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Teaching Your Dog to Wear a Costume

By Liz Palika

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Many dogs can comfortably wear well-fitted costumes and have fun with it. Having your pet accompany you with a costume can be a lot of fun. It lets you bring your pet to fun, seasonal activities while being creative with “dog and parent” costumes. 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.

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. Make sure to be aware of your dogs’ emotions and body language during this process.

Choose the Right Costume

Your dog is much more apt to accept a costume willingly if it fits comfortably. Some guidelines to follow when buying or making your dog’s costume are as follows:

  • 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 needs to be fitted in a way so that he can relieve himself easily.
  • 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.

Making a Costume for Your Dog

Very few commercial dog costumes fit medium to larger dogs well. Children’s costumes can easily be adapted to fit your fur-baby. 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, it can be reversed 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 them 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.

Step 1: Have Special Treats on Hand

Use positive reinforcement by having treats on you during the introduction. 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.

Step 2: Using Treats to Put on the Costume

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.

Step 3: Once the Costume is On

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 and remember to reward for good behavior.

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