Rain got a big test of her social graces on Monday night…and it didn’t go too well!
It started out innocently enough. I put together a costume for rain at a nearby thrift store, just a couple of days before Halloween. She’s a cowdog! (Okay, I may have had something more specific in mind, and I might have dressed thematically with her.) Her jean shorts kept falling off but her flannel shirt and bandana stayed on all Halloween evening.
Rain hasn’t had much exposure to trick-or-treating, but it was my hope that after our Reactive Rover work Rain would be more manageable than she has been in the past. When she came on the scene in 2010 she and Skye would bark at trick-or-treaters. My mom soon tired of passing out candy at all, between the need for pup patrol and the relatively few kids who circulate our neighborhood each year.
Rain has struggled with barking at door knocks, but I thought Halloween would be a good opportunity for her to get lots of practice. My mom and I have practiced with her off and on, and she seemed to be starting to get it. Sometimes. Surely the repetition over a couple hours would have her over her reaction in no time! Right?
Lesson learned: maybe it’s not a great idea for a barky dog to “get practice” with unsuspecting little kids. 😦
The first knock at the door was Jasper, a very young child, and his Dad. After I fed Rain a cookie, she leaped up and put her paws on the window of the screen door so she could see Jasper, then started barking. Jasper was so startled by Rain’s sudden appearance that he couldn’t even say “trick or treat” or “thank you,” even with the encouragement of his dad. The dad was kind, and looked familiar.
A few knocks later, another young boy got close to the screen door just as Rain was popping up—and she bonked him on the nose. He was upset, and I fed Rain treats to keep her quiet while I consoled the boy. His parent was in the street. I spoke gently to him, apologized, and gave him twice as much candy as I was giving everyone else.
The older kids came later, and in groups. When one group of boys was crowding the screen door a bit, I asked them to step back…and they went a little too far back. One neighbor kid said “oh, that’s just Rain…HI RAIN.” Like he knew her intimately. Ugh.
The trick-or-treat transaction went better with the older kids, but I still needed to both monitor Rain closely while interacting with visitors. Between visitors, I sat at my desk next to the front window, attempting to anticipate knocks in order to get Rain’s attention before her reaction kicked in. By the end of the evening, when I noticed people headed for my doorstep, I put Rain in her crate in the back room of the house. She still barked but she wasn’t as far over threshold as she had been prior.
I also realized a different system at evening’s end. My other idea would have required a second person, but it would have given Rain opportunity to practice without the multi-tasking. It also would have had a far lower risk of traumatizing little kids.
Remember Jasper and his dad? Eventually I realized: I think I recognize them because they live in the house in back of us! The dad seemed very understanding of barky Rain but perhaps I should try to do more apologizing. I would hate to think about a kid growing up fearful of dogs because of something I did.
I love Halloween, and all of this put a real record scratch on my enjoyment of the evening. Rain’s reactivity pulled my focus away from being able to take note of people’s costumes, or my one opportunity per year to have a positive interaction with neighborhood children via controlled situation.
Rain’s Uncle Atticus used to love Halloween—I could dress him up and he loved having visitors. He would put his paws up on the screen door and give kids a happy greeting with his goofy face. Kids liked him and might even stay a little longer after getting their candy in order to give him a few pats.
Obviously more work is needed before next October. Perhaps it’s time to start focusing on on door knocks or meeting strangers. I really don’t want to give up! Shutting Rain out of the festivities would be a real shame for her, for me, and all the hard work we’ve done together.