In the town where I grew up there was a woman who had a boxer. Her beloved dog was not what influenced me to become a devotee of the breed, but it helped! While I don’t even attempt to put garments on Janice and Leroy, this woman had an entire wardrobe for her boxer. From an authentic leather bomber jacket to any number of Halloween costumes, she was constantly stopping my mother to show her the latest photos from their “glamour sessions”.
In most of the images, I remember the dog wore a sort of proud and bold expression. His head was always held high, his eyes always bright and his posture as tall as it could be. That, however, is not a common reaction. In the past, I’ve written about things like Halloween costumes for dogs, and because that season is drawing near, I wanted to revisit the issue and look at whether or not dogs are okay with garments, in general.
Last update on 2018-12-12 at 05:25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Why? Because people insist on dressing them up! Every year, around Halloween, I’ll get emails from readers asking if it is okay that they dress up the dog or if they should be protesting their neighbor, parent, or spouse who insists on buying a costume for the dog. In all honesty, I tell them that I cannot give a solid answer to the question. There is no authentic “right or wrong” to this issue.
After all, some dogs (such as that boxer I once knew) seem to adore their finery and fancy clothes. Some even seem to relish the praise they get when told they look so cute in the sweater, costume, boots or whatever it is they are wearing. So, who am I to turn up my nose and think badly of the adoring pet parent.
Yet, there has to be a bit more to the story.
Before you go out and buy one of the remarkably expensive dog Halloween costumes so readily available at this season of the year, I want you to take two giant steps back and ask yourself about your dog’s temperament.
Here’s why: My mother had Great Danes – amazing dogs to be sure – but one of them was an incredible coward. She looked quite scary as she was incredibly tall and big boned. I’ll never forget how much I loved to watch her move, but it took only a clap of thunder, a car horn or even a hiss from the cranky black cat to terrify her.
One Christmas, my grandfather took the Santa’s hat from his head and managed to plop it on top of Heidi’s (the Great Dane) head. We all burst out laughing, and then we saw the look come into her face. She wasn’t spooked or scared, she was incredibly upset at the laughter. Here, she’d been brave enough to keep still as he put it on, watching him closely the whole time, and our response was braying laughter. She hung her head, letting the hat fall and slumped out of the room. We all said “Aww” and felt bad.
Yet, there is a lesson there and it is to consider an animal’s temperament before forcing them into any sort of costume. A dog might be patient enough to allow you to put the costume on their body and then deal with you as you show them off in this getup. They might love to get all of that attention, not caring if they are laughed at or cooed over. Then again, they might be incredibly shamed and upset by it all, trusting you and seeing that it was a mistake to do so.
If we had thought about our Great Dane’s personality and temperament for a moment, none of us would have pointed at her and laughed over the hat. In fact, we would have probably stopped my grandfather from forcing her to hold still as he fitted it to her sweet head!
Naturally when asking whether or not dogs like to get dressed up, there has to be a few thoughts about safety. Whether we are talking Halloween costumes or seasonal garments, there has to be serious consideration about potential hazards.
As an example, I once watched a hefty pit bull my parents recently adopted take a scarf apart in minutes. This was not a dog scarf, just a scarf he’d grabbed as he passed the coat rack in the hall. We all thought it was a knitted chew toy until my sister shrieked about it. The yarn, the knots tied in the fringe and the tags all created a serious choking and tummy-blocking hazard if he’d managed to swallow any of it.
Almost any garment – even those designed for dogs – could be hazardous. And it isn’t about the chewing alone. Something that is too tight can cause respiratory issues, overheating and stress. Something that has straps or strings can end up stuck in a dog’s mouth and gag them.
So, before you pick out a costume or buy a dog’s garment, look it over for the risks it could pose to your pup. If you have someone who is boisterous or untested in the clothing department, be cautious about anything with straps, odd buttons or appliques, and anything that could be swallowed. Also consider anything that could make it difficult to take it off the dog quickly or that the dog might entangle themselves in and cause themselves injury or panic.
Safety issues aside, I do want to point out that some dogs experience discomfort of a more psychological kind in costumes. As I researched this issue, I ran across a bit of scary information from the famed New Yorker Magazine. In it a canine researcher said this, “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… the principal experience of wearing a costume would not be the experience of festivity; rather, the costume produces the discomfiting feeling that someone higher ranking is nearby. This interpretation is borne out by many dogs’ behavior when getting dressed in a costume: they may freeze in place as if they are being ‘dominated’— and soon try to dislodge the garments by shaking, pawing, or rolling in something so foul that it necessitates immediate disrobing.”
