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Karen B. London
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Dog Halloween Costumes
Scary for our four-legged friends
Costumes make many dogs tense.

It’s hard to resist the urge to put dogs in costumes. The cuteness factor can fly off the charts, and for many people, dressing up our dogs is as natural as dressing up our human children. Despite my recognition of the joy it can bring to see our pups parading around as cowgirls, devils, sports stars or Elvis, I urge caution when considering costumes for dogs.

Most dogs hate costumes. They easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body. In the picture with this blog, the dog dressed up as a quarterback looks tense, with the closed mouth so indicative of a dog who is not comfortable, and he seems frozen in angst. In contrast, the dog behind him, sans costume, has a happy face and a relaxed body. I took this photo at a dog camp where all over the room on dress up night I saw unhappy dogs in costumes and cheerful dogs in their birthday suits.

If you simply must have your dog participate in this holiday, costumes that don’t impair dogs’ movements are best. Since most dogs are accustomed to wearing collars, small costumes that consist of something around the neck are the most easily tolerated. The key word is “small.” Rather than dress a dog up in a full tuxedo, for example, having him sport just a small bow tie may be easier for your dog to handle. This can be a great compromise that works for both people and dogs.

Costumes that dogs barely notice are great options. My dog was a skunk for Halloween one year. Being all black, the entire costume consisted of baby powder applied in a strip down his back—cute, easy and not bothersome to him. (Some dogs may even object to baby powder, but mine was fine with it.)

Even better is what my aunt used to tell trick-or-treaters about her dog Nellie who was a cross between a Beagle and a Lab: “What do you think of my cat’s costume? Doesn’t she look exactly like a dog?” My aunt could then have her dog take part in the spirit of the holiday without any ill effects. The older kids gave a little laugh, but the littlest kids were awed by Nellie’s “costume.”

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Anonymous | October 26 2009 |

How about the impact of strangely costumed people coming to your door? I wonder about the impact on my dog. A few years ago, I ordered Chinese food on Halloween. The delivery guy wore a gorilla suit--while I liked the spirit of the thing, my dog totally freaked.

Submitted by Karen London | October 26 2009 |

I so agree that most dogs don't react well to people wearing costumes! I'll be writing later in the week about keeping our dogs safe this Halloween, and a part of that is looking out for their emotional well being by not letting them get scared by trick-or-treaters and others who are dressed up. It sounds like you took the pizza delivery situation in stride, but a gorilla suit would have scared me. It's one of many traits I proudly share with dogs!

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | October 26 2009 |

Karen, Great point. I know my dogs have put their paws down on dress up. It's a nonstarter around here. Meanwhile, I heard about "sexy costumes" for pets on Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me last week. Super ick. What could people be thinking? Here's a little story about them on The Consumerist: http://consumerist.com/5378197/now-available-for-halloween-sexy-costumes...

Submitted by JoAnna | October 26 2009 |

My dogs are not big fans of costumes but they know if I make them wear something stupid, it means food is coming!

Submitted by Carolyn | October 26 2009 |

Many years ago I bought a "devil" costume for my brother's dog. It was just a red cape and red felt "horns." Although it really wasn't confining, poor Taz just looked incredibly embarrassed. Due to his clear discomfort, that costume was never used.

So yeah, I think we'll leave it at a pumpkin print collar cover and call it a holiday.

Submitted by Lisa Zador | October 30 2009 |

After years of trying different costumes on my dogs I've finally realized that whatever I do, my dog usually hates it! ( Particularly hats!). Every year I would dress up my dog Bingo and take his photo for my Halloween card but this year I thought I'd save him the stress and simply paint him in his "role". It turned out to be a great idea and I was able to put him into a scenario that I wouldn't normally have been able to create in a photograph. You can go to my blog to see this years (Sleepy Hollow) as well as past years posted!

http://studiobingo.wordpress.com/

Submitted by Tammy | October 30 2009 |

I usually dress my little dog up for Halloween. He doesn't especially like it, but he doesn't enjoy wearing clothes either, but since he is a hairless dog, clothing is a must in cold weather. Regarding his Halloween costume, he usually just has to wear it long enough for me to get a couple of pictures, then we'll take it off and put his regular clothes on. Unless we are having warm weather, and in that case he can go naked.

Submitted by Nancy | October 31 2009 |

It always helps when you get creative with your pets costume like you did with skunk costume you did. I've found that a little tailoring to any costume works wonders and helps you pup feel more comfortable in just about any clothes you put on him. I recently bought a hot dog costume at www.loveablepetshop.com for my dog for halloween this year, and with a little tailoring in the chest it fit like a charm.

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