Living With Animals: A Dumb Topic

By Hope Bidegainberry on October 4, 2019

Having written weekly columns for decades, this is the first time I have chosen a dumb topic. (Readers, however, may think quite a few others also qualify.) With Halloween coming, I’m reminded how often I’ve talked about this holiday’s real risks to our pets (from consuming chocolate and the foil wrappers, to fearfully bolting out the open door when the pint-sized goblins come knocking). There are also risks, from stress to physical harm, linked to people shoving their dogs and cats into costumes. My annual column always asks readers to first consider not doing this but advises, if you insist on costumed cats and dressed up dogs, to spend time getting your pet accustomed well in advance of the night. With that “well in advance” in mind, the dumb topic: How to get your pet used to wearing clothes.

Most cats and dogs should and do hate wearing costumes. They smell funny, restrict movement, have dangling doodads which twist around legs, and literally “rub the fur the wrong way.” But if you must (your best friend really deserves better!), start with something small and simple (a cape rather than a full bodysuit) and try draping this over your pet’s back for a couple of seconds. Reward even a failed effort, since you want even practice sessions to be inviting.

If you have to wrestle, give up and consider dressing yourself up as your pet instead. But if tolerated (cat people, I give you 1-in-5 at best), loosely fasten belly and chest straps and leave on for less than a minute. Reward as if your pet just won the Nobel Prize. Repeat. And repeat. It’s really not much different than most training you’ve already gone through together: set realistic expectations, approach patiently, reward richly, and keep doing it.

Yes, old dogs and cats can indeed learn new tricks (we successfully potty-trained a 13 year-old-dog who likely had never before been in a house) but starting this out with a young animal has better odds. Never, and I mean never leave a costumed animal alone. It’s unkind and unsafe. And just know I am going to try and talk you out of this in my Halloween column a few weeks from now!

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