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Dressing Dogs Up: Borderline animal abuse? Not if you make it fun!

June 15, 2009

I just read a question posted to a reporter news feed about wanting opinions from animal professionals on the topic of dressing dogs up… Okay, so this just happened to fall on the birthday of my beautiful, handsome, lovely, love of my life, baby boy Poncho! Of ALL days! Why today??? Today is one of those days I’m going wear my “dog mom” hat – not my professional certified pet dog trainer, dog behavior counselorhat!

What’s my opinion? Hmm, my usual m.o. is to change up his collar…I admit, Poncho the dog has quite a few to choose from. I switch his license and ID tag to whichever he ends up wearing. As I tell my dog training class and private dog training clients, one key element in being a responsible pet owner: “Your dogs collar is similar to our wallet. It’s used for carrying ID and license. Other than that it can be used for a fashion statement, personality statement, or to match your outfit.” It shouldn’t be used for “training” (like those nasty aversive training methods using collar correction).

As for other “outfits”? Yes, Poncho has various sweaters, t-shirts, a couple of vests/jackets… and the ever popular lobster costume he wears at Halloween, the hawaiian lei I have him wear many times throughout the year…we do live in Ventura, which is a beach town. Besides the annual Halloween event, all of his clothes are more about function…if it’s cold out. Oops, wait a minute…some of his t-shirts are more about statements I want to make…like when he goes to races with me. Poncho is one of my running partners, and he likes to brag about that.

This specific reporter asked the question: “Other than essential winter coats, do dogs generally hate having to wear people clothes, and is it cruel to dress dogs up?”

My answer to that: I have no idea what they’re thinking. Therefore I’m not sure if they hate it or not. I know that when I dress Poncho in clothing that he’s not used to, like his fuzzy green birthday hat, or lobster costume, I head down the “creating pleasant associations” path, and feed him little bits of yummy high-value treats while he’s wearing them. This way, he’ll learn to love the outfits! Classical conditioning is a wonderful thing!

As for the latter part of the question, “Is it cruel?” That all depends upon the motivation of whomever is dressing the dog up. If the person is intending to hurt, humiliate (intentionally), bully, coerce, or intimidate the dog in question, then “yes” I do think it’s cruel. If the person is doing it to have fun, provide love, attention, and steak for their dog, then why not? Just like when my parents dressed me in striped pants and paisley shirts – they weren’t cruel, it was the 70’s. 


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