or run medical tests such as bloodwork or analyze urine to make sure that there isn’t a medical reason for the behaviour.

Your behaviour consultant should also be able to give your veterinarian a report about the problems they’re working on with you and your pet and how they are helping you work on them.

It is important to note that unless you’re seeing a veterinary behaviourist (a veterinarian with specialized education following vet school), a behaviour consultant should not be providing medical advice, but instead suggesting you talk to your veterinarian if they believe there could be a medical component to the issue.


What is covered

A good behaviour consultant or trainer will be working on the underlying problem with your pet.  For example, it may be fear that is causing your pet to act the way they do.

They’ll work on addressing this underlying problem from several different angles. You should expect to discuss various options with your behaviour consultant to see what will work with your lifestyle and family.  

Your behaviour consultant should demonstrate or thoroughly describe some of the activities you’ll be doing and explain why you’re working on them.

What about those trainers that say they’ll have the problem fixed in one session?

Avoid trainers that say they’ll stop all problems immediately and use punishment to do so. While this method may make it seem like the problem has stopped, the underlying reason for the problem will not have been fixed.  You may see short-term results, however it is very likely that the problem will return or show up in another way.

For example - you call in a trainer because your dog is growling at other dogs. The trainer stops your dog from growling in one session, using punishment of some sort.  However, your dog was growling because he was scared of other dogs. You then relax because you no longer have a growling problem and start bringing your dog around others. One day, seemingly out of the blue, your dog bites another dog.  He didn’t warn that he was uncomfortable because he’d learned not to growl, but he was still afraid, so he resorted to the next method of telling another dog to go away, biting.



While it may appear on TV that problem behaviours can be solved in a quick appointment with a trainer, in reality, fixing a behaviour problem takes time and work.  This problem has likely developed over a period of time, and your dog has been ‘practicing’ and getting good at this behaviour. It’s going to take some time and effort to change it.

A behaviour consultant should be coaching you on things you can do with your dog at home (or perhaps in other locations depending on the problem) to gradually help them.  These take a lot repetition for you and your dog to get good at them.

Depending on the behaviour problem you’re dealing with and the severity of the problem, there may be different stages of working on that problem. You may be starting with some basics initially and then gradually adding in more difficult steps.  Once you and your dog have mastered a stage, the difficulty may be increased to work towards fixing the problem.


Results and Guarantees

As mentioned above, it is very important that you work on homework to improve the behaviour problem with your pet. Your consultant is giving you the tools to work on it, but it requires practice to start to get results.

A good behaviour consultant will not make any guarantees when you hire them. Since a lot of progress depends on the work you’ll be putting in, we can’t guarantee you’ll see a change unless you put the time in with your dog.  

Certification bodies such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers won’t allow trainers to make guarantees for this very reason.  The Code of Ethics states specifically “To refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training”.


Follow up

As behaviour consultants, we’re invested in helping improve your pet’s behaviour and your relationship with your pet.  You and your consultant should discuss what type of follow up will be offered if you need support implementing the instructions or you run into trouble.


Do you have any questions about what to expect from a behaviour consultant?  




Why does National Dog Bite Prevention Week Matter?

You may have heard that it’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week®.  If you have a dog in your home, if you’re ever in contact with dogs, and especially if you have children, this week is an important reminder of the importance of safety around dogs.

We share our homes with our dogs, and if you have one, you know that they’re a very important part of your family.  It’s often really hard to believe that your family pet could bite someone. If you have children and they have a great relationship with your dog, you may not consider that they don’t know how to interact with a strange dog that may not be used to children.  

How common are dog bites?

Unfortunately, statistics on dog bites are few and far between, and those that are published are likely underestimates.  This isn’t a fault of those doing the research or calculating the data, the fact is a majority of bites likely aren’t reported.  

I was bitten myself by a neighbour’s dog when I was a young child and I know it wasn’t ever reported. Typically, only serious bites resulting in the need for medical attention are.

In saying that, it has been estimated that 4.5 million people in the US are bit by dogs per year (Sacks et al., 1996; Gilchrist et al., 2008). According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there were over 350,000 reported dog bites to children between 2010 and 2012 in the US.  Of children, toddlers are the most likely to be bitten, with the risk gradually decreasing as children get older (Schalamon et al).

Why do dogs bite?

Dogs can bite for many different reasons. Almost all dogs (unless they have been punished for it previously) will show some other form of behaviour before they resort to a bite.  

Dogs can bite when protecting territory, resources, or their young; or when they’re afraid, just to name a few. Dogs do not bite because they think they are the alpha over other members of the family (we’ll deal with this in another post).  

Young children may be more at risk for many reasons:

They’re often at the same level as dogs
They don’t know how to read signals a dog may be giving
They may approach dogs in situations where they would be more likely to bite

Their behaviour can be unpredictable to dogs
Any many more...

So how can we prevent dog bites?

It is incredibly important that adults and children learn how to:

  1. Recognize situations in which dogs shouldn’t be approached

  2. Learn how to read dog behaviour - especially less obvious signs that a dog is uncomfortable or fearful

  3. Adults manage and supervise carefully when dogs are around children

Many people are aware of overt signs of aggression in a dog and wouldn’t approach a dog showing obvious signs like growling, baring teeth, lunging and barking.  Children need to be taught about these signs, what they mean and what they should do if they come across a dog showing those signs. However, the subtle signs that a dog is fearful often go unnoticed.

Did you know that many of the pictures floating around the internet of kids and dogs often have dogs that are showing signs they are uncomfortable?

For example, in the picture below, what can you see about the dog that might let you know that they are uncomfortable in this situation?



To name a few:

  • The dog is leaning away from the younger child
  • The dogs’ ears are pinned back
  • You can see the whites of the dogs’ eye, often a sign that they are fearful

Now these signs don’t mean that this dog is about to bite the young child, but depending on the personality of the dog, the situation they’re in, and the history the dog has had with children, this could lead to a situation where the child is at risk.

What can you do to start?

It’s VERY important to talk to children about dog safety and model appropriate behaviour that you would want them to mimic.

Want some ideas?  You can sign up HERE for 5 days of fun, safe games and activities you can do with your kids and dog.

ONLINE COURSE COMING SOON! In May 2018 my online course all about dogs and kids will be launched!  You can learn all about dog behaviour and how to read signs they’re giving, how to manage your children and your dog in your home safely so that you are supervising their interactions appropriately, and how to handle common behaviour problems we see with dogs around children.  By signing up for the 5 days of fun, safe games and activities, you’ll be notified when the course is coming out!



Does going to the vet scare you and your pet?

Going to the vet is unfortunately one of the trips that causes both dogs and cats to be afraid.  Whether or not they have had a bad experience in the past, you may have a dog that refuses to take a step towards the front door or a cat that yowls in their carrier while in the waiting room.  Then, when in the exam room, your pet might be terrified and will barely move, or could act aggressive, a behaviour you may never see normally.