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Karen B. London
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Halloween Costumes Impose Limits
Be aware of your dog’s struggles
Gray Dog dressed as a shark

Gray Dog was adorable dressed as a shark, and he was definitely the unofficial winner of the costume contest at a recent early Halloween party. (He was the only dog there, which may have given him an edge, but he was deserving of the triumph.)

Gray Dog is a well-adjusted, social, go-with-the-flow dog who accepted his party clothes without incident. He seemed to welcome the extra attention from people and generally ignored the costume as far as I could tell.

The only difficulty he had was minor—it was a touch more challenging to fit through his doggy door with his costume on. The stuffed shark, complete with dorsal fin, on his back added significantly to his height. He made it through okay the first time, although perhaps more slowly than usual and with the costume rubbing the top of the frame. After that, he negotiated the doggy door as easily as usual, apparently adjusting to his temporary size increase. It did not seem to bother him, but many dogs might have found this new experience upsetting.

This was my first Halloween party of the year, and it reminded me of the importance of assuring that dogs are not limited in any significant way by their costumes. Many costumes inhibit walking, running or play, impair vision or hearing, or prevent dogs from fitting through tight spaces. Others interfere with their ability to eat, drink or eliminate.

It’s no fun for a dog to be in a costume that seriously gets in the way of basic functions. For some dogs, no costume, no matter how minimal, is fun in any situation. Whether to dress dogs up for the holiday is an individual decision.

I think if the dog enjoys it, then it’s fine, but if the dog is distressed at all, it’s unkind and not worth it. Part of making sure that a dog is okay with being in a costume is making sure that the costume does not limit what the dog can do. So, if Gray Dog had struggled with the doggy door, I would have been in favor of removing his costume. Since he was able to roll with it, I was charmed to see him continue to be a shark.

I know people who love to dress their dogs in costumes for Halloween, and others who are opposed to it for their dog and every dog. What do you think? Will you be dressing your dog up for Halloween this year?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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