Training Tips: Dog Costumes and Clothes
There’s nothing cuter than dogs dressed in hoodies, sweaters, raincoats, and costumes. It’s clear that they tolerate it. But do they actually like it?
Most canine companions can be trained to wear clothes without protest. And yes, even sorta kinda like it, if it keeps them cozy and earns them valuable attention. If you follow these training tips, you should be able to convince your dog to wear just about anything—anything within reason, that is. Your dog has standards just like everyone else.
Training Your Dog to Wear Costumes for Halloween (and Other Holidays)
If you haven’t put clothes on your dog before, Halloween is a great time to start. Once you’ve convinced them it’s fun to dress up as a pirate, ghost, superhero, or even a cat (heaven forbid), they might also be willing to wear a turkey tail for Thanksgiving, or wear an ugly sweater for Christmas.
Top Training Tips for Dog Costumes
Halloween costumes may include masks, floppy hats, billowy sleeves, extra tails, moving parts, or other extras that weren’t designed for comfort.
Encouraging your dog’s participation will take patience, perseverance, and much love and encouragement, but it can be done. Here are some time-tested training tips.
Buy or make the right kind of costume
Your dog deserves to be comfortable in their costume, and it’s your responsibility to ensure they are. Select or create a dog costume that:
- Allows them to move their legs, head and tail without any restrictions
- Doesn’t rub against the under-leg areas or genitals when the dog moves
- Doesn’t include accouterments that will feel heavy
- Is loose enough for comfort, but snug enough not to fall off or easily shift out of position
- Doesn’t come with a mask or hood (the dog definitely isn’t going to be comfortable with something covering their eyes, nose and ears)
We encourage you to make your dog’s costume rather than buy one. This way, you’ll have total quality control, letting you choose materials, features and designs you’re reasonably sure won’t cause discomfort.
Let them see and smell the costume
Even before you ask them to put it on, you should lay the costume out in an area your dog frequents. Motivated by curiosity, they’ll investigate the new thing that’s been put in their space, sniffing it up and down and maybe even sitting or laying on it if they don’t find it disturbing.
Start the conditioning process early
The worst thing you could do is to try to convince your dog to wear a costume for the first time on Halloween night. If you follow the training tips recommended here, getting your dog used to having the costume on should take three to four weeks.
Don’t put the costume all the way on during the first few exposures
Before you actually try to put the costume on over your dog’s head, legs and tail, you should take pieces of it and drape them across the paws or body first. You should only do this with one part of the costume at a time. Don’t leave them on for very long. A few seconds at a time with moderate incremental increases is enough.
Get them used to wearing the costume one piece at a time
When you start putting the costume on them, gradual exposure is the key. You should only put one piece of the costume on at a time and only leave it on them for a minute or two. You’ll increase that time a little more with each training session. You can do several sessions daily, changing to a different costume piece in a steady rotation.
“The best way to go about this isn’t to put the clothes on the dog, but have the dog put the clothes on themselves,” says Fred Zorn of Fred Zorn Dog Training.
Having flavorful treats on hand will help you accomplish this. Hold a treat just beyond the collar or leg hole of a doggy sweater or shirt. Your canine pal will soon learn to put their head or leg through the holes to bring that irresistible treat within striking distance. It won’t take long for this behavior to become second nature, as your dog will become legitimately excited about the prospect of getting dressed up (since they’ll get plenty of treats!)
Smother them with praise and positive attention
Let your dog know how happy and proud of them you are, and they’ll want to repeat the behavior that gets that type of attention again and again. You should smile as you put their clothes on, pet them, and give them all the treats they can handle while praising them and complimenting them for looking so cute and adorable (or scary).
“When the dog wears the costume, they should feel awesome,” Zorn stresses.
Give them mouth-watering treats throughout the training period
When your dog realizes that willingly wearing a costume will be rewarded with a steady stream of tasty bites or cookies, you’ll be stunned by how cooperative they become.
Make it fun
It’s fun to dress up on Halloween. That’s how we view it, and that’s how your dog should view too.
“As soon as the dog is wearing the costume, make it a party,” Zorn advises. “Give treats, dance around, and tell them how handsome they are.”
