I catch a lot of guff for some of the shenanigans I put my dogs through.
It seems like there are a whole lot of people out there who are vehemently opposed to dogs in costumes. Reactions to my dogs in silly garb range from “cuuuuuuuute” to “That poor dog” to people who actually believe the things I ask my dogs to do are abusive. Abusive. That’s a pretty heavy word to toss around.
LET DOGS BE DOGS! is their battle cry. “Dogs don’t wear clothes in nature. They don’t dress up for Halloween.”
On a lot of levels, I agree with them. When we don’t appreciate our dogs for who they innately are, we miss out on so much of the joy that comes from sharing our lives with them.
In order to share our lives though, we ask our dogs to do a whole lot of things that might not come naturally to them… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
We potty train them. Teach them to sit and lie down on command. Feed them prepared foods instead of live prey. We make them walk on leashes and help them live peacefully with their mortal enemies, the cats. We teach them a lot of skills to make life together more pleasant and to keep them safe. We teach them skills to keep their brains active and to keep them mentally healthy.
The costume opponents seem to think that those who dress their pets do it as an attempt to humanize them; to make them more like us. They see a dog in a costume and write me off as just another crazy dog lady. I may laugh and joke that my dogs are going to shiv me in my sleep for dressing them up, but the truth is, my dogs love these photo shoots and I do them for their own good. If I happen to have some laughs or make a few dog lovers smile along the way? Well that’s just a bonus.
There are some totally legit reasons to dress up your pet.
The number one reason that I dress up my pets is that it’s good training.
Once, a few years ago, Koly got bit by a bee. He had to wear a cone, pretty much 24/7, for close to a week while the wound on his nose healed and he hated every moment. We had never practiced wearing a cone and he found the sounds, the shadows and the movements pretty scary. Watching him not understanding why I had wrapped him in this cone of terror broke my heart. We decided to consult our trainer and find a better way.
It all started with hats and bow ties. The idea is to get your dog used to “weird” things on their body and to associate those weird things with great things, like awesome treats, their favourite toys or whatever makes them happiest. We practice often and with all sorts of different costumes, our custom made “face signs” and all manner of bandages, safety equipment and the like. We practice smearing things like syrup or peanut butter on their paws and not licking it off.
As a result of our training, my dogs know that if I put something on them, then it needs to stay on. I will never put something on them that is dangerous. I will never put something on them that they find truly stressful or scary and when I find something that is scary, I will work with them to help them overcome that fear.
It works like a charm.
We practiced, and continue to practice, and I’m pleased to report that these days, my dogs will wear most anything that I ask, happily. In fact, my dogs get excited. A new costume means a chance to practice wearing it and that means treats and games!
Our training isn’t all fun though. Last year, Koly cracked his dew claw. After a trip to the vet, he had a bandaged claw, some antibiotics, a natural pain killer and instructions to cone him, so that he wouldn’t chew the bandages off. My vet scoffed when I told him the cone wouldn’t be necessary. I was right though. Koly wore his bandage without a fight for over a week, never once unraveling it or chewing at it.
Our costume and photo shoots help Koly practice his obedience and tricks.
Frequent practice keeps Koly’s mind working and helps him stay mentally “with it”. The less training we do, the more of a wild child my sweet puggle becomes. Felix is getting a little older and I figure, if playing brain games help senior humans stay mentally astute, maybe learning and brain games for dogs can help too. Plus, did I mention they like the treats?
In the cold, wet Northwest, a canine raincoat is kind of a must.
No one likes to be wet! Our raincoats not only keep them warm and dry, but they also help cut down on wet dog smell and reduce the number of baths they need. (Now baths, they genuinely do hate.) Both dogs are happy to walk a few miles in their raincoats, but the start pulling me home after only a few minutes in the rain without them.
My dogs love to go on adventures with us and I take them a lot of places. Just last week, as we sat on the patio at Starbucks, I noticed that Koly was shivering and made a note to buy him a sweater. He hates to be cold. Buying him the clothes he needs to ensure he can continue to share his favourite outings is the furthest thing from abusive, don’t you agree?
Other people use costumes to help their dogs overcome stereotypes.
Mr. B and Ms. M from Two Pitties in the City are spokesdogs for bully breeds and they use cute costumes to break down barriers and show people how approachable they are. People who might be otherwise afraid of pit bulls or other bully breeds can’t help but be won over by Mr. B is a dashing hat or Ms. M in her fairy wings. (I mean serious, how adorbs are those two anyway?!)
At the end of the day, the benefits of teaching your dog to feel safe and comfortable, outweigh the bad, in my opinion.
The key is to do it in a way that lets them feel safe and comfortable. If you happen to have a few laughs or get to take them to a few fun events along the way, all the better.
Weigh in: do your dogs wear costumes? Why or why not?