Halloween Scrooge—Dogs Don't Like Wearing Halloween Costumes

Have we gone too far with this Halloween dog costume thing?
By Claudia Kawczynska, October 2016, Updated September 2021
halloween costume

I hate to admit it but I’m a Scrooge when it comes to dressing dogs up in Halloween costumes. I know that some dogs look irresistibly cute but few, in my eyes, really seem to enjoy it as much as we humans do. Especially when the costumes are too elaborate, that seems to be happening more and more. So I was relieved when I read New York Magazine’s blog “The Cut” and how they too frowned at this extravaganza that, at this time of year, is on display at dog runs around the city. Foremost among them is the ever popular event at the Tompkins Square dog run. We have covered them in the past. I guess it is just that people might just be going overboard and not paying enough attention to how their dogs are taking it on it, or trying to squirm out of restrictive costumes. As The Cut pointed out, that a few years ago Alexandra Horowitz had this observation about costuming a dog in the New Yorker:

“To a dog, a costume, fitting tight around the dog’s midriff and back, might well reproduce that ancestral feeling [of being scolded by a more powerful dog]. So the principal experience of wearing a costume would not be the experience of festivity; rather, the costume produces the discomfiting feeling that someone higher ranking is nearby. This interpretation is borne out by many dogs’ behavior when getting dressed in a costume: they may freeze in place as if they are being “dominated”— and soon try to dislodge the garments by shaking, pawing, or rolling in something so foul that it necessitates immediate disrobing.”

Or Patricia McConnell, the leading dog behaviorist and former Bark columnist, commented on this topic last year that

“I can’t think of anything that better exemplifies our changing perception of the social role of dogs as the current splurge in dressing them up for Halloween.”

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She then went on to say that:

“But what about the family Labrador dressed up like Batman? Or the Persian house cat dressed up as a mouse? Are they having as much fun as their owners? I suspect that many are not.”

Karen London, our behavior columnist, also agrees and she urges “caution when considering costumes for dogs. Most dogs hate costumes. They easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body.”

Simple, soft costumes, work best. But heavy, stiff and hard ones should be avoided.

There are so many better ways to share the joys of our relationship than imposing the necessity to “perform” for us on our dogs, then dress them up as a superhero, pope, or a presidential candidate. Just think of much more they would like it if you just took them on a nice long walk in the woods letting them sniff around, letting them follow their noses and embracing them for being “just” dogs.

So what do you think? Do you or have you ever dressed your dog up for Halloween? How did your dog like it?

Photo by iStock