“Then take the costume off, and don’t do anything for a few minutes,” he continues. “Don’t pay attention to your dog for a moment. Then, hold the costume out and see if they choose to put their head or leg through it. If they’re willing/don’t run away, you’re making great strides.”
Take them out in costume on trial runs
Once they’ve gotten used to wearing the full costume, you should expose your four-legged friend to safe and controlled environments similar to the one you’ll introduce them to on Halloween night. Several trial runs are preferable, so you’ll be absolutely sure they can handle it.
Training Your Dog to Wear Clothes
Even after Halloween passes, there are reasons to train your dog to wear clothes more frequently:
- Boots can protect them from snow, hot pavement, or sharp objects
- Sweaters can prevent them from suffering in the winter
- If you have a dog that suffers from chronic anxiety, they could benefit from wearing an anti-anxiety vest
- If your dog is a working dog, they might need to wear some type of equipment or outfit
- If you shave your dog in the summer, a shirt could help protect them from sunburn
Top Training Tips for Dog Clothes
There’s really no difference between training your dog to wear a Halloween costume and conditioning them to wear other types of clothing. All the tips for the former will work for the latter.
Here are other things to keep in mind if you plan on training your dog to wear clothes regularly:
It works best if you start in puppyhood
Puppies are fast and eager learners. If you train them to wear clothes at a tender age, the process will be much less complicated and more likely to produce sustainable results. Once they learn to like clothes and the attention they get for wearing them, your puppy will slip into their favorite outfits without any fuss and continue doing so even after they’ve matured.
Start with clothes that are easy to put on
The first clothes you put on your puppy or adult dog should be light and comfortable and leave their back legs, feet and head uncovered. You should begin with a vest-like piece that can be draped over the body and fastened underneath, meaning it won’t need to be slipped over the legs or head.
These “starter set” clothes don’t necessarily have to be a part of your dog’s long-term wardrobe, but are superb training aids nonetheless.
Let the dog be in charge
“I never make dogs wear anything,” Zorn explains. “I use positive reinforcement methods like affection and treats…never force.”
Zorn stresses that the dog must engage and eagerly participate in the training in order to create an effective learning dynamic.
“Dogs do everything first because they want to, second because they know how to, and third because you told them to; in that order,” he says. “They don’t do it any other way.”
Dog Costumes and Clothes FAQ
Here are some of the most common questions people ask about dogs and their costume-wearing proclivities:
Why Does My Dog Hate Costumes?
If your dog can’t get comfortable in a costume, it likely means you rushed through your training (if you did any) and didn’t give them time to adjust. In general, the more complex the costume, the more patience and preparation time you’ll need to acclimate your dog.
Do Dogs Like Halloween Costumes?
Dogs have no particular reason to like Halloween costumes. But they’ll absolutely adore the positive attention and feedback they get while wearing them.
Are Dogs Scared of Halloween Costumes?
As long as they don’t include scary sound effects or features that suddenly and unexpectedly move, dogs won’t be scared of the Halloween costumes they wear. They can be frightened by seeing humans in masks or unusual outfits, so you should proceed cautiously when bringing your dog to Halloween-themed gatherings or exposing them to trick-or-treaters.
How Long Can You Leave Dog Clothes On?
A sweater shouldn’t be left on for more than 4-6 hours, since your dog’s skin will need to breathe to avoid issues like rashes, acne or ingrown hair. Too much time in a sweater can prevent moisture evaporation and possibly cause chafing. Lighter clothes can be worn for around 7-8 hours.
Is It Cruel To Put Clothes On Dogs?
It could be cruel to put clothes on a dog if you go too fast, or don’t prepare them ahead of time. Without your efforts to make them comfortable, they’ll experience wearing clothes as a stressful and unwanted imposition.
An Empowered Dog is a Happy Dog—and a Well-Dressed One, Too
Fred Zorn has dressed dozens of dogs in elaborate costumes for Halloween, without complaints! So what’s been the secret to his success?
“Working with dogs is about trust, communication, clarity of intent, and fun, never about control,” he declares. “It’s about empowering them to make good decisions and behave as asked, because they trust their cooperation will be met with positive, enjoyable results.”
With lots of tasty treats generously distributed as good conduct medals, this collaborative approach to training could turn your dog into a regular furry fashion plate, not to mention the coolest-looking pup in your neighborhood this Halloween!