Many pet parents enjoy dressing their dogs in Halloween costumes. Unfortunately, dogs tend not to enjoy the activity quite as much as their humans do! Introduce a Halloween costume to your dog slowly and use positive reinforcement to train the dog to calmly wear it. With gentle training and encouragement, most dogs will come to like their costumes, if only because they associate them with treats and praise.
Choosing a Safe Costume
Dogs wearing costumes should never be left unsupervised. If an unattended dog swallows part of his costume, he could need emergency surgery to remove fabric or other materials from his digestive system.
Choose costumes that are made of stretchy fabric and free of small parts that could be swallowed easily, like bells or tinsel. If your dog has a habit of ripping up stuffed animals, avoid costumes that include padding and stuffing. If possible, buy costumes made with pet-safe vegetable dyes. Some traditional dyes are carcinogenic to pets when ingested.
Accustoming Dogs to Costumes
First, allow your dog to smell and inspect the costume while it lies on the ground. Your dog should lose interest after a few seconds. Next, rub the costume all over your dog’s body, giving him treats when he stands still. Lift his feet and handle his ears and tail while you do this, so the dog won’t be surprised when you need to put his head, legs and tail into the costume.
If the dog is nervous when you rub him with the costume, repeat this step for several days. Proceed to putting the costume on only after your dog is completely relaxed when touched with the costume. This should be necessary only for the most skittish dogs, but spending extra time on it is preferable to having the costume destroyed by a terrified dog the first time it’s worn.
When you do put the costume on for the first time, do so slowly with plenty of treats. Take it back off immediately after giving plenty of reinforcement and praise. Wait at least a few hours before repeating this step, leaving the costume on for a few minutes longer the second time. After three or four brief repetitions, your dog should be ready to wear his costume for a short walk or to visit a friend, who should also provide praise and treats.
When Halloween arrives, look for a pet-safe activity to participate in with your costumed pooch. Most Petco and Petsmart stores hold Halloween pet costume contests. Local dog groomers or dog daycare centers may also have activities for pets on Halloween. If you attend a Halloween party not specifically designed for pets and pet parents, keep a very close eye on your dog. Halloween treats like chocolate can be fatal to dogs. Alcohol and some decorations may also be hazardous.