Chocolate & Candy Dangers for Dogs

Dogs and Halloween goodies do not mix.

Too much sugar isn’t good for dogs.  At best it could just mean gas, but it can lead to vomiting & diarrhea and more.  Adding insult to injury ……  As bad as real sugar is for dogs, artificial sugar is pure poison.  Xylitol or Birch Sugar is a common component of candies especially but it is not limited to candy.  Xylitol is also found in puddings, peanut butter, baked goods, ketchup, vitamins, gum, toothpaste, cough syrup, and many more items.    Poisoning can have impact in as little as 20 minutes. The horrible list of issues includes vomiting, weakness, collapse, coma, liver failure and more.  Xylitol is a medical emergency for a dog.  

Chocolate can also be serious for dogs.  It contains theobromine and caffeine which dogs don’t process as well as humans.  The total amounts will vary by type of chocolate, with darker chocolates having more.   The devil is in the details.  If your dog consumes chocolate you will need to tell the vet how much and exactly what kind the dog ate, as well as your dogs’ size/weight. 

Chocolate poisoning is serious.  The “milder” symptoms include vomiting & diarrhea, as well as increased thirst, panting & restlessness, excessive urination and racing heart rates while even more serious impacts include seizures and heart failure.   Chocolate poisoning might only take hours to develop, but the impact can last for days.  Theobromine remains in the dog’s bloodstream for a long time.

So, while we humans enjoy the tomfoolery of Halloween, please remember it is chock full of stresses and dangers for your dogs.

Halloween Horrors for Dogs

What is Halloween for a dog?

For a lot of dogs, it’s a flipping nightmare.  The doorbell keeps ringing all night long.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t find doorbell music all that wonderful so I imagine that dogs might get sick of it too. 

What then happens after the doorbell rings?   Alien monsters are standing on the step…. And if that’s not bad enough, they start screaming “trick or treat” at the top of their lungs!!!   This makes absolutely no sense to a dog.   Dogs do not understand screaming aliens.  Without some solid prep work, few dogs will cope with Halloween all that well.

What can you do?   You can take each component of that nightmare and you create a happy ending for it. 

  • When the doorbell rings, have your dog lay down on a bed and get a treat.  It doesn’t matter where you put that bed to start with, just create a happy link in the dog’s mind between treats and the doorbell.  Eventually you will put that bed where you want the dog to be on Halloween night.
  • Create costumes from sheets, stupid hats, and weird glasses …. And have people that your dog knows quite well put on one of these items at a time …. Feed the dog treats all the while.  Create a happy link between costumes and treats.
  • Practice screaming Trick or Treat at random times around the house.  You do it, have your friends do it.  Just create happy connection for your dog between treats and humans that holler stupid things. Combine 2 of these three things together to begin with …..that is the doorbell + hollering, or, crazy  costumes + hollering.  When your dog has happily adjusted to those, then combine all 3 together: doorbell, hollering trick or treat, and weird costumes

You want your dog to associate all of these crazy things with good treats and fun times with their favourite humans in the house.   Start small and work your way up to that total commotion that is Halloween night in most neighbourhoods.  Go at your dog’s pace!!!  You don’t want to scare them.  You want them to get used to it.  So, start small and quiet, and add small pieces of it.

What if you don’t have enough time to do all this?  What if your dog isn’t ready?   Then, it is in the best interest for your dog to get them out of the house for the evening.  Take a long walk in the park.  Go for a nice long drive where there’s no trick or treaters on the roads.  Go somewhere that is calm, quiet and peaceful.  Be kind to your dog.  It is one night of the year.   Just avoid it.

The other very important thing to remember about Halloween for dogs is the danger of too much sugar, and possible poisoning from chocolate. If the dog gets into your kid’s candy haul, then you need to contact your vet. Make note of how much and what kind of candy your dog has consumed: your vet will want to know.

Pumpkin Pleasure (for dogs)

So ….. what about pumpkin for dogs?

In short: YES but, as always, the devil is in the details.

Pumpkin is full of nutrients.  It’s a great thing to add to your dog’s diet.  It contains several vitamins of note (A, C, E) as well as important minerals (Iron, Potassium).   It contains prebiotics which are important for the maintenance of a healthy gut.  It is high in soluble fibre which will assist in preventing and recovering from diarrhea.  It is soothing on a dog’s stomach.

