Plenty of people love dressing up dogs in clothes. And it’s not just the Paris Hiltons of the world. Dog clothing and accessories is a growing industry with everything from cutesy tutus to goth hoodies available. Then there are the Halloween costumes. Many pet parents put as much thought into their pet’s costumes as their own. Dogs dressed as Superman or rocking spider costumes are cute, but are they happy?
According to a lot of experts, the answer is no. Alexandra Horowitz, a renowned dog expert and author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know, suggests that putting costumes on dogs, especially fully body costumes, can be threatening and stressful.
For starters, putting on a costume is terribly invasive. You have to get right up into your dog’s space and fiddle and faff about under their bellies and around their tails, which a lot of dogs don’t like. It may be easy to dismiss a Chihuahua baring her teeth and snarling while you’re busy doing Velcro, zips and buttons, it’s much trickier to ignore a Bull Mastiff who is not an Iron Man fan.
Then there is the discomfort of being entirely wrapped up, especially if the fabric is a little scratchy or the Velcro is pricking them or the ‘sleeve’ is bunched awkwardly under their arms. If your dogs paws at the outfit, rolls on the ground or rubs against your couch, she’s probably unhappy and trying to get it off pronto.
On the other hand, if you introduce your dog to her costume correctly – slowly and with treats – then it needn’t be too traumatic. Your dog could actually enjoy dressing up as it results in extra attention and yummy food. It’s important to pay attention to your dog’s body language, however, so you can see whenever she’s unhappy and uncomfortable.
How to keep your dog happy
Dr. Louise Murray, vice-president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital, says that when dressing up dogs, the most important consideration is safety. She provides nine safety tips you should follow if you have your heart set on dressing up dogs, either for special occasions or every day wear.
1. Minimize (preferably eliminate) stress
High stress levels can be fatal in dogs, so you definitely want to keep stress under control. Signs of stress include panting, yawning, lip licking, and, of course, trying to remove the costume. If they’re shivering or trembling, their stress levels are already through the roof and you need to settle them immediately. A bandana around a collar or harness works as a safe alternative to colorful clothes and costumes.
2. Free movement
It’s important that your dog can move freely. Of course, there should be appropriate gaps for them dog to answer the call of nature. Make sure your dog is able to move her head, mouth and legs easily and that she can still hear, see and breathe.
3. No loose, poorly attached pieces
As much as you may want to dress your Yorkie up as a princess, you should avoid using ribbons, frills, beads or ties or anything else which can be chewed and choked on. Loose ribbons around the neck can also become stuck on bushes or furniture and throttle your dog.
4. Ease discomfort
Make sure there’s nothing bothering your pet, and if you see anything that’s irritating her coat, like swinging beads, floppy hats or scratchy fabric, remove it immediately.
5. Heads Up, Free and Clear
Avoid big, floppy hats that could fall down your dog’s head and cover her eyes, or just become plain annoying. Also avoid anything that swings about as your dog moves and which could keep slapping her eyes, mouth, nose or any other sensitive area. If you would be uncomfortable in your dog’s costume, you can bet your boots that she is too.
6. Shine brightly
7. Don’t stray away
There are two reasons you want to keep your dog close to you: 1) Halloween is a busy, crowded time so you need to keep your dog close so you can keep her calm and, 2) because there is so much unusual activity your dog might be more reactive and may not take kindly to people coming into her space. You need to keep her out of difficult situations.
8. Less is more
Though it might be tempting to dress your Great Dane in a Doctor Spock costume, ears and all, too many accessories are overwhelming. Try a bib with a Star Trek emblem instead.
9. Don’t forget ID tags
Your dogs should never go off your property without proper identification, but it’s even more important on big holidays like Halloween (and Guy Fawkes), when there is a lot of noise. ID tags should be particularly conspicuous and should clearly state your dog’s name and your contact details. Include information such as whether your dog is microchipped or has any problems (blind, deaf, hates cats). You’re your cell phone and within earshot.
Halloween can be fun for you and your dog – if you approach it from your dog’s point of view. Remember to keep your dog calm and comfortable at all times, otherwise you risk ruining the holiday for your dog, as well as putting a dent in your dog’s trust in you.