Preparing for National Dress Up Your Pet Day!

Awareness and National Days take place all through the year – some help with charities and causes while others are a little bit of fun.

Credit: Raven Imagery

National Dress Up Your Pet Day is 14th January and there are two sides to this type of activity; having some fun with your pet, and understanding of your pet is stressed while dressed up.

We see fancy dress for Pets a huge amount on Social Media, especially during holidays like Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Some Pets are clearly comfortable and maybe even happy about the attention they are getting while dressed up, they can be comfortable with the clothing or accessories, can move normally, are not restricted etc and in these cases we can celebrate in the joy of the photo or video! Dog hats with holes for the ears are now popular in the summer and some dogs really suit a hat! Bandanas are available for most types of pets now too.

However, from a training and behaviour point of view, I wanted to also just mention that dogs and other pets on social media dressed in costumes etc can often also look highly stressed and uncomfortable although the signs might be subtle to non pet Professionals. There are also cases where dogs/cats etc are being put into their costume and snap back at their owner, often do to discomfort or the feeling of being restricted. In other cases a dog or pet may have been fine with wearing an outfit, sunglasses or booties previously but then suddenly are reluctant and this could be due to injury or illness causing discomfort when they have legs moved to put into a sleeve or a sore ear catching on a dog hat.

I do use bandanas with my own Terriers; they have cooling bandanas for the summer plus some themed ones for throughout the year and they are happy to wear them as they are mostly ones that sit on their collar so it’s not much difference. They also do have Equafleeces for when it’s very wet or cold and also drying coats for when we are out for the day or camping away from home. I always introduce my dogs to new clothing and accessories when I first get it to show them what it is, how it feels, and to reward them. It also means we can take time to introduce them to the item rather then just putting it on and hoping for the best!!! 

This last Christmas we also had our house Duck, Echo and she had her own festive scarf to wear alongside Terriers Merlin and Ripley. I used the same methods to introduce her to the scarf, and ducks are naturally very suspicious of anything new at all let along something going over their head! Echo has learnt the Snoot Trick as part of her Novice Trick Title so I held the scarf in one hand with the neck part open, and a treat (peas) in my other hand poking through the scarf towards Echo to get her attention then asked her to Snoot, which she already knows! She is comfortable poking her bill through a small plastic ring on cue for a treat as well as putting her head into a hula hoop or into a cone – she really loves Peas!! 

Gradually she put her head through the scarf more and more and left it there for a couple of treats then after a couple of sessions I left the scarf on her neck and did some play, gave her meals etc so she wasn’t focusing fully on the scarf and she will hold her neck out for the scarf now and wear without being stressed. 

Compare this to a dog who has had an operation and needs to wear an Elizabethan collar (buster cone) for the first time. If they haven’t had something around their neck before other then a regular collar then having this extra weight and being restricted is going to be very stressful and uncomfortable. Instead we can spend a little time at first working on head going into the wide end of the collar as a trick, holding the pose for longer, popping on to our pet for a treat and taking off, putting it on just before giving higher value treats or a fuss or going for a short walk etc so that there is a positive association with the cone as well as a gradual introduction of it. The same can apply for the inflatable collar equivalent this too.

If you are dressing up your dog or pet for this national day or in the future, take some time to introduce them to the items first and ensure it fits ok. Too tight and it will be restrictive and potentially uncomfortable but too big and they may trip over it or get a leg stuck if it falls too low! Work on helping them to put their head through a collar or neck of a jumper on their own accord for a treat rather then forcing it on them. Practise lifting one paw at a time if they need to step into something.

You can also assess how your dog is by their body language! If you take a photo of your dog and they look really uncomfortable then there’s a high chance they are! Sitting hunched over, ears hanging lower, tongue lolling really low on a pant can all be signs of stress. Yawning, scratching at the item, rolling on their back or rubbing their head or shoulders can also be signs that your dog is not comfortable! See the photo below: Merlin has ears back, wide eyes, tight face, uncomfortable stance while Ripley is looking away from us and the camera. This photo was at Crufts at the end of a long day and we had minutes to set them up on the set ready for the photos for a project.

We can use tricks to help our dogs and pets have a positive first experience with items – whether for fancy dress or to actually be of benefit such as body suits after surgery, dog goggles during laser therapy or a life jacket style coat for hydrotherapy. Things like snoot, hide face, give paw can all really help with these so our pets know what to expect and understand it’s not something to panic over especially if they need something to help medically as when unwell or in pain they are more likely to worry about something new happening too! 

One of our outside ducks, Louie, had Angel Wing a few months ago where the joint grows too fast and turns the wing outwards. He saw the vet and it was bandaged in place but the other ducks were likely to peck at it being a foreign object and pull the bandage off so we also put one of the dogs harnesses on him to hold in place. He did so well, we did use treats again and hadn’t practised before as we hadn’t expected to need a harness on a duck lol but with some patience and help he took to it no problem. 

We also had one of our smaller hens last summer being Shadow the cockerel’s favourite girlfriend so she was loosing all her feathers on her back, leaving her skin open to scratches etc. So she had a special ‘hen saddle’ which has elastic over the wings and sits over the back to allow the feathers to grow back to protect the skin. Again it was an unusual experience for Louise (her best mate was Thelma!) so treats were used especially corn on the cob and lots of time adjusting to ensure it fitted on and she was happy to wear it for a couple of weeks to allow the pin feather to grow back through. 

So I’m not against dressing pets up, sometimes the practise with costumes and accessories can prepare them for essential items later on, but there is a need to give pets a chance to get used to the clothing etc and feel comfortable with them and hopefully when we see photos of pets dressed up online they will also be looking comfortable rather then worried! 

For help introducing items to your dog for husbandry (medical care) we can help with specific methods or working on fun tricks that link to the methods needed. 

Enjoy your pets on National Dress Up Your Pet Day! If you do share photos online add the hashtag #PetTricksDay as you never know if your pet will be spotted for a surprise treat! 

Joe Nutkins, KCAI, CPCFT