I am honestly not a Halloween costume Grinch. One of my dogs wears costumes; the other is clearly not interested. There are dog Halloween pictures in my Pinterest account and on my blog. I have actually dressed up as a dog for Halloween. I have contributed a few of my own hard-earned dollars to the roughly $300 million spent by Americans each year on pet Halloween costumes. So, there is no reason not to include your dogs in Halloween festivities … in appropriate ways.
But as the pictures start to hit Facebook every year, I do wonder whether some people go too far with costumes. And sometimes the most extreme, unusual, and outrageous costumes are the ones that get the most positive response — without a lot of consideration for how the dogs feel about it. Without much acknowledgement that there is a big difference between decorating a tree or yard or banister and decorating a dog.
So here are my three tips as to when a dog costume may be crossing a line that is better not crossed:
No matter how funny the costume is, it is no good if the dog looks miserable. In general, some owners seem to be not very good at detecting their dogs more subtle signals of distress: showing the whites of the eye, hunching up, lick lipping and so on. And if you have to chase the dog and hold her down to get a costume on, that is a pretty clear message. As is constantly trying to rip it off or panting heavily due to the extra heat. In general, I am not fond of costumes that restrict the dogs normal range of movement either.
Pay attention to your dog: Some dogs will happily wear a costume all day, or for a picture, or not at all. Some don’t mind a fairly hefty costume, and others may draw the line at a pretty collar or hair ribbon. Just so long as you are keeping the dog’s point of view in mind! Just because you bought a costume does not mean your dog wants to wear it. Maybe just pose them next to some pumpkins and autumn leaves for that seasonal picture?
Case in point, all those pictures of dogs wearing pantyhose. Yes it may be funny to do once, but anyone who makes a habit of it or has the complete photoset on Flikr -– well, I think there is a fine line between making your dog look sexy in an ironic way, and in a rather too-literal way. Maybe being involved in preventing and responding to animal abuse has just made me too thin-skinned, it’s hard to tell. But in my opinion dressing your dog in lingerie, bondage gear, as a French maid, or in any costume with built-in cleavage or ass may be crossing a line for some of your visitors, even if they don’t say anything. And yes, people have done all of these things.
Likewise dressing in the same costume as your dog can be cute, or creepy, depending on how you do it. Especially if it involves you dressing up as your dog and any noticeable amount of nudity. Your friends may understand, but others might start filing you under “crazy dog lady.” And I understand you may totally not care about this. I mean, all of this is just my opinion, after all.
The same issues apply as with human costumes. Dressing your dog as a terrorist, drug user, religious leader, or any cultural stereotype is something that is not going to attract universal praise and approval. And any costume involving fake blood is prone to misinterpretation and may result in a visit from the dog warden or local police.
Just to be ultra-clear, it is not the actual cost that I am referring to. It’s your money, spend it however you like. But when someone gets their dog several new Martha Stewart costumes every year and yet somehow can never afford their dogs vaccinations, preventive health care and a microchip — this does tend to sour my attitude. After all, a dog is not a toy that you bring out to play with on festive occasions. It is a member of your family and there are a bunch of responsibilities to get out of the way before you get to the fun stuff. It is just like in our own lives where we need to make sure we have paid for shelter, nutritious food, health insurance and so forth before organizing that girls’ vacation to Hawaii.
The bottom line is that Halloween costumes for dogs are not actually for dogs. Sure, they may like the attention and get a little extra swagger from the reaction the costume causes. But this is something we people do for our own amusement, and it is important that we make sure their part in our festivities is a good experience for the dogs as well.
What do you think? Are you dressing up your dog? Or do you think the practice has gotten out of control? Let us know in the comments.
Read more on Halloween and dogs:
About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny and Pippin — they think of themselves as dog-esque).