Is it Cruel to Dress Up Your Dog for Halloween?


Halloween is just around the corner, and pet shops are full of adorable doggy costumes.

From the traditional hot dog costume to monsters, superheroes, and everything in between, it’s hard to resist picking up an outfit for your dog to wear.

You might get a kick out of taking pics (and posting them) of your beloved pup dressed as a ladybug. Or can’t wait to parade Fido around the neighborhood in a Batman costume…

But, here’s the age-old question…is it cruel to dress up your dog for Halloween?

Here are my thoughts…

First of all, every dog is different.

Out of my four dogs, a couple of them would probably enjoy getting dressed up in a costume.

For instance, my dog Inka really loves any attention. Put a little bow in her hair or put a jacket on her and she gets all excited when you smile and fuss over her. She jumps around, is silly, and she really loves it.

That being said, I know some of my other dogs wouldn't like it so much and would probably try and chew the outfit off as soon as you got them dressed.

It all comes down to preference. Some people love ballet while some people are more into rough and tumble sports like football.

There’s nothing wrong with either activity or person, they are just very different.

When you’re deciding whether to dress your dog in a costume, keep the above analogy in mind.

If you put your dog in an outfit and his tail goes between his legs and he looks fearful, he clearly doesn’t enjoy it, so you should remove the costume.

Just like if you put a kid in a ballet class and she hated it, you would take her out of the class.

So, how do you know for sure if your dog is stressed out and not happy to be in a costume? Here’s some easy-to-spot warning signs…

Warning Signs that Your Dog is Stressed Out Due to Being in a Costume

  1. Tail Between Legs—A tail between a dog's legs is a definite sign that he is unhappy and stressed out.
  2. Panting—Heavy panting is a sign of anxiety and feeling stressed and is similar to having a panic attack. If your dog is panting and it’s not hot weather and your dog is not running around then think twice about if they are relaxed.
  3. Biting or Snapping—Even the friendliest, most well-behaved dog can quickly go from gentle and sweet to biting and snapping if he feels uncomfortable and stressed out.
  4. Being Unable to Move—Most dogs aren’t used to wearing clothes, which means a full body outfit can make them feel as if they are paralyzed. If your dog refuses to move while in a costume, he is stressed out.
  5. Chewing Costume/Rubbing on the Floor—Trying to take off a costume by chewing on it or running it off is a definite sign that your dog is not happy.
  6. Whining/Whimpering—Whining and whimpering is a dog’s equivalent to crying. If your dog is crying only while in a costume, clearly he is upset or distressed.

If you dog shows ANY of the signs listed above while in a costume, I advise that you remove him from the costume immediately.

He is not happy, and the stress of being in a costume can quickly lead him to turn to unusual behaviors like biting and becoming aggressive.

However, if your dog doesn’t show any of the signs above, there’s a good chance that she really doesn’t mind being in a costume. If this is the case, there’s certainly nothing cruel about keeping her dressed up.

Just be sure to keep an eye on her behavior throughout the night.

If at any point the costume does become too much for her, please do the responsible thing and take it off immediately.

Now that you know the signs of whether it’s ok to dress your dog in a costume or not, I think it’s important that we talk about costume safety. Check out these tips…

Safety Tips for Dog Halloween Costumes

  1. Pay Attention to the Costume Material—There’s no way that you’d want to wear an itchy sweater all day long. And the same applies to your dog. It’s important to think about the types of materials your dog's costume is made out of. If the material isn’t comfortable and you wouldn’t wear it, don’t put it on your dog.
  2. Make Sure the Costume Fits Appropriately—A costume that is too snug will not only be uncomfortable, but can also cut of your dogs circulation. On the flip side, a costume that is too big puts your dog as risk for getting tangled up and slipping and falling. Make sure the costume you pick fits your pet comfortably.
  3. Beware of beads, pom poms, and plastic—It’s natural that a dog will want to chew things off his costume if something is dangling off of it. Details like beads, googly eyes, and pom poms are cute, but can put your dog at a serious risk for choking if eaten. Give your dogs costume a once over for any choking hazards before you put it on your dog.
  4. Be Mindful of Your Dog's Body Temperature—Costumes add an extra layer on to dogs that already are covered with a layer of warm fur. It’s important to keep an eye on your dog to make sure he isn’t overheating. If you notice him panting heavily, remove the costume for a while to let him cool off.
  5. Never Leave Your Dog Alone in a Costume—Getting tangled, choking, overheating…there’s a lot of things that can go wrong if you leave your dog unattended in a costume. If your dog doesn’t mind being dressed up, that’s great! But, just because he’s comfortable in a costume doesn’t mean you should ever leave him unattended in one.
  6. Make Sure Your Dogs Eyes, Nose, and Mouth are Uncovered—The last thing you want to do is obstruct your dog’s airways or prevent him from being able to see where he’s going. Choose a costume that covers his body, not his face.
  7. Less is More—Some costumes cover a dog from head to tail. They might be cute, but they are probably also heavy, restrictive, and uncomfortable. I personally think less is more, and I think your dog will agree with me! Pick up a cute bandana,put a bow tie on your pup, or grab a halloween themed dog t-shirt that fits your pet.

