As the sun departs earlier and the leaves begin to fall, a certain chaotic energy begins to ensue. As we enter spooky season – the delightful Autumnal gap from September right through to December (when santy season kicks in), life can become a bit of a nightmare for our canine besties.
The dark nights close in, the walks get shorter, and the weather turns wetter. Meanwhile, people are running around not looking like people and fireworks (sky bangs), fireworks, and more fireworks rain down.
Almost all dogs hate spooky season – my own included – even if it is my favourite. For Ada, our French Bulldog, it's no more than a few unsettled barks here and there when she's trying to sleep through fireworks. However, for Axl, our German Shepard cross rescue who is already greatly suspicious of the world… it’s hell.
So, we’ve put together some advice that has helped us get through the spooky season over the years. Hopefully, it might help you and your furry friends too.
First things first – Ignore the temptation to abandon your dog’s summer routine of lovely walks and adventure as soon as the grey weather kicks in. Please try to remember their walks are (in most cases) their favourite time of day. It’s the time they get to unwind, reset, and take in all the sniffs. It’s the doggy equivalent of your evening glass of wine, a (vile, sorry) pumpkin spiced latte, or a nice warm bath at the end of the day.
Although walks aren’t the same in the rain, there are ways to ensure the time our dogs get every day to relax is still there – even if it means pulling some of the usual walk activities indoors after a short stroll.
Sniffing is arguably one of the most important tools your dog has in order to understand its environment and unwind. Although you might think it's running for the ball or meeting other dogs that make your dog super happy during walks, we'd argue it's the variety of different sniffs coming their way.
So, how do we recreate this at home? We recommend a snuffle mat, snuffle ball, or an old-fashioned treat or toy-finding game which you can put together at home!
Snuffle toys are usually flat mats or balls, made of woven material sticking up in all directions to create a sort of long grass replica. You take some tiny yet strong-smelling treats and bury them in the folds, so your dog has to rummage around and sniff them out.
Treat-finding puzzle toys work the same way, except these are usually plastic or wooden, with doors or liftable sections. Your dog must work out which door the tasty snack is behind.
On a budget? One of our favourite activities to help Axl relax after a rough day is to make him wait while we hide his favourite toy or treat around the house. Once we’ve picked the best hiding place, we release him and get him to sniff out his toy in a game of doggy hide and seek. It’s the quickest trick up our sleeve to help him relax after a stressful day. It conveniently doubles up as some physical exercise too!
Now we’ve set your dog’s brain and body up to wind down with ease when the sun goes down, let’s focus on the spooky part.
Firstly, let me tell you a little story from when Axl was a puppy. I adopted him in the summer, so he was only a few months old when he hit his first spooky season. That Halloween, I’d taken Axl to work with me, and we got home at around 6:30 pm (thank you, M57 traffic).
I pulled the car into the drive and let Axl out. Someone in a Scream costume (very creative) who happened to be walking down the street, trick or treating with their kids, decided it was the perfect opportunity to creep behind me, intending to scare the life out of me. Unfortunately, at that exact moment, Axl jumped out of the car.
Thankfully for that guy, he was on a lead, as even when he was a puppy, he was always a big boy. He lunged at the man whilst making a sound that can only be described as a mix of an angry momma bear and Chewbacca.
Consequently, the foolish man jumped about two feet backwards (ironic) and stumbled off the kerb and onto his backside – much to the delight of his children. He was embarrassed, I was terrified for my dog, and Axl was absolutely wired. Had he not been so tightly on the lead when jumping out of the car (I have a previous escape artist husky to thank for those skills), that story might not have such a comical ending.
The point of the story is: people don’t think, they do daft things, and your dog might pay the price in an instant if pushed over the fear threshold.
I should add that there was no real drama, thanks to my tight lead holding. However, it did take me a full month of trust-building with Axl afterwards to get him to believe that a weirdo wasn’t going to jump us every time we got out of the car. Dogs are like sponges – it only takes one bad incident.
From that day onwards, I made a conscious effort to:
Not have Axl out of the house after dark on the days around Halloween or bonfire night.
Not have Axl out at all on Halloween or Bonfire night, and work with him inside instead.
Every dog is different, and some aren’t phased by typical ‘scary’ things. However, please remember dogs can react in a heartbeat, and even the best behaved and most relaxed can be caught off guard. So, take steps to safeguard against a startled pup and avoid night-time walks during peak spooky season to protect your pet from harm.