I’m so excited that fall is finally here. It really is my favorite season. I love Halloween and the harvest. Like with many things, I want to get my dogs involved as much as possible. But how much should they really participate? Should they dress up or wear a costume?
Like many things in dog training, the answer is; it depends. But really the better question is, how does my dog feel about wearing a costume?
You may already have some idea about how your dog will feel. Some dogs innately love being wrapped in blankets and wearing sweaters. There’s a good chance they will be happy to wear at least a basic costume. But
you may know another dog that runs from its harness. They just aren’t a fan of having things on their bodies.
If your dog is the type that runs from handling, we can still help them get in the festive spirit. And, as a bonus, it may help us practice some of those handling concerns in a fun, low stakes way. Oftentimes, we don’t think about our dogs’ handling sensitivities until we need to get the harness on to go to the vet or their nails are too long and need to be cut. Costumes don’t require a deadline. We can take our time and have fun! There’s a costume for every step of our journey.
Festive Collars & Bandanas
These are great options for pups who may be a bit uncomfortable getting dressed. And a simple collar bowtie can be very charming! Oftentimes, we can just quickly clip these on our dogs. If your pups need help being still, especially while adjusting for size, we can use a snuffle mat or lick mat to keep them entertained while we get the collar or bandana on. If you want to make it a little harder, say have your dog put their head through the bandana, we can help encourage them to get themselves dressed. This leads to our next costume option.
These are simple costumes that cover our dog’s body, but aren’t too imposing. Think sweater, shirt, or cape. All that’s needed is a velcro strap around the shoulders and maybe one around their chest. Or, the dog simply needs to put their head and paws into the holes of a shirt like costume. Many dogs can be intimidated by this type of costume. Especially if we chase them and force them to wear it. Instead, practice encouraging your dog to move their head or paws into the costume. Treats are a great way to encourage and reinforce this behavior. But beware to not use the treat to manipulate or trick your dog. We want them to opt into putting on the costume. This is very similar to learning to get dressed in a harness. So it’s two trainings for the price of one.
Hoods, Hats, & Things that Hang
Sometimes these costumes seem simpler. It’s just a hat, not a whole costume. But hats and paw tassels often connect to our dog’s most sensitive spots (ears, paws.) Not to mention these, and costumes that have something hanging like a rider, are often a bit flimsy and easy to knock off. I’ve had a number of those Headless Horseman dog costumes. The Headless Horseman usually ends up on his side in a step or two. A good shake off and the hat goes flying. Sometimes, we can make adjustments for these costumes. One of my dog’s favorite costumes is a cheerleader. It’s mostly a shirt like costume. But it also has tassels to go around her paws. Though she was comfortable with the tassels being placed, she also found it fun to rip them off and toss them like a toy. So now the tassels go around her collar. Hats often also benefit from being attached in a different way. When adjustments can’t be made, we may need to spend some extra time getting our dogs comfortable and ensuring they aren’t distracted and distressed by the added decoration. In the case of the Headless Horseman and an active dog, it may be best to practice a stand stay, take some quick pictures, and let our dog return to having fun without worrying about the Horseman’s poor riding style.
Take Away Points
Though there are a lot of options and room for growth, I want you all to take home a couple of key points.
This should be fun. For you and the dog. If it gets stressful, let it go for the time being.
The dog should consent to getting dressed. Never chase your dog or force them to wear something.
Be sure to have lots of good treats for this trick.
Don’t leave your dog unattended with a costume on.
Practice tricks in the costume! Not only does this make it more fun, it helps for some great photos.
If your dog is still concerned about putting on costumes, or being handled in general, reach out for a lesson.