“Is it okay to dress up your dog?” No question is more contentious among dog owners. Well, maybe whether it’s okay to let your dog sleep with you. But this seasonal dilemma will still divide a room of animal lovers. The internet loves it, the RSPCA does not. Many vets have warned against it, while 78% of pet owners admit to occasionally turning a look.
Personally we get it. A dog in a funny outfit? Adorable! What warm blooded human could look at a pug in a velour tracksuit and not melt? But is it as cheery for the dog?
We spoke to Meg Hayes, head trainer at Bark in the Park and all-round dog oracle, to see if we need to return that terrier-sized Santa suit.
Everyone Is Different
Before we get stuck in, let’s make something clear: no two dogs are the same. Like people, they have their own likes and dislikes. Just as one person can stand in high heels while they make another break out in a sweat, our dog’s have different comfort levels.
In which case this becomes more about how to tell if your dog is having a good time. As Meg explains, “some dogs will cope fine in a costume but the majority will find wearing clothing and accessories stressful, especially if it is something they don’t routinely encounter.”
There Are Outfits, and There Are “Outfits”
Dog clothing covers a lot ground; from sensible knits to three piece suits. But no matter what you’re selecting for them, there are a few things to keep in mind when you dress up your dog.
Inspect the garment for anything they could get tangled in, choke on, or make them sick if they chewed it. Pretty much just assume anything you put on them might end up being digested.
Also, take the time to get the right size. If you’re buying online weigh and measure them before clicking “buy”. The correct fit will go a long way in ensuring your dog is comfortable and happy.
Start Slow and Small
As tempting as it may be, you’re not doing anyone a favour by going straight to the Dolly Parton wig. If you’re keen to convert your dog into a costume queen, it pays to not rush things. Start by familiarising them with the outfit before you put it on them. “Just like all living creatures, dogs learn by association – you can build positive associations with costumes by teaching your dog that costumes predict the appearance of good stuff like food,” adds Meg.
She recommends showing the dog the costume first; while they inspect it, toss them a few treats. As you go on, move the costume closer to them. Keep this up for multiple 1-2 minute sessions over a few days before actually putting anything on your dog.
At this point, if your dog is really not having it (aka they run away or cower) you should stop. They probably won’t ever enjoy the experience and it’s not very nice to push them.
Read the Room
After a few days of familiarising them with the outfit you might be ready to dress up your dog. Now, this is where you really need to pay attention to their body language and try to interpret how they feel. Meg explains, that “the most common signs of stress encountered in this situation would include freezing, ‘whale eye’ (wide eyes with dilated pupils showing lots of white around the outside), lip licking, and ears pinned backwards/sideways.” Spot any of these signs and it’s time to get them out of there.
Alternatively, if they’re having a nice time a relaxed dog will “move freely with a loose body posture and the ears and tail will hang in their natural positions.”
Once It’s On
Even if your pet is totally comfortable and happy, it’s often not a great idea to let them wear a full costume for too long. They can easily become tangled up or overheat—especially during the warm Christmas period.
Additionally, Meg warns against leaving your dog unsupervised while they’re wearing something new. Not only could they get too warm, but their movement and visibility could be compromised, leading to an accident or injury.
Best bet, put it on, take a photo or maybe a zoom around the neighbourhood to show them off, then undress them when you’re done.
There are a lot of ways you can celebrate and show off your pet’s personality without getting them totally dressed up. Consider a bandanna, bow tie, or other neck accessory. They’ll already feel pretty comfortable with those as they’re similar to their collar. As Meg points out, “a photo of a happy dog wearing a bandanna is better than one of a stressed dog in a full body elf suit.”
So Is It Mean to Dress Up Your Dog?
Like so many things, it depends. It’s mean to dress up your dog without a passing thought for their comfort. But if you take time to help them get comfortable, choose something suitable, keep an eye on them, and take it off in a reasonable amount of time it can be a positive experience.
Some dogs feel the cold and might appreciate an extra layer when it’s chilly. Others love the attention the look attracts and the extra time spent with their owner.
Want to understand your dog better?