Your Dog and Halloween – Prepping Your Pup for the Costume Ball

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Let’s face it, if dogs were out in the wild, one of the last things they’d want to do is put on a Halloween costume. But with a little technique called classical conditioning, you can teach your canine companion to love almost any outfit. So grab that outfit and some tasty treats, and learn how to teach your dog to love their costumes:

Gather Your Supplies

There are so many dog costumes to choose from! Make sure you have one that is pet-friendly and fits your dog well. You’ll also want to have a container of yummy treats with you. This is the time to pull out the big guns, something really special: small pieces of chicken, steak or freeze-dried liver. (Note: Use foods that are healthy and are part of your dog’s regular diet. When in doubt, check with your veterinarian. When you’re giving a lot of treats, you might need to reduce the size of your dog’s meals to balance out the added calories.)

Create the Connection

Your goal is to teach your dog that the costume is associated with those wonderful treats. You’ll want to break this down into small steps:

  1. Start with the costume hidden behind your back so your dog can’t see it. Then, show them the costume, followed by giving them a small treat. Repeat this until your dog’s body language shows that they are excited when the costume appears — a wagging tail and a mouth that is open and relaxed with the tongue hanging out are good signs.
  2. The next step is to start to fit the costume on your dog. Continue the same process: First you’ll gently drape the costume on your dog’s back, and give a treat. If that goes well, you can proceed slowly to fully dressing your dog, all the while plying them with small yummy morsels of goodness. Then remove the costume and put all the treats away. If your dog is a little hesitant, slow it down by putting only one section of the costume on at a time.
  3. Once your dog gets the idea, you’ll be able to do this with other costumes or clothes your dog might wear.

This is similar to the process we outlined for getting a nervous dog comfortable having their harness put on. If you’ve already been through that, you’re one step ahead of the game!

When All Else Fails

If your dog really does not take to wearing a costume, think of creative ways to decorate their dog harness! Antennae could make them look like a little bug. Wings could turn them into a bat or a bird. A jet pack could transform them into an astronaut or future intergalactic traveler. Some folks fashion a saddle with a doll as a “rider,” and call their dogs the Kentucky Derby winner!

Remember, Halloween is supposed to be fun! If your dog is showing signs of distress or discomfort, put the costume away and take them on a hike, car ride or other adventure you’ll both enjoy. Then you’ll have 364 days to get ready for next year!

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