A few years ago, I read an article that said there are basically two types of dogs when the doorbell rings: Santa dogs and Satan dogs. The former think that everyone who arrives at the front door is as wonderful as Santa Claus. The latter think that whoever is at the door must be coming to do bodily harm to the family. Reactive dogs like Spencer fall into the latter category.
That being the case, Halloween is a particularly challenging event for reactive dogs. The doorbell rings constantly, bringing strange-looking creatures to the house, but they are constantly turned away, so clearly are not friends.
At least we give out candy at the garden gate and not at the front door of the house. A few years ago I was visiting my cousin on Halloween, and we held our breath when one child — completely unfazed by the hysterical barking — suddenly reach past my cousin to pet the dog. Nothing bad happened (much to our relief), but it illustrated how scary Halloween can be for dog owners as well as the dogs.
Last night, we decided to turn Halloween to our advantage. As well as keeping the big bowl of candy near the front door, we kept a tin of Spencer’s favorite treats. Every time the doorbell rang, he got a treat and only then did we go out to give out goodies.
The first time the doorbell rang, he relayed the message in his usual loud barking (apparently he thinks we can’t hear the doorbell). The second time, he took it up a notch as this was clearly a siege. But as the evening went on, the barking tapered off, and he finally stopped, still running to the door, but being much calmer.
Basically, we turned this into a desensitization exercise, and it worked really well. The only downside for Spencer was that I utterly failed to come back with mail or packages or the other interesting things he often gets to smell when I answer the door on a normal day.