All of these attributes are fantastic …. in moderation.  Too much pumpkin in a dog’s diet can cause issues.  For example, when there is way too much fibre in the diet, it interferes with the absorption of other nutrients, which puts the dog at risk for deficiencies.   Pumpkin contains a lot of starch (ie calories).   Having too many daily calories coming from a single source can affect the overall balance of other nutrients in the diet.  So, the answer involves “moderation”.

This begs the question of how much pumpkin should a dog get?  Remember that pumpkin is only a supplement to the regular diet.   Always start with the smallest amounts, e.g., one spoonful per day and watch carefully.  Most dogs are able to digest it without issue.  When in doubt, consult a professional. 

What kind of pumpkin?  Plain pumpkin.  Real pumpkin.   Read labels carefully if you’re buying canned pumpkin as most of them have high salt content (bad news for dogs, even healthy ones).  Absolutely do not use pumpkin pie filling as that will contain extra sugar and several spices that most likely will not agree with your dog.  Plain pumpkin is what you need.

Raw or cooked?  Again, the answer = Yes.  If your dog needs some tummy soothing, then cooked & smashed is probably better.  You can mix it with regular food.  However, if you’re just looking for some healthy alternative treats, then small chopped up bits of pumpkin flesh is also fine. 

Can dogs eat pumpkin seeds?   While the answer is technically yes (there is nothing poisonous about pumpkin seeds), whole seeds are not all that digestible.  This means they will (hopefully) pass through the digestive system but with very little nutritional benefit.  If they’re roasted, then also beware all the extra the salt & spices that are put on for human consumption. 

Tail wagging puzzles

My dog is wagging his tail.  He must be happy!!!  Oh, how many times I’ve heard this!?!?   How many of those times have been wrong???

The truth is that while happy dogs wag their tails, not all wagging tails are happy ones.  And that’s where the confusion starts.   Puzzles make your head hurt!

Let’s break it down into component parts.

  1. Tail speed
  2. Tail angle
  3. Tail “sweep”

Tail Speed

When a dog gets really excited, their tail goes faster and faster.   Excitement can be happy or not, so all that tail speed is really telling you is just how “wound up” the dog is.  Sometimes you see the tail literally just vibrating it’s going so fast.

Tail Angle

The thing to note about the angle of the tail is whether or not it is different from their normal or regular tail carriage.  When a dog is trying to send a signal of non-confrontation, the tail will be held lower and lower, sometimes bending so far underneath that it is even touching the belly.  When the dog is getting all wound up, the tail carriage will be higher and higher, sometimes to the point of being almost straight up (depending on the type of tail the dog has).

Tail Sweep

When the tail is at its’ normal angle, the side-to-side motion will be as wide as it’s going to get.  As the angle of tail carriage goes either up or down, the sweep will get narrower.   While you can’t truly say that a happy tail is “relaxed”, it will still be fairly “bendy” as the wags happen.

So, the tail wagging of a happy dog will be

  • close to the normal angle of carriage
  • show the broadest range of sweep
  • will be a low to medium speed of wag
  • will be relatively fluid, bendy, and relaxed


  • lots of happy dogs wag and squiggle their whole body and not just the tail.

However, when the tail is

  • very, very fast
  • stiffer movements than normal
  • at an odd angle, this is especially concerning the higher the tail gets

THEN you know that the dog is getting excited or agitated: the dog is not happy.   When the dog is in an agitated frame of mind, it is a very, very, very poor idea to have children try to pet them.  Things can go wrong very quickly when the dog is highly aroused. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s examine this picture carefully. The dog is wagging his tail so fast it is blurry in the picture. The width of that blur in the picture tells you just how narrow this particular tail sweep is. The whole body language tells us that the dog is a bit concerned and probably isn’t “happy”. The tail carriage is so high it is almost vertical, the dog is staring intensely, has a furrowed brow (wrinkly forehead), the ears echo the intensity of the stare, and there are hackles on the shoulders. ((If this was a video you might also get an idea how tense the dog was.))

The dog is alert and focused but the body language points to uncertainty and caution with furrowed brow, tail speed & carriage, and hackles on the shoulders.
Body language hints that the tail wagging is NOT happy.

