Staffordshire bull terrier wearing a rain coat on a walk

Dog costumes

Around big seasonal events, such as Halloween and Christmas, many owners enjoy dressing up their dogs.

Though it may look cute seeing them in little outfits, this may actually be stressful for them.

Five reasons not to dress up your dog

1. Communication between dogs

As your dog may not be able to communicate very well with clothing on, and other dogs may not be able to read them in return, costume wearing dogs may confuse, alarm or frighten other dogs.

2. Communication between dogs and people

You may not be able to read your dog properly while they are wearing an outfit. It's easy to miss cues in their social communication when you can't see their full body. This means you may not pick up on signs of stress in your dog which is important to help prevent any escalation between your dog and other dogs (and with people too).

3. Unwanted attention

Dogs that are dressed up generally become the sole focus of attention from people. They may point, laugh, approach and assume they can touch your dog. This is not a normal situation for your dog to be in and can have a negative impact on them, particularly if they are shy.

In these situations dogs usually increase appeasement behaviour which can often be confused for confidence and friendliness (such as rolling onto their back for a belly rub).

4. Stress

If your dog is not used to wearing a coat or a jumper, then they can become very stressed with costumes. Dressing dogs up purely for our entertainment when there is no benefit to them (ie they get cold in winter and need a coat) is putting extra stress onto them when it's not needed.

5. Can't display natural behaviours

Elaborate costumes will restrict the movement of your dog and stop them being able to show natural behaviours. This can prevent a dog's ability to communicate with other dogs or people – which can lead to miscommunication and behavioural escalation.

When is it okay to dress up your dog?

There are exceptions to the rule when it comes to functional clothing, such as:

  • if your dog gets cold in the winter - a dog jumper or coat, if they have a short coat and would struggle without one, can keep them nice and warm when you're out on walks
  • surgical vests - after surgery your vet may recommend a surgical vest. These can be a perfect way to stop your dog from licking their stitches and are only used temporarily until they have healed.

These items of clothing are usually comfortable to wear and are designed with your dog's shape in mind. This means they are comfortable and can happily still express their natural behaviours.

Alternative ways to celebrate

If you're looking for other ways to include your dog in the festive celebrations without dressing them up, why not try:

— Page last updated 13/10/2021

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