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Training for Halloween
Pre-holiday prep helps dogs get comfortable in their costumes
Remy in his racehorse costume.

Every year in New York City, the Tompkins Square Dog Run holds a Halloween parade and costume contest. Hundreds of dogs enter and thousands of people come to watch. This year the winning costumes were fairly tame, but in the past outfits have been over the top.

As fellow blogger, Karen B. London wrote, most dogs don’t like costumes, especially complicated ones. But it can be tempting to dress up the pups, especially if you have a party to go to. I try to pick out simple costumes and take the few weeks beforehand to make sure my dogs are happy to wear them. It’s not a good idea to just plop the outfit on your pup a few minutes before your party!

This year I got my new puppy, Remy, a racehorse costume, complete with a little jockey that sits on his back. He’s never worn a costume before, so I wanted to make sure it was a positive experience by introducing it to him slowly. There were three behaviors I trained before I put the costume on fully.

Velcro = yummy treats
The racehorse costume has Velcro on the belly and neck band, so I wanted Remy to learn that the noise is a good thing. I started by opening the Velcro a little bit and immediately giving him some treats. I progressed to opening the Velcro all the way and then to opening the Velcro behind his head (simulating the way he’d hear the Velcro when I was taking the costume off of his body).

The costume on my back is a good thing
Next, I wanted to make sure that Remy was comfortable with the costume on his back. So I started by lightly touching the outfit to his back and rewarding him with treats. I gradually worked up to resting it on his back.

I’ll even get into my Costume myself!
I really don’t like the idea of forcing dogs to wear costumes, so I usually train the dogs to “put on” part of the costume by themselves. In this case, I trained Remy to put his nose through the loop that would go around his neck. I started by holding the neck band and giving him a treat when he moved towards the costume to sniff. I gradually increased the criteria until Remy stuck his nose through the loop, and eventually his whole head.

With a little preparation, Remy was soon happy to get into his costume and was ready to go to our training club’s Halloween party.

Have you trained your dogs to wear a costume?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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