Now let’s look at this next picture. The tail is out past the dog’s side at a very wide angle from the body, it is at a “comfortable” height (looks natural), and the whole tail is clear in the picture so the speed isn’t excessive. This dog is also paying close attention (gaze and ears are focused) but the face is more relaxed with a lolling tongue and smooth forehead. You might be thinking that this dog looks “happy”. Well, maybe it is. You simply can’t tell from a still picture. This dog might just be waiting for someone to throw a stick so they’re really focused and mildly excited. The point of comparison here is that the wagging tail in the second picture might be a happy wag, whereas the dog in the first picture is not.

The dog is standing in a field, focused clearly on something but the overall body language is softer than the first picture and the angle of the tail is closer to that you would expect when a dog is happy.
Body language hints that the tail wagging might be happy.

Looking at the tail wag speed, angle and sweep gives you an instant reading on how excited the dog is, and so, it gives you a little hint at how they’re feeling. Always pair a tail wag with the rest of the body language that the dog is giving. A wagging tail on it’s own tells you very little.

Prevent Dog Bites

One of my all time pet peeves (yes pun intended!) is when people are told to “Watch The Dog” without explaining what they should be watching FOR!! I’m sure it just leaves the person feeling more confused, and probably too embarrassed to ask more questions. That’s just unfair.

Dog body language in total can be complex, but the component pieces are actually very, very simple. We are presenting a FREE webinar about Preventing Dog Bites and I will tell you exactly what to look for when a dog is first starting to feel uncomfortable. If you catch the message when the dog is first telling you, and then you fix the situation, presto, the potential for a dog bite is gone.

We often hear people say that the dog “bit without warning”. I will accept that perhaps on that fateful occasion the dog gave very little warning, however, I am absolutely sure that the dog has already been trying to get their messages across for a long, long time. Their humans weren’t “listening”. Join me in the webinar and let me teach you HOW to listen.

As a species, dogs have evolved a whole system of body language communications which serve to PREVENT fights and aggression. They will tell us in their own way exactly how they are feeling in any situation. That’s how dogs are.

This free webinar will happen on Wednesday, April 13 at 10 am Atlantic Daylight Time. It is live, so we suggest you sign up for an email reminder in the link below.

You will learn the facts, see the data, and you will see how to “read” the dog’s messages with pictures of several different situations and breeds. It is an educational event you won’t want to miss! The most common victim of a dog bite is a child, from a family pet, in a home setting. Together let’s protect our children.

Prevent Dog Bites

Today is April Fools but dog bites are absolutely not something to joke about. When I talk about preventing dog bites, I do like to reassure people that most dogs never bite their human companions. HOWEVER, for those who are victims, the result is traumatic. A very large number of bites are preventable, so that’s the place to start.

April 10-16, 2022

Dog Bite Prevention Week

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Free Webinar

On Wednesday, April 13, 2022, at 10 a.m. Atlantic time. (ADT is UTC−03:00) we will be offering a FREE webinar on Dog Bite Prevention. (You can subscribe to get an email reminder by following the link at the bottom of this post.)

A lot of people mistakenly believe that only vicious dogs bite. That is a myth. The truth is that all dogs can bite, but some dogs will bite when they feel they have no other choice. That is why we say that many bites can be prevented.

According the to Canadian Animal Health Institute there is at least one dog living in 40+% of Canadian Households. Their surveys suggest there are nearly 8 million family dogs in Canada. The Canada Safety Council estimates there are 460,000 bites per year. We can get detailed information about dog bites by looking at data published by the Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Programme (CHIRPP), Public Health Agency of Canada.

This webinar will look at CHIRPP data to highlight who are the most common victims of a dog bite, when & where the bite happens, and, what are the circumstances surrounding those incidents. When we understand the situation which can lead to a dog bite, then we can better manage the environment so it doesn’t happen.

Likewise, we need to understand what will make the dog feel threatened, and then we can manage the environment to avoid those situations for the dog. Dogs are not robots. Dogs are intelligent and emotional creatures. We can prevent many unfortunate incidents when we understand how our actions make our dog feel. It is a myth that dogs are vicious. Most dogs don’t want to bite.

We will discuss the data, the reasons & circumstances, and the ways to prevent a dog bite. This is a webinar you won’t want to miss. Get reminders by subscribing below.

Winter paw care

I look out my window right now and there’s freezing rain just pelting down … really hard. (Sigh) The next thing (I hope) we’ll see are salt and sand trucks coming around.

Walking on cold snow and ice will affect each dog differently but no dog is immune to the harshness of salt and sand on their paws. Be sure to wash it off when you get in from your walk.

