By Tracie Korol
When my son was tiny, Halloween was a perplexing time when grown-ups decorated with squash, when Mom fussed around making something in the basement and shortly thereafter fussed around dressing him up in bunchy strange clothes. Then, one night, for no reason, Mom stuffed him into the bunchy clothes and took him to the neighboring houses wherein the inhabitants gave him candy. What a great idea! Why aren’t we doing this every day?
Later, as he grew older Halloween became a time of shared conspiracy in creating the perfect costume, competing with friends for the weirdest and coolest, testing a mother’s creativity and facility with foam rubber. Our neighborhood decorated and dressed for Trick or Treat night with costumed parents accompanying their costumed kids. The Halloween frenzy grew to the point where the neighborhood dogs were hobbling around wearing buns, skirts and wings. Our dog, Dave, who had a look of benign misery most of the time anyway, looked more despondent than usual on Halloween night and all we did was gel his topknot to look punk.
To costume a dog is to deny his essential dogness. Deep within your dog’s chromosomes is the inherent sense of wolf behavior. In a wolf community, one animal may “stand over” another, placing his body on or close to another as a communication, a scolding. To a dog, the experience of being bound into a Yoda suit does not elicit festivity, more, the uncomfortable feeling of being “ranked”. Notice when you dress up a dog they freeze in place as if they are being dominated. Also notice that is only a matter of moments until Best Friend begins to dislodge the garment by pawing, shaking, dragging or rolling in something foul so as to necessitate removal of the bumble bee hat.
Dogs are extremely good sports. They will do just about anything to please their humans. Some maintain that Binky LOVES dressing up. But think about it. Does Binky really enjoy the sensation of a balloon glued to his nether parts, horns strapped around his head and a bell around his neck that clanks with every vibration? Probably not. Even when the costume is not as extreme — say, wedging a dachshund into a bun, or a Maltese into fairy wings — is the perceived joy you see in the dog a result of the costume or the result of the liver treats you use to bribe him to hold still for pictures or the high-pitched “you’re-so-cute-oh-yes-you-are!!” that accompanies the reveal. A dog works on the What’s In It For Me principle. Loads of snacks and attention? Sure, I’ll feel bunchy and uncomfortable — for about a minute.
Here’s another way of looking at what your costumed dog may feel. What if, one day, when you arrived at work, your boss announced, “Today is Underwear Day! Strip down to your skivvies!”. Um. How awkward is this? But, then your boss hands you a box of Godiva chocolates, tickets for the big game and your co-workers cheer and tell you you look great in your tighty-whities. Well, okay then. Maybe not so bad. I can do this for a day. Tomorrow is back to normal, right?
If you insist on dressing up your pet, make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe. It must not constrict movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe or bark. Make sure his outfit doesn’t have dangly bits that he could trip over or chew off and swallow. Make sure he can move freely without clunking into furniture or snagging on branches. Make sure his outfit doesn’t make noise, tinkle, clank or rustle. A white stripe down the back of a black dog masquerades him as a skunk, black stripes on an orange dog can masquerade him as a tiger or a little hair gel can turn your Bedlington into a camel. All low-key efforts that will afford him his safety and his dignity.
Not unlike my son at age 2, your dog does not understand that Halloween is YOUR holiday, not his. Wearing a sweater in the winter keeps him warm; wearing something that makes him look like a banana or an armadillo is humiliating.