By Dr. Becker
Halloween is a few days away and I hope no one reading here is thinking seriously about forcing a four-legged family member into an elaborate costume.
I realize mine is not a popular opinion in some circles. But please read further before jumping to conclusions.
9 Reasons Not to Dress up Your Dog for Halloween
Please note: The following also applies to cats and other companion animals, but since it's dogs we most often see in Halloween costumes, I'm referring to them to illustrate my point.
- Dogs aren't humans. Unlike an adult human, or even a child, your dog can't tell you with words how he feels about being dressed up. But it's a sure bet if he's trying like crazy to get those tuxedo trousers off, he doesn't like them. He may be itchy and overheating. It may feel confining. It may even be terrifying.
Now, if your pet doesn't mind dressing up, is not panicked or upset while wearing the clothing, then all is probably well. Get your pictures taken. Do the costume party walk-through (and hopefully your dog wins!), then take the costume off. And while it's on, please be vigilant about monitoring your pet's body temperature and ensuring the costume is not too constricting or abrasive to tender skin.
- Dogs aren't dress-up dolls. They aren't inanimate objects or toys to play with. They are sentient beings with their own perceptions and feelings. 'Owning' a dog doesn't give us license to force things on her for our own amusement. Yes, those photos of dressed up dogs are darn cute -- but only to humans.
- It's unnatural. Your dog has her own wardrobe – it's called fur. It's a good bet she's not interested in fashion, even if you are. If your pet likes being naked, you should respect that. Also, adult dogs who weren't dressed up as puppies will rarely find the experience enjoyable, so you should respect that as well.
- Most dogs just plain hate wearing costumes. If you're honest with yourself, you'll probably recognize that even if your dog isn't fighting tooth-and-nail against that ballerina tutu, she wants nothing to do with it and it's a huge relief once it's off. Remember those cute photos of dressed up dogs? Ever notice the dogs never look amused?
I've experimented with putting clothes on all of my dogs for a few minutes. Their responses ranged from standing completely still, refusing to walk, to a fight or flight response, indicating they are stressed. My dogs don't do costumes. Rosco does sweaters; more on that later.
- It's probably humiliating. Since you don't know what your dog is feeling and he can't tell you, it's quite possible he's shamed and embarrassed in a costume. Imagine you arrive at work one morning and you're met at the door by the boss. To your shock and dismay, you're forced out of your clothes right down to your underwear, and told you'll be spending the day in your skivvies. You're mortified, and all day long co-workers pass by your desk, laugh and take pictures of you to email and post on Facebook.
Is this anthropomorphizing? Yes. Do we know dog behaviors and responses change after haircuts and being shaved? Yes. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
- It can be hazardous to the dog's health. Depending on the outfit, the temperature, the type of fur on your dog and his weight, it's easier than you might think for him to overheat inside that costume. Dogs have also been injured when their range of motion, vision or hearing is restricted by a costume. Injuries also occur when dogs try frantically to remove the costume. Buttons, bows and other small accessories can be pulled off and choked on or swallowed.
Last year I saw a corneal abrasion (scratched eye) from a bumble bee head piece that had slipped forward across the dog's eye. He couldn't even use his paw to try and rub the material out because the bumble bee suit was so constricting he couldn't extend his arms.
- Your dog wants to make you happy. If she doesn't seem to mind being costumed, it's probably because she senses it pleases you. Most dogs live for the attention and approval of their human. So if your dog seems happy in her costume, it's probably because she's getting positive feedback from you. Teach her a new trick or command instead and reward her with praise and approval. Give her attention by taking her for a walk, or bathing and brushing her.
- Dog outfits are expensive. I recommend you take the money you'd spend dressing up your dog and use it instead to upgrade the type of food you feed your pet. Or purchase a puzzle toy to stimulate his mind. Or put that money toward an acupuncture or chiropractic treatment. In other words, use those funds to provide your pet with something that will improve his health and quality of life.
- This is about your dog. Consider him first and your own desires second. It's hard to go wrong that way.
What about Coats and Sweaters?
Certain dog clothing may be necessary for the overall health of your pet. Health and 'beauty' are two different issues.
Depending on the weather and the ability of your pet to stay warm, sometimes a sweater is necessary to avoid hypothermia. However, many animals who need coats (short-coated breeds) won't wear them; it's just too unnatural. Don't force your dog to wear any clothing if it means she cannot act and move naturally.
Fur and fat layers keep pets insulated against cold temperatures. So if your dog has short hair but is overweight she may be fine in cooler weather. The obesity epidemic is creating many more overheated animals than pets who can't stay warm.
If your dog is short coated, or especially hairless, and a normal weight or underweight, a sweater or shirt that doesn't restrict movement may be appropriate to keep her from getting chilled.
Some pets actually love coats and sweaters, my Rosco (Boston terrier) being one of them. Just yesterday I brought out his winter sweater box and showed it to him. He began jumping around the room like a fairy. Later I put a light sweater on him for a few hours while I raked leaves. He strutted about, very happy in his sweater.
Of course, I never leave Rosco in a sweater all day, he gets rashy and itchy.
So if a sweater or coat is medically necessary for your pet to keep him comfortable, and if your pet likes wearing such things, by all means go for it.
Raincoats are unnecessary. And boots? Forget it. Although conceptually a good idea (keeping feet warm) dogs feel the ground with their paws and anything that takes away their ability to perceive their environment? Usually a waste of money.
A British Perspective on Dressing up Pets
The U.K.'s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) thinks legal action might be warranted for people who dress up their pets.
According to Jo Barr, RSPCA spokesperson:
"Dog owners should be aware that under the Animal Welfare Act that came into force in April 2007 they have a duty of care to ensure that all of their pets' needs are met.
"One of those needs is to express normal behaviour and it could mean that with restrictive clothing they are not able to do that properly.
"We're concerned that any pet should be viewed as a fashion accessory. Taking on an animal is a long-term commitment. It's quite humiliating and sends out the wrong message about pet care.
"We've seen trends in recent years brought about by the rise in celebrities with 'handbag dogs'.
"This usually leads to people taking on pets because they are 'fashionable' and sadly that means many are neglected."
A Costume Option for Holidays
If you just can't imagine letting the season pass without dressing up your dog, why not choose a scarf, bowtie or bandana with an appropriate holiday theme? Collar-wearing dogs and cats are already used to the feel of something around their necks, so they aren't likely to be very bothered by a scarf or other neck accessory.