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Halloween Scrooge — Dogs Don’t Like Wearing Halloween Costumes

Have we gone too far with this Halloween dog costume thing?

by Karen B. London, PhD
October 26, 2009
black dog wearing a supergirl costume
Photo: Pexels / Alan Garzón

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It’s hard to resist the urge to put dogs in costumes. The cuteness factor can fly off the charts, and for many people, dressing up their dogs is as natural as dressing up children. There’s a certain joy in seeing pups parading around as cowgirls, devils, sports stars, or Elvis, but I have bad news to share with you — most dogs hate costumes.

Why Don’t Dogs Like Wearing Costumes?

Dogs don’t like wearing costumes because they easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body.

“To a dog, a costume, fitting tight around the dog’s midriff and back, might well reproduce that ancestral feeling [of being scolded by a more powerful dog],” says dog cognition researcher and professor Alexandra Horowitz in the New Yorker. “The experience of wearing a costume would not be the experience of festivity.”

Signs that your dog doesn’t like wearing their costume might include looking tense with a closed mouth. A stiff body is indicative of a dog who is not comfortable — it’s as though they are frozen in angst. In contrast, a content dog will have a happy face and a relaxed body and tail.  

Picking Dog-Friendly Halloween Costumes

If you simply must have your dog participate in dressing up on Halloween, costumes that don’t impair your dog’s movements are best. Since most dogs are accustomed to wearing collars, small costumes that consist of something around the neck are the most easily tolerated. The key word is “small.” Rather than dressing a dog up in a full tuxedo, for example, having them sport just a small bow tie may be easier for your dog to handle. This can be a great compromise that works for both people and dogs. Costumes that dogs barely notice are great options. When it comes to picking a Halloween costume for your pup, use a less is more approach:

  • Pick unobtrusive costumes

  • Pick simple and soft

  • Don’t cover their face

  • Don’t impair their movement

One easy costume idea for black dogs: Use baby powder applied as a strip down their back to create a skunk or a few more stripes of baby powder, and you’ve got yourself a skeleton. It’s cute, easy, and won’t bother most dogs.

Or, do what my aunt did. She used to ask trick-or-treaters what they thought about her dog Nellie: “What do you think of my cat’s costume? Doesn’t she look exactly like a dog?” My aunt could then have her dog participate in the holiday spirit without making her pup feel uncomfortable. The older kids laughed, but the littlest kids were awed by Nellie’s “costume.”

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Karen London holding up a small dog

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.