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Don’t Dress Up Your Dog for Halloween Before Reading This

These days, dogs look just as cute in Halloween costumes as the kids do. But before you dress up your dog and go trick-or-treating, find out what all the hocus-pocus is about from a pet trainer and veterinarians.

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Does your pup want to dress up?

Your dog may react to wearing a costume much like he does during a thunderstorm: run and hide. Sure, he would look adorable in a Chewbacca custom but will he like wearing it? “The most important thing is to be aware of the dog’s response,” says Paul Calhoun, DVM, Animal Medical Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “If your dog shows signs of irritation or discomfort, it’s best to remove the costume,” advises Calhoun. You can try it again another time, but be mindful that he just might not be comfortable with dog Halloween outfits, like these pugs in costume. If his eyes roll back or he’s looking to the side, has folded ears, scratches at the costume, or makes a run for it, those are pretty clear signs he’s just not into it. You can try it again another time but he may never feel comfortable dressing up. Here’s how Halloween is going to look different this year.

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Are certain dogs more chill about dressing up?

According Travis Brorsen Animal Planet’s pet expert and trainer and host of the new show, My Big Fat Pet Makeover, costumes aren’t breed specific. Although dogs that are calm and well-balanced seem to tolerate Halloween dog costumes more, using a costume to cover up their natural coat can cause anxiety. “It’s more about the dog’s temperament, whether or not they were acclimated to clothes as a puppy, and the owner’s response when they are wearing the clothes,” says Brorsen. “A dog that has never worn a costume before, but is highly motivated by praise, could do great in a costume if the owners praise the dog during the experience.” Caught the Halloween spirit? You’ll love these DIY Halloween decorations.

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Dress rehearsal

Super cute and hilarious Halloween dog costumes aren’t hard to find, but don’t wait till Halloween night to buy one. Select one a few weeks before and try it on your pooch a few times before the big night. The dress rehearsals should be short and sweet. “Before meal time, place one piece of the costume on your dog then offer the food,” instructs Brorsen. “If your dog eats with it on, that’s a good sign the acclimation process is positive. You have now associated the costume with something of high value, something positive.” But if your dog freezes up, runs away or shows other signs of distress, than you may be moving too fast, expecting too much for the trial run. If she doesn’t seem to mind it, still keep the process short, one to two minutes. Praise her and then remove the costume. Here are 18 dog Halloween costumes that are ridiculously cute.

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Don’t put these type of costumes on your dog!

Dogs are curious by nature and like to pick up things for a taste drive. Most of the time we can monitor the hidden dangers but some aren’t so obvious, especially when there part of a cute costume. “One of the biggest hazards can be strings or small materials that the dog could eat and cause intestinal foreign body, which results in surgery,” warns Dr. Calhoun. Dogs will intensely start licking when distressed, which can lead to ingesting costume materials or accessories. In addition, any Halloween costume for dogs that restricts their movement, ability to do basic functions like barking, eating, drinking, walking, breathing, seeing, and hearing should be avoided. Be wary of these hidden dangers for pets around your home, too.

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Watch for heat stroke

Whether you live in a warm or cold climate when Halloween rolls around, a costume in addition to the fur coat of your dog can be dangerous. “There are some materials that hold heat longer than others. If your pet is in costume and begins to pant or doesn’t want to come when called, this could be signs of a heat stroke from heavy costume material,” cautions Dr. Calhoun. Learn the signs of heat stroke in a dog to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

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Don’t eat it!

Dogs rarely turn down food, including Halloween candy. An innocent child may offer your dog a treat or he may pick it up off the sidewalk. Keep your eyes peeled when his nose goes to the ground. Carry a flashlight so you can see any dangerous foods your dog shouldn’t eat. Food isn’t the only thing your dog could eat. The costume’s accessories could be appealing or distressing her and she may start chewing on it and ingest the material or other items like buttons or fake fur. “The most important thing is to ensure that your dog doesn’t eat the costume,” warns Randal Patrolia, DVM, Animal Medical Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “There are other ways to dress your dog for the occasion rather than putting them in costume,” says Dr. Patrolia. The go-to costume for Dr. Patrolia’s dog Guiness, for example,  is a spooky skeleton look with non-toxic colored hair spray made specifically for pets. Check out our list of all the foods that are toxic for dogs.

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Diminishing dominance

Our dogs’ behavior can leave us perplexed at times. A growl is fairly obvious but other times, their approach is more subtle, like when they stand over their young to send a message of security, authority and in some situations, dominance to other animals and humans. When we place clothes on them, we are preventing them from communicating with the world and could cause them to go into a state of submission or feeling dominated,” says Brorsen. Another factor to consider is socialization, especially when you pooch is around other dogs or people while in costume. “If it’s your dog’s first time being in costume, know that the discomfort could affect his or her socialization,” says Dr. Calhoun. As much as you would like to dress up your fur baby for Halloween, it may become more of a nightmare than a treat. If a costume doesn’t work, Brorsen suggests a cute scarf or bow tie as they are similar to wearing a dog collar. Have a costume for your dog but not yourself, here are the most popular costumes of the year.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.