Want to get the perfect Halloween photo-op of your pooch all dressed up? We got you! 

If your dog hasn’t worn hats, glasses, or clothing before, it may be a struggle to get them to wear a Halloween costume without trying to rip it off immediately! Even more importantly, forcing a dog to wear a costume when they are uncomfortable may cause distress, anxiety, or reactivity in some dogs. It’s important to never force your dog to do something outside of their comfort zone.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams of a spook-tastic photo of your pup in their best Halloween do-up! With the right approach, you can teach your dog to wear (and even enjoy) a Halloween costume by taking the steps to desensitize them to it.

Desensitizing simply means slowly exposing your dog to something they don’t love yet, in small amounts, and pairing it with something they do love (like treats!) to change how they feel about it. You don’t have to be a world-class dog trainer to do this. The technique is not hard – all it takes is time and consistency!

Follow these tips to desensitize your dog to wearing a costume, so that by the time Halloween rolls around, your little monster will be dressed to impress!

Start as early as possible

If the night before Halloween is the first time your dog sees their costume, it’s already too late. Start exposing your pup to their costume as soon as possible. If you don’t have their costume yet, you can start practicing now with other clothing at home until the costume arrives. Then, switch to using the real deal. 

Starting early is important, because desensitizing a dog to a new experience must be done gradually over time. Give your dog plenty of time to get used to wearing a costume, so that on Halloween night, it feels like old news! People will be impressed when your dog is trotting around like a professional model. 

Unpack the costume and leave it out in the house, in plain view (and plain “scent”) of your dog. This allows your pooch to get used to the sight and smell of the clothing. 

Start simple

If this will be your fur-baby’s first time wearing a Halloween costume, don’t dive into a full gorilla suit. Costumes that hug your dog’s body or legs can feel very constraining, and costumes with pieces that move or make noise can startle a dog. 

For their first costume, consider something simple such as a bow-tie, hat, headband, or a plain vest. These are easy to wear and don’t constrict your dog’s movement or senses. Once your pup gets comfortable with these, you can work your way up to more elaborate outfits!

Steps to desensitizing your dog to a costume

Follow the steps below to desensitize your dog to wearing clothes. Start by finding a high-value treat – a food item that your dog gets very excited about, and that they don’t get to have often. You may even reserve this type of treat to only be used with their costume, so your pooch associates it with something special!

  1. Place the costume out in the open, where your dog can see and sniff it. Leave it there while you lounge in the area with your pup. Anytime you notice your dog looking at the costume, give praise and treats! Extra praise and treats if they sniff or investigate the costume on their own!

  2. Hold the costume out to your dog, allowing them to sniff it in your hand. Give plenty of treats and praise to reward your dog for interacting calmly with the costume. This is building an association in your pup’s brain that when the costume comes out, good things happen!

  3. With the costume in your hand, begin to lightly touch or drape the item over your dog’s back, neck, or head. Keep your movements slow and calm; remove the costume right away if your dog seems uncomfortable or fearful. If your dog allows you to touch them with the costume item, reward with treats and praise!

  4. Once your dog is completely comfortable with Step 3, try putting the clothing item on for just a few seconds. Leave the item on for 5-10 seconds, giving lots of treats the whole time, and then take it off! If the costume has multiple pieces to wear, work with just one piece at a time. Continue doing short training sessions like this once or twice a day. Simply put various parts of the costume on your dog for a few seconds, feed treats, and then take it off. Keep the sessions short (1-2 minutes) and ensure you’re being very generous with the treats!

  5. Over the next few days or weeks, gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends wearing the costume. Continue giving plenty of treats and praise whenever your dog is showing calm behavior while wearing the costume. Your pup will associate that wearing clothes means good things: food and positive attention from you!

Remember to take it slow. If your dog seems nervous or panicky at any point in the process, go back to the previous step. If you push your pup too quickly out of their comfort zone, they may develop a fear of any clothing or costumes which will be much harder to overcome. Don’t rush it, there are many Halloweens to come!

Consider your end goal

Think about how long you expect your dog to wear a costume comfortably. If this will be your dog’s first time dressing up, it may be a good goal to simply aim to have them sit long enough to take a great photo. 

If you want your dog to be able to accompany you trick-or-treating in costume, or remain in costume for an entire Halloween party, this may be a long-term goal. Spend the next year working up to it, using your short training sessions to practice having your dog walk around in their costume. Eventually, practice walking outdoors on leash in short sessions.

Don’t force it – there are many ways to celebrate

Remember that each dog is an individual, just like humans. Some dogs will simply not enjoy dressing up, even if you use the steps above. If this is the case, stick with something in your dog’s comfort zone – you may find a snazzy Halloween collar or bandana that your fur-baby can wear! Or, consider taking a cute photo with Halloween props in the background or surrounding your dog.

Never leave your dog unsupervised in costume

Always supervise a dog while wearing a costume. This can become a safety hazard. If your pup chews pieces of the clothing off or rips it up, it can become a choking hazard. Or, if your pup tries to get it off, they may work themselves up into anxiety or even injure themselves trying to get out of it.