Upon reading that, I wanted to advise people to never dress up a dog again, but that goes against some of the evidence I have seen that some dogs seem to really enjoy the whole experience. So, what can you take from this? If your dog does NOT put up a fuss, but does display that freezing behavior or tries hard to get out of the garments, don’t force the issue because you are making them emotionally uncomfortable.
Also, any dog who might roll in “foul” things is communicating clearly – take it off, and do it pronto!
So, pay attention to your dog’s body language and behavior. You know them well enough to know if the fun’s over, or even if it is never going to begin! By insisting on your dog wearing garments when they do not want to – and this is true of Halloween costumes as well as seasonal garments – you could be harming your relationship with them as well as causing them unnecessary stress.
And while we are on the subject of comfort, also take a look at any costume’s design to see if it is going to impair your dog’s natural movement or interfere with their needs. For instance, I have seen costumes in which I immediately asked “How’s he supposed to pee or poop in that?” or “Can she scratch an itch in that?” In other words, some costumes are cute, but definitely not meant to be worn for more than mere minutes – or not at all. Consider your dog’s physical comfort as well as their emotional or psychological comfort.
Where we live, it gets remarkably cold and snowy in the winter months. I’ve seen a lot of people put actual winter garments on their dogs, and it is here that I can say that I heartily agree with dressing up a dog.
After all, many breeds were not meant to be in specific climates or conditions. Not only are their coats not well-suited to certain issues, but their amounts of natural body fat, the design of their feet and even their respiratory systems may not do well in extremes of hot or cold.
Because of these issues, I would say that you need to consider the dog’s:
A long-haired German Shepherd is not likely to require a coat or dog’s sweater, while the miniature Pinscher may be the ideal candidate for a dog’s coat and even a pair of dog’s boots. This doesn’t mean it is just the small and short-haired who may prefer to get dressed up for cold weather. Dog’s that are of advanced years or dealing with some sort of illness may enjoy a sweater or blanket, and even some boots.
Always keep in mind, though, that panting is a sign of overheating, and this can be just as dangerous as being too cold. As I always suggest to friends and family, it is best to “dress in layers”. So, look at the layers of insulation your dog’s coat and body fat provide. If there is little between the dog’s skin and the weather, a coat or sweater may be appreciated.
And what about the boots? A lot of dog experts say they are a good thing. This is because we are so apt to put down things like salt and de-icing compounds that our dogs pick up on their feet. They can end up licking off these dangerous compounds or getting them jammed between their toes, leading to irritation or injury. Extremes of cold can also cause a dog’s feet to get too cold or too icy. So, if you can get a dog to accept the use of booties (and there are around five million videos of dogs dealing with new boots and shoes to prove it is not an easy task), it may be a good thing for them to have.
Of course, many of my readers know what a big advocate I am of the famous Thunder Shirt. From dogs who are dealing with severe anxiety about thunderstorms, separation issues, to those with serious illness, such as cancer, I’ve seen just what magic these shirts can do.
They are good for keeping a pup warm, but the shirts (which are more like tight vests) create a very soothing sensation to even the tensest or gravely upset dog. I always give them to friends with dogs who panic over fireworks, too and never fail to get a call or an email from them saying that it helped the dog to get through it without panicking, howling or trying to bolt. I’ve never quite figured out the science, but assume it is like a non-stop hug of reassurance!
So, if you have a up dealing with anxiety, consider an authentic Thunder Shirt. Be aware that you can buy them in cotton as well as wool – and I always say go with the cotton. Also be very careful with measurements. Don’t eyeball or ballpark the dog’s size because you cannot have it too large or too tight. It has to be one of those “just right” fits to work effectively.
Last update on 2018-12-12 at 05:25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
I know that it seems like I’ve said a lot of negative things about dressing up your dogs, but you do have to take all of the pros as well as the cons into considerations. For some dogs, clothing and costumes are great, fine and perfectly acceptable. For others, it is a permanent case of “forget about it!”. You love your dog, and though that Minions outfit or that amazing sweater and boots seem to be the perfect fit, if they will be unsafe, unhappy, unwilling or uncomfortable, it’s best to leave them undressed.