“I guess I personally am not one for dressing up dogs,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Director of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, when the question is posed to him about whether he will outfit his two pooches for Halloween.
“My dogs do take to their orange jackets during hunting season pretty well,” he says. “When I’m done getting them ready to walk in the woods, there they are, these two little orange tubes tucked in with Velcro and a zipper.
“I don’t think badly of people who do put clothes on their dogs for fun,” Dr. Dodman says. “Some people are really into dressing up dogs whether it’s Halloween or not. They have a costume for their dog for every occasion. In Los Angeles there are little chic boutiques that cater specifically to owners who put their dogs in outfits.
“Some people even have birthday parties for their pets,” he comments. “My own daughter — she doesn’t know her adopted dog’s birthday, so she celebrates the date she adopted him with a bone-shaped cake that’s edible for the dog that she buys at a doggie bakery. She calls it Gotcha Day. She even sent me a picture of this glorious event. I’m doubtful the dog gets the significance.”
As for the costumes, Dr. Dodman says some dogs might enjoy it because “they would enjoy the attention from their owner and the fuss they get from others. But if they don’t like having their feet being put through little holes in clothing or being touched on the head or having, say, a hat on the head, it wouldn’t be right to put them through it. In the middle are those very calm dogs who wouldn’t care either way.”
If you do decide to put Fido in a costume, it’s important to make sure he remains comfortable — and safe. That means a costume should never obscure your dog’s vision. Nor should it block his nose or mouth in any way and thereby interfere with comfortable breathing. Any attachment a dog can rip off or swallow — the glittery star at the end of a wand, perhaps — also has to be dealt with accordingly, meaning is has to be securely attached so the dog can’t dislodge it or remove it from the costume altogether. Costumes that circle the head and neck shouldn’t be too tight, either.
Some owners like to change a dog’s color during a holiday with fur spray. These tend to be safe — as long as they are not applied too close to the eyes, reminds the Texas A&M College of Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences. You also need to make very sure that the spray truly is designed specifically for animal fur.
It’s not always the costume that can be problematic for the pet but also the decorations around the house. Just as for costume parts, there’s a danger in swallowing decorations in the front hall or on the porch such as fake limbs or skeleton bones. The last thing you need when you’re about to dig into the leftover chocolate is a dog who has to be rushed to the emergency room with a gastrointestinal obstruction.
In addition, “loud, flashy decorations with lights and sounds may be stressful for certain pets, causing them to harm themselves,” says Texas A&M’s Stacy Eckman, DVM. Particularly if your dog is high-strung to start with, you don’t want to put up effects that can unnerve him. And at Halloween time, dry ice, often used for the “smoking cauldron” effect, can prove dangerous if the ice comes into direct contact with a dog’s skin.
Figuring it out ahead of the holiday
The best time to acclimate your dog to a costume is not Halloween night, when kids in strange clothes are going to keep knocking on the door and your dog’s routine is going to be upended. Put the costume on your pet a few times prior to Trick or Treat Night and see how he reacts. If he doesn’t like it, it’s not going to be hard to figure out. He may even work hard to remove it by scratching or pawing at it. And the last thing you need while you’re distracted tending to little ones at the front door is a dog who has gotten his costume half off and may be tripping over it as he tries to get away from it, or worse, having difficulty breathing because he has gotten it only half way over his head.
Dr. Dodman doesn’t think his dogs would get into that kind of serious trouble. “My dogs trust me implicitly,” he says, and would deal with it if dressed up. The thing is, he says, “people would come around and point at them and laugh, and the dogs wouldn’t know why. ‘Are they laughing with me or at me?’ I think my dogs are more dignified than that, to tell you the truth. Rusty is quite regal, and Jasper would look plain silly in pantaloons. Also, both dogs see the whole affair as a lot of people running around and acting silly. Not their cup of tea.”