Be Safe, Have Fun, and Be Mindful of Your Dog's Needs

Halloween is meant to be a fun time for everyone—including your dog!

And there’s no harm in dressing up your dog and getting him involved in the festivities… as long as he doesn’t mind participating.

That being said, Halloween can be a stressful and dangerous night for your dog.

Strangers constantly knocking on your door may stress your dog out.

Chocolate and other Halloween candy and make your dog very sick.

And the chaos of Halloween parties and having guests over can easily overwhelm your dog.

This is why it’s so important to be mindful of your dog during this fun and exciting holiday.

I’ve got some additional tips for keeping your dog safe, calm, and happy during Halloween. The tip sheet is totally free and you can download it below:

I wish you and your dog a very Happy Halloween. Have fun and stay safe!


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~Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan is the founder of The Online Dog Trainer, a wildly successful online training program for dog owners. His goal is to continue to share his unique approach to dog training with like-minded people who wish to make a difference in the world of dogs. His training methods focus on creating and building the connection between dogs and dog owners, and are shared and used around the world.

8 Responses

  1. Dear Doggy Dan,
    I recently adopted a – what looks like – a Cairn Terrier from a local shelter. I named him Ollie. He is wonderful. The shelter estimated 8-years-old; my vet says closer to 3 or 4. Guess I will never know.
    My question is: All the material on terriers says they bark. Ollie does not bark. Ever. He has never made a sound other than whining when he wants attention. It was obvious from the start he had never had training of any sort (although he is housebroken), so I am taking him to dog training. He’s very smart and is the star of the class. Everyone loves him and he loves everybody. But I would like him to bark once in a while, if only to let me know there is someone at the door. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      You have a problem with Ollie that a lot of dog owners are aiming to achieve…..stopping their dog from barking! Seriously though I do understand your point and it is actually a good thing for dogs to bark. One thing to point out is that some dogs aren’t all that prone to barking frequently, rather they will save it for times when they feel they really need to. The other consideration to make with Ollie is that he may have learnt from his previous home/s that barking receives a negative consequence and so he has learnt that the best way to avoid that is not to bark. He may start to relax a little and bark more frequently in your home but he may also just be one of those dogs that only barks when he really feels he needs to. Hope that makes sense! Best, Doggy Dan

  2. Love this post! I’ve always thought it was cruel to make dogs wear anything other than their fur and smile. But this balances my insight on the matter.

    1. Thanks Blanche, glad you liked my Blog topic! I thought it would be a timely one for many dog owners. Best, Doggy Dan

  3. Dan,
    Great Blog, but would also like to add a different perspective into the discussion.
    I am on the organizing committee each year for our local RSPCA Million Paws Walk. The only thing I vote against, including in the program each year, is the dress up section. Our dogs don’t have a voice or a choice when it comes to this activity. I personally find this to be a totally disrespectful event, purely for the amusement of the humans. It doesn’t celebrate anything canine and most dogs dislike being laughed at. Many animals treated as surrogate children and not fulfilled as dogs end up in shelters.
    I know it will be a heated discussion each year because people sometimes can’t see beyond their own wants and needs.
    I would also add some extras to your list of indicators of stress:
    Hunched back
    Wanting to run away, and
    Sad/embarrassed eyes.

    1. Hi Gwen,
      You are certainly right in that many dogs do find being dressed up in costumes or coats a bit odd or scary. I think the other point to make here is that many dogs find being in a crowded situation quite stressful as well and if they feel like all eye are on them, as with a best dressed pet competition, then it can be even more so. The best approach when it comes to dressing a dog is to consider whether or not the dog is enjoying the experience and if they aren’t then avoid it. Of course there are situations where a dog may need to be dressed for practical reasons, such as for colder weather or requiring booties to protect their feet, and the benefits here may outweigh the dog’s discomfort. Using a little common sense is always the best approach. Thanks for posting, Doggy Dan

  4. I agree on everything your write!
    We don’t celebrate Halloween here in Finland but due to our cold winters we have to dress our dogs against frost and snow. My poodle runs away when I take her jump suit out but when she has it on she runs and jumps around the snow happily.

    1. Hi Minna,
      If your dog is a little reluctant to have her jump suit put on then my advice would be to practice the process of doing so, using treats, at times when you aren’t actually planning on going anywhere. This will get her used to coming to you voluntarily and having her jump suit put on. It’s also a good idea to start the walk off as calmly as you can as it can effect how a dog behaves when on the walk. Thanks for sharing! Doggy Dan

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