There’s nothing better than a pet in a Halloween costume. Okay, adorable dressed-up babies may give some competition, but at the end of the day it’s hard to beat a dog in disguise as Harry Potter, or a cat sporting a sparkly wig.
Asking a pet to wear a costume might sound like an easy task… and for some it is! Not every animal is so accommodating, though. Have no fear—with a little guidance, you’ll have your furry friend all set for our spookiest holiday.
If you want your pet to wear a costume…
Pets young and old can be taught that wearing clothes is fun (and rewarding), but it’s important to remember that our pets are all individuals, with different personalities and comfort levels. The best tool to bring to any training session with your pet is patience.
The more restraining or complex the costume is—with hanging bits, for instance, or anything that obstructs vision—the greater the chance that it may not work for your pet. Costumes that interfere with basic movement should also be reconsidered, no matter how cute they may be.
Start by laying the costume out on the ground. If your pet sniffs the costume—or simply glances at it or lightly touches it—toss them a small treat, offer them a pet, or toss a toy. You’re working to build a positive association with the costume using whatever your pet finds uniquely rewarding.
If you find your pet trying to play tug with the costume, or chewing on it, you’ll want to take it away and introduce it more gradually. After a couple of sessions like this, you can try actually putting the costume on your pet.
Begin with one article of clothing at a time. Maybe it’s a sweater, maybe it’s a hat; you don’t want to overload your pet, so go slow and steady! Start by putting one paw into the costume and offering a treat, and build from there.
If things seem to be progressing well, and your pet is enjoying this quality time with you and their new costume, you can start having them wear it for slightly longer periods of time. If they can tolerate the outfit for a minute or two, start letting them wear it for five minutes… and so on.
If you believe your pet isn’t taking to their outfit, compromise with something like a festive holiday collar or bandana. These are a bit easier to manage, but still add a dash of Halloween flair to your fur-fam’s wardrobe!
Pet-proofing for trick-or-treat
If you expect trick-or-treaters at your door in 2020, there’s plenty to keep in mind—like wearing the sort of mask we’re all getting used to, not just on Halloween! But after focusing on pandemic protocol, make sure to think about your pets, too.
Halloween visitors can be stressful for your dog or cat. Knocks at the door can send your pet into alert mode. While your kitty might run and hide in her safe space, your pup might be eager to let you know that a guest has arrived.
If you have a pet who might be startled by doorbell-ringing, consider leaving a note on your door giving instructions to knock gently, instead. In the age of social distancing, this can be helpful too, if you want to simply leave a bowl of candy outside your door and avoid face-to-face contact.
Another option is to reserve a specific room in your home as a kind of chill-out zone for your pet during prime trick-or-treat hours. Play white noise, and provide them with a pet-safe project—a nice meal in a slow-feeding bowl, or a stuffable KONG chew toy packed with delicious peanut butter.
If you do choose to greet trick-or-treaters, you can set up pet-gates or barriers in your home to prevent your pet from running out the door. This can also be helpful for your visitors, since you never know if you have a trick-or-treater who might be nervous around unfamiliar dogs. Even with gates up, keep in mind that some pets can jump or even squeeze through… so the door and your pet should be monitored closely!
Why does everyone look so weird?
In the age of COVID, many of us have already had to introduce and desensitize our pets to face masks. For some pets, it may have not been a big ordeal, but others might have needed more time to understand there’s nothing to fear from the mask.
Costumes that we wear can also appear confusing and even scary to our pets, so we can start to work on desensitizing them to props and costumes that might alter our appearance.
Start by wearing pieces of the costume at a time—a wig, or just a hat—and going about a normal routine with your pet, like feeding dinner or playing fetch. Over time, add different elements of your Halloween look as your pet slowly gets acclimated. (Just remember to take the costume off before you jump on that important work Zoom call…)
The same can be done with outside decorations! While a couple of pumpkins out on the stoop might not be cause for concern with your pup, that could easily change if you turn the corner and see a creepy 12-foot-tall skeleton looming in someone’s front yard.
Introduce decorations at a distance and bring yummy training treats on walks. Mark and reward your pup when they ignore, or only glance at, distracting Halloween decorations.
Remember not to force your pet into situations that they might view as scary, like forcing them to greet someone in costume or approach a decoration that might be intimidating for them. In the end, Halloween isn’t for every pet—and that’s okay!
Some final things to consider
No one wants to share their candy on Halloween. And we really shouldn’t share it with our pets, since it’s likely toxic for them.
Keep candy well out of reach. If your cat is a counter-surfer, make sure to stash it away somewhere secure, like in a cabinet. So that your pet doesn’t feel totally left out, take a visit to your local pet store to see if they offer pet-friendly Halloween treats…or go wild and make your own.
Also be mindful of home decorations. Festive decorations can sometimes look like dog and cat toys—a plastic skeleton might not look so different from the bone-shaped toys you give to your pup!
Always make sure that your pet is supervised on Halloween. We certainly don’t want the holiday to end with an emergency vet visit if they them get tangled or stuck in their outfit, or end up ingesting something they shouldn’t.
If your pet ever eats something they shouldn’t have, contact your vet or the Animal Poison Control Center for immediate assistance. (Hopefully you’ve already hooked your cat or dog up with pet health insurance!).
And lastly: Have fun! Halloween with your pet is all about creativity, joy, and just the right amount of harmless chills and thrills. Stay safe, lower your cat or dog’s stress… and remember to take tons and tons of adorable pictures.