Dog Halloween Costumes: How Not to Torture (or Harm) Your Pet
Fido might not love his outfit as much as you do
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Judy Morgan’s dog George, a rescued English Toy Spaniel, loves to dress up for Halloween. One year she dressed him as a ghost butler carrying the “head” of George on a silver platter. (George poked his head through a hole in the “platter” and Morgan hid the rest of his tiny body under a black drape.)
“He’s a very cool little guy, and he loves getting dressed up,” says Morgan, DVM, a New Jersey veterinarian.
But not all dogs love dressing up as much as George does. And even if your pooch is game, there are safety considerations to keep in mind.
“Safety is a biggie during Halloween,” says Morgan, who dresses up at least a few of her nine dogs each year to ride on a float in a local Halloween parade.
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Keep it safe. Shop for a costume that’s flame-resistant and breathable. It should be free of loose or dangling parts that could get tangled around your pup, Morgan says. It’s best to buy a costume that has Velcro for quick release and avoid any item tat ties around the neck — like a cape — because it could strangle your dog, she says. Also stay away from costumes that contain small parts such as buttons or long strings your dog might try to chew. If Rex ate part of a costume, he could choke or develop a life-threatening bowel obstruction requiring an emergency trip to the vet, Morgan says. It’s also important to supervise your dog while he’s in costume, she adds. (And of course, he should be microchipped and wearing ID tags.)
Keep it simple. Maybe your Chow would look fearsome as a lion with a giant mane or your Pom adorable as a princess with a pointy hat and tutu, but minimalist costumes work best in the opinion of Tonya Wilhelm, a Toledo, Ohio, dog trainer. “If your dog is uncomfortable, you’re not doing him any favors,” she says. The more similar a costume is to something your dog already is used to wearing — say, a sweater — the better, Wilhelm says. Last year, she dressed her dog Dexter in a simple vampire bat costume with a small pair of black wings on the back. “I prefer costumes without a lot of bells and whistles.”
Do a doggie dress rehearsal. The worst time to try on that costume for the first time: Halloween night. Buy (or make) your dog’s costume in advance, and spend time getting him used to it, Wilhelm says. Start out by letting him sniff the costume, and progress to trying the costume on him, she says. Let him practice wearing it for short stretches of time around the house.
Watch for spooked pooches. If you’re heading to a doggie Halloween party, a howl-o-ween parade or other event where you’ll meet other dogs, keep a close eye on canine interactions, Wilhelm says. “A costume can throw off other dogs,” she says. That’s partly because dogs depend on body language — like the classic play bow — in order to communicate with each other, and a costume can cover body parts, restrict movement or just make another dog look weird. If one of the dogs feels awkward in costume, that can cause issues too, she says. “Dogs might get a little snarky with each other if they’re nervous,” she says.
Let her glow. Going out at night? Your dog might make a great vampire or witch, but black costumes aren’t wise in the dark. If you plan to go trick-or-treating or just walk the neighborhood, make sure your pup is visible to cars and others by putting some glow-in-the-dark tape on her costume, Wilhelm suggests. And use a leash attached to a harness to keep a secure hold on her.
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Fend off the adoring fans. A dog in a devilishly cute costume can really draw a crowd of trick-or-treaters on a sugar high. But a crush of shrieking, costumed kids can frighten and overwhelm pooch. It’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen, Wilhelm says. When she’s out with Dexter, she holds up her hand like a traffic cop and asks kids to approach one at a time, letting the dog sniff them first, she says. “You can educate children on how to be polite and say hello to a dog,” she says.
(Photo: WilleeCole Photography/Shutterstock)
Follow your dog’s lead. You might have to settle for putting a cute Halloween bandana around his neck, snapping a few photos and calling it a night. “A dog that doesn’t like kids, men or crowds is a dog that shouldn’t be going out for Halloween,” Wilhelm says.