The One Thing You Should Avoid When Picking a Halloween Costume for Your Pet

updated Oct 7, 2020
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Swiss shepherd dog in hat with halloween pumpkin lying at home

Even though Halloween 2020 is probably not like any spooky season you’ve experienced before, you can still find ways to safely celebrate—and get your pets in on the dress-up action, too. Zoom costume parties are great, but they can always be improved by cute pets wearing Halloween costumes. 

Halloween costumes for pets have become increasingly common and are easily available from pet stores, as well as general retailers like Target and Disney. With a plethora of Halloween costumes on the market, it can be overwhelming picking the right outfit for your dog, cat, guinea pig, ferret, or whatever critters you share your home with. The most important thing to consider is first and foremost the comfort and safety of your pet. Here’s everything you need to know about picking a pet costume that is as safe as it is adorable.

How to Pick the Right Halloween Costume for Your Pet 

When selecting Halloween costumes for your furry best friend, it’s crucial to avoid any costume that is going to be stressful or uncomfortable for your pet. Specifically, you want to look for costumes that are well-fitting—if a costume is loose and baggy, your pet’s leg can get caught and cause them to trip. Too-tight costumes will make it uncomfortable for your pet to move freely. The goal should be for your pet to wear a costume that allows them to eat, drink, and play comfortably.   

But the biggest watch-out that not all pet owners are aware of? Putting a hat on their pet. A lot of commercially available pet costumes involve hat components—and unless your pet is already an expert with wearing costumes, it might be best to avoid these accessories altogether, no matter how cute the photo op may be. Most pets are fairly uncomfortable with anything going onto their head, and you definitely want to avoid any headwear that obscures or blocks your pet’s vision. 

There’s also the matter of the pets who just aren’t into costumes… at all. If you anticipate your pet won’t be excited about an involved dress-up project, you can still celebrate with them by picking up or DIY-ing a festive collar or bandana. This year Milk-Bone has released cloth face masks for people with coordinating bandanas for dogs of all sizes, making for an easy and safe way to celebrate during your neighborhood walks. 

How to Get Your Pet Ready for Their Costume

Getting your pet costume-ready is rarely as simple as just buying a costume and putting it onto your pet. Last year, my dogs and I entered a costume contest at our local dog club’s costume party. As the costume judging ended at the event, most dogs were more than ready to get their costumes off, but my dogs were perfectly happy to keep theirs on, even during festive games and activities. To make matters sweeter, we won the family costume category!

The key to making Halloween outfits a stress-free success for your pet is to plan ahead. Don’t pick a costume the night before Halloween and expect your pet to wear it happily on the big night. Instead, try to find the right costume as soon as possible and give yourself time each day for short, fun training sessions to teach your pet that dressing up is fun. 

You might have planned your own costume months in advance, but the process of getting dressed up doesn’t exactly come naturally to pets, who have no way of knowing what the festivities are all about. To help your pet have fun in their costume, the key is to introduce them to the costume intentionally, and by keeping training sessions short and fun. 

Credit: Sassafras Lowrey

My favorite tips for helping your pet to not just tolerate, but actually enjoy wearing a Halloween costume:

To start, break treats that your pet is excited about into plenty of smaller pieces. Like us, pets all have individual preferences about treats, and may think some are “fine,” while others leave them begging for more. Any time you’re teaching your pet something new, aim for the “high value” treats, and break them into very small pieces because you’re probably going to use a lot of them. 

When you first introduce your pet to their costume, don’t immediately dress them up. Start by putting the costume out on the floor and allowing your pet to explore the costume pieces at their own pace. As they approach and sniff at it, offer praise and small pieces of the treats. Making sure your pet isn’t concerned with or suspicious of the costume is key. 

If you’re certain that your pet is not stressed about the costume’s presence, you can start to dress them in it one piece at a time. Try putting one of the costume pieces on your pet, praise them and offer a treat, and take the costume off immediately after.

Repeat the above step several times until your pet is wearing the full costume. You can then slowly increase the length of time your pet is wearing their costume—the goal is to have many short, positive training sessions that end before your pet gets frustrated or irritated. You should also never aim to “test” how long your pet can withstand the costume, and remember to offer plenty of treats and encouragement along the way.

If at any point your pet acts stressed or uncomfortable, immediately remove the costume and give them (and you!) a bit of a break. During your next training session, go back to the basics: Put the costume on, offer your pet treats, and take the costume off. Over time, you can build your pet’s confidence in the costume back. Soon your pet will be ready to proudly strut their stuff in their festive attire on your next Zoom call!