Sweet rown and white terrior wearing a green elf costume.

Is It Okay to Dress Dogs in Holiday Costumes?

Last updated on December 22nd, 2023 at 08:29 pm

Most of us who have pets think of our sweet pooches as part of our family and daily life. Holiday seasons are no different and including them in our seasonal celebrations can be a lot of fun. You may give them special treats or even dress them up a bit in holiday costumes and take family snapshots.

But is it really ok to dress your dog up in a costume? Retailers always offer an abundance of pet outfits for every holiday, yet some people think it is silly or perhaps even cruel to make dogs wear silly costumes.

I personally think it is okay to put a holiday costume on your dog for short periods of time. It may even make them feel more special and part of your celebration. But just make sure the outfits are not restrictive, too tight, hot, or uncomfortable. Let’s take a closer look at how costumes can be tolerable, safe, and even fun for your pups.

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How to Safely Dress Your Dog in a Costume

Make Sure the Costume is Safe to Wear

The most important consideration is that any costume you use should be safe and comfortable for your dog to wear. Think of your dog as a two-year-old child who is constantly exploring and putting things into his mouth. Your dog may do the same thing.

Therefore, avoid outfits with things that your dog could potentially eat and choke on. Long strings, beads, small plastic parts, buttons, and hard protruding objects like plastic skeleton fingers or hard reindeer antlers could all be dangerous. Skeletons and antlers like these from Amazon can be made from fabric and are much safer.

Likewise, be careful of toxic paints or materials which could be harmful if licked or eaten. Your dog may not know the difference between his costume and his play toys, so don’t be surprised if he tries to chew on it or tear it apart!

Sleeping terrior with red reindeer antlers
Small terrier asleep among Christmas presents oblivious to red reindeer antlers on his head.

Go with the Least Restrictive Outfit

According to an article in the Washington Post about How to Dress Pets Safely for Halloween, the National Retail Federation states that over 16 percent of American families dress up their family pets for holidays. As a result, pet stores and online retailers offer a huge inventory and a variety of pet costumes for just about any holiday or occasion. You can get a good sampling of what is available by going to Chewy dog costumes or Amazon holiday costumes for dogs.

As you can see, there is an endless variety of costumes available. Try to keep it simple. Make sure that whatever you put on your dog is not too hot or confining. Your pooch should still be able to see, hear, and move well and also be able to eat food and drink water while wearing it.

The first year after I adopted my dogs, I was excited and eager to include them in as many things as possible. So, when Halloween rolled around a few months after they arrived, I could not resist dressing them up. At first, I just put simple bandanas around their necks which I got from Amazon. They barely noticed them and did not seem to mind at all.

Later, I added a hat and a small, loose cape for Charlotte and Bat Ears for Georgia. The capes were ok, but they tried to shake the hats off initially. Fortunately, after a little coaxing and several hand-made Portland Pet Company Pumpkin Biscuits, they tolerated the hats for a while.

Two dogs by door in Halloween outfits
Georgia and Charlotte were a little disheveled after trick-or-treating was over, but they survived!

Do Not Keep the Costumes on for Long Periods of Time

Even if your dog enjoys the attention and doesn’t mind wearing the costume, don’t leave it on for long periods of time. Probably an hour or so is the maximum time. Beyond that, the outfit could become irritating or restrictive, depending how much your dog is wearing.

Dress your dog up for a short meet and greet with guests or a fun photo shoot. But having your dog wear a costume for several hours could become an inconvenience. Also, make sure you always supervise your dog when he is wearing costumes. Never leave a dog in a holiday outfit unattended.

Signs that Your Dog is Stressed When Wearing a Holiday Costume

Pay attention to your dog to make sure he is not overly stressed with his costume. If you see signs of stress, take it off and give your dog a break. Here are some things to pay attention to if your dog is:

  • Tucking his tail, cowering, or shaking
  • Scratching or pulling at the costume
  • Shaking his body or head excessively
  • Panting a lot is a sign he is too hot
  • Whimpering, whining, or barking a lot
  • Lying down and looking miserable

If you see any of these signs, take the costume off. Your dog cannot enjoy the holiday with you if he is miserable. To learn more about what dogs may be thinking, be sure to see my post, What Do Dogs Think About.

Why Do People Enjoy Dressing their Dogs in Holiday Costumes?

Most of us consider our dogs to be part of the family. Therefore, we want to include them in our daily activities and special events. Giving them special treats and dressing them up is a way to include them in the festivities. Including them in this way helps loving dog owners to feel they can include their favorite pooch and not push them to the sidelines.

Many dogs actually enjoy wearing costumes due to the attention and fuss. They seem to understand they are being given a special place in our celebration and not being ignored. Dogs love to be by our side and as pack animals, they naturally want to join in on the fun.

However, keep in mind, that all dogs are different. Some dogs may be fearful of wearing costumes or clothing. It may make them feel too restricted or vulnerable. And, not all dogs like to be in the middle of things and prefer their alone time when everyone else is in a festive spirit. Just like with people, some dogs are more extroverted than others. So, be sure to pay attention to your dog’s signals about what he is okay with and what he likes or dislikes.

Let Your Dog Enjoy the Holiday with You

Most importantly, allow your dog to celebrate holidays with you in a way that works for both of you. Include him when you can, but give him space if it seems like too much. My dogs love their special dog-friendly holiday treats as well as having more visitors drop by.

They may be a little less enthused about their Halloween hats, but, they seem to enjoy wearing their costumes for short periods and greeting all of the little goblins at the front door. When the midnight pumpkin comes, they are ready for the sack!

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