Every year for the past seven years, I’ve experienced a Halloween preview that used to be more stressful for my pets than Halloween itself. I live across the street from a tiny YMCA; the facility is just one small building with a fenced play yard smaller than my own front yard. But every year on the weekend before Halloween, the YMCA hosts a huge haunted house in its building and yard. The event, a major fundraiser for the organization, draws hundreds and hundreds of adults, teenagers, and children, who will walk, intermittently screaming, through a winding path of scary sights and sounds.
This town is small, and nighttime family entertainment is scarce, and by the end of the weekend, I feel certain that every resident has been through the “spook house” at least once, and maybe twice. Which means they have also circled the block looking for parking – my street is usually deserted at night – and then walked by the front gate, lined up outside the Y, gone through the event (screaming), and then discussed it animatedly for a while outside. Which means every dog for blocks and blocks barks for hours those two nights, and every cat for blocks and blocks goes into hiding.
The preparations have been going on every night for a week already. The volunteers who put the event together first attach plywood and cardboard to all the playground fences, blocking the by passers’ view of the interior of the “set.” Every evening for a week, there are building crews and crews of volunteer actors inside the now-shrouded yard (but still outdoors), rehearsing their zombie walks, startling screams, and – get this – because we live in a rural area, menacing chainsaw action!
This has turned into a terrific annual opportunity for my dogs to practice quietly observing mayhem and odd human behavior, and to come inside and sit with me calmly when they are too overwhelmed to watch the action outdoors. Sitting on my desk, I have a bowl of kibble with some high-value treats (cubes of Natural Balance roll) mixed in; I intermittently reward them with a tossed treat when I hear an especially loud noise outside and see them sitting or lying down on my office floor.
But this year, Otto’s sixth witnessing this event and Tito’s third, I think I’m more agitated about the hubbub than they are! Which I’m going to take to mean that I ‘m a better dog trainer than I am a calm, patient person. The Halloween practice nights this year have me jumping up to close my office door (which goes out to the deck that overlooks the YMCA, and which I usually leave open as late into the evening as the temperature permit) and turning up my Internet radio to block the random screams of excitement and “spook practice.”
Well, all of this is also good practice for the actual Halloween event itself. I think we’ll all be exhausted by the time it gets here.
Speaking of getting ready for the big night itself: Here are some good ideas about Halloween safety for your pets.