Oh, how I love a dog in costume! I don’t think it is a “New Orleans thing” at all—if you can’t smile at a Dachshund dressed like a hot dog or a Rottweiler in a football uniform, you might need to check if you have a pulse.
This time of year in southern Louisiana, people are dressing up for Carnival season, and a lot of those folks like to put their four-legged companions in costume as well. In our Puppy Manners class, we like to prep the puppies for this kind of fun with body handling and classical conditioning exercises. Basically, we want the puppies not to just tolerate having feather boas, beads, and tutus thrust upon them, but for them to really enjoy the situation.
It doesn’t have to be Mardi Gras or Halloween for this kind of training to come in handy. There are a lot of reasons for all dogs to learn to like the feeling of restraint and strange articles of clothing being placed on their bodies. Some attire is completely practical: booties for when the ground is too cold or hot or they have an injured paw, muzzles that might be required at your groomer or vet’s office, wraps for cold weather or to calm an anxious dog, life preservers for boating, and certain types of harnesses. Others are less functional but very common: bandannas, t-shirts, hair bows, sweaters, and other fashion pieces.
The key to getting your dog to enjoy wearing any type of apparel is to work slowly, or at the dog’s pace, and pair the object with something the dog loves, like his food or special treats. For example, whether I am muzzle training a dog or trying to fit her with a hat, I am going to start out just showing it to the dog from behind my back, and giving her a treat. Then the hat disappears and so do the treats. I am going to repeat this game a bunch of times until the dog looks completely relaxed and happy to see the hat come out, because the hat equals delicious food.
I then might just place the hat over her head and then give the treat. If she’s fine with that, I would place the hat so it touches her head and ears, then treat. Whenever the hat comes off, the treats stop. This step can go really quickly or take a few sessions depending on the dog. The final step would be securing the band of the hat around the dog’s head, and the first few times I do this I want to make sure to only leave it on for a couple of seconds. Gradually build up the amount of time the dog needs to wear the costume piece, or the muzzle, the head halter, the goggles—whatever it might be.
Take the time to do this conditioning correctly and you will have a dog that loves to strut in any accessory!