Two dogs in Halloween costumes

There are a lot of cute dog clothes out there – from simple sweaters and vests to full-blown costumes and stylish ensembles that could easily rival your own outfits. But how do you know if your canine companion actually likes being dressed up? Is it animal cruelty to put clothes on an animal that is perfectly comfortable in the nude? Here are some tips to help you determine whether or not it is a good idea to dress up your pet:

Try it before you buy it

Some pet stores like PetSmart will let you try a costume out on your pet before you buy it. Your dog may not react and will behave as it usually does after you’ve put on the costume. However, if he begins to twitch or wag his tail slowly, puts his tail between his legs, tries to shake it off, or otherwise behaves as though he is agitated or depressed, that is a sign that the costume is not a good idea.

Pay attention to fit and fabric

Avoid buying dog clothes online until you have confirmed that your dog is amenable to being dressed. There may be certain fabrics and styles that are uncomfortable for your breed. Just like when buying clothes for yourself, the fit and texture of clothes is important. If the fabric doesn’t feel good when you touch it, chances are that it won’t feel good to your pet either.

Make sure that the clothing you choose does not restrict his movement and does not cover or interfere with his nose, mouth, eyes, ears, paws, or tail.

Since animals can’t talk to tell you what exactly it objects to, it is even more important to be careful and conscientious when picking out pet clothes, especially during the stage of trial and error when you are first trying to decide if your dog is compatible with clothes. 

Be conscious of safety

If you are going to dress your dog, make sure you monitor his safety closely. Dogs can choke on costume parts, and loose costumes can get dangerously tangled. If costume parts get twisted around your dog too tightly your dog can lose circulation. Also make sure your pet does not eat his costume. If bits of cloth, stuffing, or embellishments get into his gut, he may need surgery. 

Consider your dog's personality

Remember that all dogs are individuals with their own personalities. Some will tolerate wearing clothes better than others, and there may be certain items that your dog won’t mind wearing and others that he will despise. If your furry friend doesn’t take well to sweaters, maybe he will accept a bandana or hair bow. Remember that animals don't understand the concept of wearing clothes and might interpret it as a punishment or restraint, especially if the clothes are uncomfortable.

It is possible that even if your dog is opposed to wearing clothes at first, he may get used to it. If your dog shows serious signs of distress, you should abandon the idea. However, if he only seems confused or has mild reactions, you may be able to get away with dressing him up once in a while – say for holidays or photographs. 

Focus on functional clothing

Your dog may not need or like clothes during the warmer months but may like the additional warmth provided by clothes in the winter. Try putting clothes on your dog before going out for a walk in the winter or when your home is drafty or cool. Clothes that are designed to be functional usually fit better than those that are designed only to look cute.

Incidental benefits to your dog

Even if your pet does not like wearing clothes in and of itself, it is possible that he will enjoy the increased attention he receives from being dressed up.  You may also feel inclined to administer extra treats for good behaviour which he will appreciate.