If you notice the pads are dry and cracking, then paw balm is in order!!

November 11th Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is a whirlwind of emotion for me.  Frustration at the need for war.  Sadness at the holes left behind with families & loved ones.  Hope for a better tomorrow since those who sacrificed so much believed in the difference their lives would make.  Gratitude for those who built my safe little world. 

I am well aware that the date for Remembrance Day is the armistice of WW1 on Nov. 11, 1918 but the greater impact of war has been felt in our clan from WW2.  My grandfather left behind a widow and 5 kids (my father was in his early teens).  The situation for the family was grim.  My grandmother remarried a wonderful man who raised those 5 and 2 more kids.  I am eternally grateful to both men who did their part to create a safe little place for us.  

I would be misleading if I implied that human costs are the only tragic losses in war.   As anyone who has fled their homelands will tell you, priceless bits of history and identity get destroyed.  It is true that trees and grass can get replanted but in some cases those treasures are thousands of years old and will never be recovered.  Each of us has our weak points.  I am sorry for the loss of ancient artifacts but that tragedy is not what grips me. 

Animals suffer immensely in war.  Habitat destruction is incredibly devastating for wild animals, with nowhere to hide and nothing to eat.  Domestic pets disappear in the millions too, whether it is directly or due to starvation.  A little known piece in British WW2 history is that a pamphlet was circulated among citizens about preparing for the impending food shortages and evacuations.   “If you cannot place your pets in the care of a neighbour it really is kindest to have them destroyed”.   This caused panic and a mass culling of family pets.   Estimates are as high as 750,000 British family pets were euthanized in one week because of this campaign.   

And then we come to the loss of animals who were directly used in the wars.  Different counts vary, but WW1 lost an estimated 10 MILLION horses, mules, and donkeys, plus, 100,000 dogs and 200,000 pigeons.  Estimates for WW2 are also spotty but we know for example the USA trained some 10,000 dogs for WW2.  Unknown numbers of cats were used on ships to keep rats and mice under control.   Draft animals such as horses, donkeys, mules, oxen and even elephants were used for building roads.  

A big part of the trouble with remembering anything at all is the enormity of the numbers.  WW1 estimates 9-11 Million military personnel and 6-13 Million civilian casualties.  Accurate counts are not available since every country dealt with things like wounded, general disease and missing people in different ways.  Estimates for WW2 include 50-56 Million deaths in combat with 50-55 Million civilian deaths including some 19-28 Million people from disease and famine.   The total population of Canada stands at 38 Million people today.  Those two wars removed the equivalent of nearly three whole Canada’s from the face of the earth. I can’t even ……..


We will remember them all.

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Happy and SAFE Halloween

Children look forward to Halloween spoils all year long! Others might not be so keen. Our dogs can very easily count among the latter!

Halloween can be a nightmare for an anxious dog. Just count the unsettling things: a) hordes of strangers coming to and from the house, b) doorbells ringing non-stop, c) screaming of “Trick or Treat!!!!” when the door opens d) strange and frightening costumes e) all of this lasting sometimes for hours on end. The time to socialize our dogs for Halloween scariness is NOT on the day of, but rather, you should start weeks if not months earlier. The best thing to do for your dog is to take them for a quiet walk somewhere until the Trick or Treaters have gone home.

Chocolate and candy can indeed be delightful. But you need to be aware that both candy and chocolate can be deadly for dogs. Make sure you keep your dog out of the stash that you are saving to give out at your door, AND, make sure your dog doesn’t get into the bags of goodies that your children drag home.

If your dog does get into the goodies, then be prepared to tell your veterinarian the KIND of candy or chocolate, HOW MUCH the dog ate, and the SIZE of the dog. As with all kinds of other poisons, dosage can mean the difference between diarrhea or something far, far worse. You will save yourself a load of money and a lot of heartache if you keep the Halloween items where your dog cannot get into them.

Be on the particular lookout for “sugar-free”, “low-calorie” or “diet” varieties of anything (edible or not): gum, toothpaste, lip balm, pop, candy, peanut butter, puddings, ketchup, drink powders, chewable vitamins, or anything else. These sugar-substitute sweeteners can be deadly (especially common is Xylitol (also called Birch Sugar)). Call your veterinarian immediately.

Here’s wishing a Happy and SAFE Halloween to all of you!