December 17, 2021

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat - it’s time to put your puppy in a silly Christmas hat........

Yes, it’s that time of year with plenty of festive fun, and it’s natural to think that everyone should get into the Christmas Spirit - including the family pooch! But is it really the best thing to dress up your dog?

This can be a very emotive issue, with some people absolutely loving doggy fashion and accessories, and others being extremely against dogs being dressed in anything that isn’t natural. There’s a huge market for doggy fashion these days and sometimes there’s a tendency to dress up your dog without considering whether or not they like it.

It seems that every year there are no end of festive photos of dogs in costumes where the dog looks tense, unhappy or stressed, and it feels like they’re being dressed up for human gratification and without any consideration for the dog himself.

So where do I stand on this?

My answer would always be “it depends”.

It’s important to always think about how your dog is going to react to wearing a costume, or any fashion accessory, and act in their best interests.

In a nutshell, if your dog is happy and comfortable, there’s no reason they can’t get into the festive spirit along with the rest of the family. So how do we make sure our dog is happy in costume?

Does your dog usually wear “clothes”?

If your dog is used to wearing some form of “clothes”, this is probably an indication that they’ll be comfortable in a Christmas costume. For example, if they often wear something like an equafleece, a costume that fits them in a similar way is going to be familiar and comfortable.

Make sure it’s not restrictive

It is really important that any costume you choose DOES NOT restrict your dog’s natural movement.

  • Avoid anything that is too tight or involves straps across the chest, body or legs, where movement can be restricted
  • Do not cover your dog’s bum! This is where he has some important scent glands, which is one of the main ways dogs communicate with each other. By covering this area you could restrict natural dog interaction and communication, which may cause problems if other dogs are around
  • Make sure the head area isn’t covered or restricted from moving naturally, including any straps going around their head, ears or mouth

Keep it simple 

If in doubt, less is more. It’s far better for your dog to wear a simple festive collar and be happy, than it is to have them dressed in a full on Santa suit that stresses them out

Acclimate them to the outfit

Preparation really is key if you want your dog to be happy wearing an outfit at Christmas.

Start small, with simple, short interactions - show them the costume, allow them to sniff it and then give them a treat. Get them to wear it for very short periods of time, and make sure you REWARD them lots so that they have good associations with the costume. 

You can build up the amount of time they spend wearing the outfit slowly so that when it comes to the big day, they take it all in their stride!

Monitor their Body Language

It really pays to learn about canine body language and understand what they’re trying to tell you - in all aspects of dog ownership and not just for Christmas! Keep an eye on how your dog is acting and reacting to make sure they’re happy, and be prepared to take off the costume straightaway if you see any signs of stress or discomfort.

Here are some signs to be aware of:

  • lip licking
  • whale eye (whites of eyes showing)
  • ears back
  • tail tucked

Important: Never punish a growl! The growl is one of the most important ways your dog communicates and is a sign that your dog is very unhappy or stressed. You should NEVER punish a dog for growling, because next time they may skip giving you that warning and go straight to biting.

You can check out this infographic from the RSPCA for some more examples of how to understand canine body language.

PLEASE NOTE: This blog has been written with advice from a certified IMDT dog trainer, Potter Paws Dog Training, and is intended for general information purposes only. If you have any concerns over any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact your local force-free trainer for advice and support.

Potter Paws Dog Training also offer courses on understanding canine body language aimed at dog owners, which are delivered in person and online. 


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