Hoping for a howling good time? Our health and behavior expert shares important tips.
dog in Halloween sweater with mom and kids our trick-or-treating; trick-or-treat-safety tips
Credit: Fat Camera / Getty

There's a nip in the air that smells of pumpkin spice, your stylish matching dog and owner costumes are at the ready, and you haven't eaten the entire bag of fun-size candy—yet. It's almost Halloween! And maybe time to take your dog on a trick-or-treat adventure! 

Wait—can dogs go trick-or-treating? Will they enjoy roaming around the neighborhood with all the little ghosts and goblins? Or would they rather stay at home patiently gazing at the fall treats you left on the counter? 

"It all depends on the dog," says Jenna Stregowski, RVT, the health and behavior editor for Daily Paws. "If your dog likes kids, is confident around crowds, and trained to walk on a loose leash, a trick-or-treating walk might be fun for you both." However, she cautions that doggos who don't get along really well with kids shouldn't go trick-or-treating.

You've likely already used positive reinforcement training to help your dog learn basic cues such as "stay," "heel," and "drop it." When taking a dog trick-or-treating or to other crowd-based gatherings, these and other skills are invaluable for keeping your pup safe and comfortable. Here are some other tips to keep in mind.  

1. Take Care of Training Before the Event

Stregowski says if your dog tends to be nervous around new things and hasn't had counterconditioning training yet, now isn't the time to try something new. If your dog is still learning to walk on a loose leash, you'll want to finish developing this skill before trick-or-treating. 

2. Know Where They Can Go

A quiet neighborhood that your pup already knows is ideal for enjoying Halloween fun, and some organized pet-friendly events can be okay, too. Just check before you go, as some areas have guidelines about which households are participating in trick-or-treating and the inclusion of pets. Some apps, like Nextdoor, even create special maps where residents can indicate if they will have dog-friendly treats and goodies in addition to the usual candies.

Stregowski recommends making your rounds during daylight and dusk hours because it's easier to watch your dog, plus they're less likely to get spooked by large, shadowy costumes or flashing lights.

"Also avoid areas with high vehicle traffic or events with loud music or other noisy sound effects," she adds. "Don't stray too far from your home or car so you can leave quickly when your dog is ready to go—which may be earlier than you expected." 

3. Take the Right Supplies

Oh, you need it all: Flashlight (not glow sticks), travel water bottle, poop bags, special canine treats (especially since dogs can't have chocolate, raisins, candy corn—or any of the goodies usually handed out), and maybe a pup raincoat or sweater in case the weather turns frightful. 

4. Double Check the Costume

No matter how adorable a dog Halloween costume is, you don't want an outfit that limits your pup's mobility or vision—and Stregowski says if part of the costume seems to bother them, remove it. It should also be comfortable for them to walk in and shouldn't obstruct proper leash and collar or harness use.

"Reflective tags or tape should be included in your dog's costume for visibility and safety from vehicles," she adds. "Battery-operated lights can also be used, but keep wires/strings tucked away so your dog doesn't chew them." 

Most importantly, ensure your dog has a current ID tag and microchip in case the two of you get separated.

5. Give Your Dog Space

Always keep your pup on leash and out of dense crowds, as this ensures their safety and prevents eager human trick-or-treaters from bumping into them. 

As you plan for the event, Stregowski advises considering who's coming along (often kids in the family) as well and whether that will be stressful for you and/or your dog.

"It's a lot to keep track of, so you may need another adult," she says. "Also, if your dog tends to follow the kids and 'mother' them as they approach strangers' doors, it may be overwhelming for both you and your dog." Instead, let children approach front doors themselves, and you stay a few feet away with your pup. This helps them stay calm and avoid any pets in the house (who we want to keep safe, too!)

Finally, give your four-legged pal frequent breaks from the hoopla by walking away for short periods. "This allows your dog to decompress," Stregowski says. 

6. Watch What They're Sniffing

Normally, it's encouraged to let your dog sniff a lot while on walks, as it provides essential mental stimulation. However, you need to pay close attention to what they might be snuffling during trick-or-treating (all that dropped candy or rogue pieces of costumes!) and be ready to intercept anything they might try to snarf.

7. Know When It's Time to Go Home 

In such an active environment, it's easy for your dog to become uncomfortable quickly. How will you know when your pet is ready to call it a night? Stregowski says all are different, but here are some typical signs of stress or overstimulation:

  • Shaking/shivering
  • Tucked tail
  • Licking lips, yawning, averting gaze
  • Panting while at rest
  • Trying to hide
  • Drooling excessively
  • Vocalizing (barking, whining, growling)
  • Lunging/intense pulling on the leash
  • Trying to escape or pulling to get away from crowds
  • Refusing to walk
  • Not responding to your cues and signals (if they normally do)

"You don't know for sure how they'll react, so it's important to watch your dog's body language closely," she says. 

And if it's time to tuck it in, that's OK. Go home, make a bowl of dog-friendly, air-popped, and unbuttered popcorn, slip under the most plushy blanket, and continue celebrating the season by watching Halloween movies.