Teaching Your Dog to Wear a Costume

Liz Palika
Dog CostumesLiz's dog, Bashir, dressed
up as a pirate.

Do dogs need to wear Halloween costumes? Certainly not. There is no need for them to get all dressed up for our holiday. In addition, some dogs could be frightened if forced to wear something strange or uncomfortable.

However, that said, many dogs do wear well-fitted costumes and have fun with it. I teach all of my dogs to wear costumes because it gives them an additional opportunity to participate in things that I do and to have fun with me. The key is teaching the dog to accept a costume using a calm, steady, fun approach while giving the dog time to get used to it.

Choose the Right Costume

Your dog is much more apt to accept a costume willingly if it fits comfortably. The costume needs to allow your dog free movement of all four legs as well as his head and tail. Make sure it’s not rubbing in his armpits of the front legs or around the genitals. The tail should be free. The costume also needs to be fitted in a way so that he can relieve himself.

The costume should be loose enough so that it’s comfortable, yet not so loose that it’s flapping or hanging off your dog. If too loose, one leg could get caught in the costume while your dog is walking and he could panic.

My dogs each weigh between 45 and 50 pounds. I have found that very few commercial dog costumes fit them well. So I usually get children’s costumes and adapt them for my dogs. Pant legs can be trimmed down for the dog’s back legs as can the arms of costumes for the dog’s front legs. If a shirt is supposed to Velcro™, snap or button up the front, I’ll reverse it so that it's on the dog’s back. With a little practice, this really isn’t very difficult at all.

If you find a costume specifically made for dogs, that’s great. Again, just make sure it fits him comfortably. Always avoid masks or costumes that cover your dog’s eyes, ears, nose or mouth. These will likely cause your dog to panic.

Introduce the Costume

The introduction to the costume is the key to whether your dog will enjoy it or not. Therefore, take your time and don’t wait until the day before the Halloween party.

Have some high value (special) treats at hand. Then sit on the floor with your dog and choose one piece of the costume (something easy like a bandanna or a shirt). Let your dog sniff the item, praise him, and give him a treat. Repeat this a few times; teach him this piece of the costume equals a treat. This is easy dog training.

Use the same technique to actually put the first item on your dog. Put his leg through one arm hole and then praise and treat him. Take it off, praise him (but don’t give him a treat),  then put it back on, praise him and give him a treat. Remember, the lesson is that the costume equals praise and treats. Gradually introduce other parts of the costume in the same manner.

When you have the costume on your dog, tell him how wonderful he looks. He doesn’t understand the exact words, of course, but he does understand your tone of voice. My dogs love it when I tell them how great they look in a costume, bandanna or therapy dog vest. Their eyes brighten, the body language is wiggly and loose, and the tail is wagging.

Not too Long

Don’t leave the costume on your dog too long. It could begin to rub him, cause him to become uncomfortable, or to scratch at it. In addition, since you’ll want him to enjoy wearing a costume again next Halloween, make sure he enjoys the entire experience of wearing this year’s. Therefore, always take it off before he’s tired of it.

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