If part of your holiday tradition includes family pictures with Santa, you may be considering putting a costume on your dog. Are Antlers, a Santa Hat, to a full blown Elf suit cute, or cruel?
In our recent "Deepening the Bond" workshop, we shared with participants all the signals a dog gives you to communicate, if you know enough to watch for them. We trained participants to see these emotions clearly through their Dog's body language and vocalizations. If you are not trained to see them, you may not realize that your dog doesn't like the Santa hat strapped to his head. Ask yourself, if my dog had a say, would he agree to be put in a costume? Likely not.
Every eyebrow twitch, paw movement, tail wag or body shake has been proven scientifically to be purposeful. Body language is a primary tool for dogs to speak to other dogs and to signal to people. By putting them in a costume you alter this ability. Imagine if you were to go to a party with a lot of strangers, but you have duct tape over your mouth and your hands in large clown gloves, how would you communicate and remain confident? Similarly, costumes demolish any hope of a dog being calm in a social setting. A costume will never add confidence to a dog, nor provide the dog with a positive association of being a valued member of the family.
Many believe that their dog is happy in a costume. It is the reason the dog costume market is booming. It is easy to be confused by signals such as tail wagging or panting as signs of happiness. As a trained canine body-language observer I know tail wagging has many meanings, including stress and nervousness. Panting is also a multi-purpose signal, and is also related to stress, fear and dislike. When I see a dog in costume, with a wagging tail, and panting, I also see worried eyes and anxiousness to be relieved of their costume.
If you insist on decorating your dog for Christmas, here are some rules to avoid being cruel:
An alternative way to share the cuteness of your Dog over the holidays would be to photoshop a picture of your dog with a Santa hat and show it to friends on your phone. By leaving your dog costume free, you are providing the best chances for reducing his stress,
See Day 54 Tips on Reading Bedtime Stories
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.