If you’re on Instagram or Twitter, it’s hard not to notice the exponential increase in pugs dressed as pumpkins, dachshunds as hotdogs or terriers as tacos. There’s no end to the crazy costumes for Halloween, Christmas or any occasion just because they’re cute.
I’ve never really been one for dressing up animals. It worries me that it demeans the pets’ dignity. But this year, even I’ve given in to the power of cute and already bought a Santa hat for Pogs the puggle. I bought it with more than 2 months to go because I want to train her to wear it and make sure she’s comfortable on the big day.
Whether you make your own dog costumes or buy them ready made, it’s important to remember that there’s a dog inside. The last thing anyone wants to do is have fun at the expense of their pet. Here are some important rules everyone should follow that put the pet first.
Read Your Dog’s Body Language
You may think your dog is sweeter than a sweet thing on sweet pills when dressed as a bumble bee, but a dog’s lowered head, flat ears and round eyes are actually signaling distress — not delight.
Many facial expressions we find appealing in dogs are actually signs that they’re uncomfortable. If you spot signs of discomfort, then start again from scratch to make sure the dog is happy and willing to dress up.
Other signs your dog feels conflicted or distressed include:
- Lip licking
- Pinned-back ears
- Wide eyes
- Flat whiskers
- Heavy panting
- Slinking away from you
- Shaking as if after a bath
Approach some dogs with rustling plastic bags, and they’ll do a double take: “What is this strange, rustling monster?”
Now imagine forcing the dog inside those plastic bags (leaving a hole for the head, of course). The unprepared dog will probably freak out. When you put a costume on a dog for the first time, it’s pretty much the same thing — forcing her to accept something that feels and smells strange covering her body.
Instead, slow things down:
- Well in advance of the big day, take the costume out of the wrapper and leave it somewhere that smells of you so it picks up a familiar scent.
- Leave the costume where your dog can approach and sniff of her own free will. Reward her boldness with praise and a treat.
- Then lay the costume across her back (without fastening it on), praising and rewarding as you go.
- Over several days, build up her confidence and dress her up only when the tail is wagging and the eyes are bright.
Safety is very important when it comes to dressing up your dog. Consider carefully what the costume is made from and how it fits the pet.
- The fit: Not too tight and not too loose. The dog should be able to sit, walk and toilet normally without the costume digging in or dragging.
- Free whiskers: The costume should not impair the dog’s senses, and therefore should not cover the mouth, whiskers, eyes or ears.
- Free of scent: A dog’s sense of smell is more sensitive than ours, and your dog will find it distressing for the fur to be covered in something that smells strongly of chemicals or another odor.
- Not flammable: Use only nonflammable materials, especially with pumpkin lanterns and candles around.
- No chewable parts: Use Velcro to secure the costume, and avoid small parts such as buttons that could be chewed off and swallowed.
These dressed-up dogs attended the annual NYC Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade in 2015:
More Dog Costume Tips
In addition, follow these simple do’s and don’ts so that everyone — especially the dog — can enjoy the festivities this year and be safe:
- Don’t force your dog outside her comfort zone. If in doubt, snap a quick photo of her in the costume and then take it off.
- Do make sure she’s actively enjoying herself. The dog should have fun rather than merely tolerate the dress up.
- Don’t leave your dog in a costume unattended.
- Do make sure she can eat, drink, pant and toilet without fuss.
- Don’t humiliate your dog (remember that dogs have dignity too).
- Do limit how long she wears the costume.
- Don’t overwhelm your dog with attention, photos or trick-or-treating.
- Do check the costume regularly for parts that could be swallowed, and make sure it’s still comfortable.
And finally, have a great Halloween with your dog!
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 28, 2016.